30 May 2014

What's in a Cheeseburger?: Alphabetical Consonants to Describe Bird Song


What if we arbitrarily assigned consonants to tell us about the relative pitches in a bird's song?
 I am going to try this.


So, for example, take the chickadee song often described as "cheese bur ger". This word doesn't automatically tell me which syllables are of higher or lower pitch than the others. But what about the last two sylables - "bur" and "ger"? Are they both on the same pitch? Not always. Sometimes the "ger" is the same pitch as the "bur", and sometimes it is slightly 'flat' - as in 'lower'.

Human Nature

Often-times, people just clue in to one song/sound they recognize, a 'key song' if you will, and ignore the rest. But, if one pays more attention to all one hears, one quickly realizes there is a lot of variation even in the cheeseburger call. Yes, it is overwhelming. Auditory memory and organization is generally not as well-developed as visual.

It is human nature that the vowel sound "ee" is going to be higher pitched than other vowel sounds. Indeed, in this case the "cheese" syllable is higher pitched than the other two. And it is human nature to focus more on the vowel sounds - I think it is hard-wired into our brains.

Assigning Consonants
If we arbitrarily assigned consonants based on pitch: higher-pitched syllables would start with a consonant occuring further along in the alphabet -- just like the letter-notation of music where pitch "G" is higher than pitch "D".

- Tee is higher than fee
- Yer is higher than bur
- hoo is higher than boo

The two-toned chickadee song - where the first syllable is the highest pitch and second and third syllables are on the same pitch, could be described as:


The three-toned chickadee song where each pitch is lower than the previous, could be described as:

Fee-dee-bee (feed debbie), or Fee-de-bur (Feed de bird)

This convention doesn't give any indication of duration of the syllables / notes in the song, but only of relative pitch. But the two main purposes of using human words to describe bird songs are to help one remember them and to communicate what one heard to another human.

"Cheeseburger" just confuses me because it doesn't tell me whether it is the two-pitched, or the three-pitched song. "Yer-tu-tu" and "feed-de-bird" make way more sense to me.

(Someone else has probably already thought of this, hehe. No matter. I'll keep trying it out for myself. )

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