AskDefine | Define octave

Dictionary Definition



1 a feast day and the seven days following it
2 a musical interval of eight tones [syn: musical octave]
3 a rhythmic group of eight lines of verse

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. (music theory) An interval of eight tones on a diatonic scale, representing a doubling or halving in pitch.
    The melody jumps up an octave at the beginning, then later drops back down an octave.
    The singer was known for astounding clarity over her entire five-octave range.
  2. (music theory) The pitch an octave higher than a given pitch.
    The bass starts on a low E, and the tenor comes in on the octave.
  3. The eighth defensive position, with the sword hand held at waist height, and the tip of the sword out straight at knee level.


  • Croatian: oktava
  • Icelandic: áttund
  • Japanese: オクターブ
pitch octave higher than a given pitch
  • Croatian: oktava
(fencing) the eigth defensive position

Related terms

Extensive Definition

In music, an octave (sometimes abbreviated 8va or P8) is the interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency.


For example, if one note has a frequency of 400 Hz, the note an octave above it is at 800 Hz, and the note an octave below is at 200 Hz. The ratio of frequencies of two notes an octave apart is therefore 2:1. Further octaves of a note occur at 2n times the frequency of that note (where n is an integer), such as 2, 4, 8, 16, etc. and the reciprocal of that series. For example, 50 Hz and 400 Hz are one and two octaves away from 100 Hz because they are ½ (or 2 −1) and 4 (or 22) times the frequency, respectively. However, 300 Hz is not a whole number octave above 100 Hz, despite being a harmonic of 100 Hz.

Musical relevance

After the unison, the octave is the simplest interval in music. The human ear tends to hear both notes as being essentially "the same". For this reason, notes an octave apart are given the same note name in the Western system of music notation—the name of a note an octave above A is also A. This is called octave equivalency, and is closely related to harmonics. This is similar to enharmonic equivalency, and less so transpositional equivalency and, less still, inversional equivalency, the latter of which is generally used only in counterpoint, musical set theory, or atonal theory. Thus all C♯s, or all 1s (if C = 0), in any octave are part of the same pitch class. Octave equivalency is a part of most musics, but is far from universal in "primitive" and early music (e.g., Nettl, 1956; Sachs & Kunst, 1962). However, monkeys experience octave equivalency, and its biological basis apparently is an octave mapping of neurons in the auditory thalamus of the mammalian brain and the perception of octave equivalency in self-organizing neural networks can form through exposure to pitched notes, without any tutoring, this being derived from the acoustical structure of those notes (Bharucha 2003, cited in Fineberg 2006).
While octaves commonly refer to the perfect octave (P8), the interval of an octave in music theory encompasses chromatic alterations within the pitch class, meaning that G to G♯ (13 semitones higher) is an augmented octave (A8), and G to G♭ (11 semitones higher) is a diminished octave (d8). The use of such intervals is rare, as there is frequently a more preferable enharmonic notation available, but these categories of octaves must be acknowledged in any full understanding of the role and meaning of octaves more generally in music.

Electrical relevance

In electronics design, an amplifier or filter may be stated to have a frequency response of ±6dB per octave over a particular frequency range, which signifies that the power gain changes by ±6 decibels (a factor of four in power), or more precisely 6.0206 decibels when the frequency changes by a factor of 2. This response is equivalent to ±20dB per decade (a change in frequency by a factor of 10).
A magnitude of 400 (52 dB) at 4 kHz decreases as frequency increases at −2 dB/octave. What is the magnitude at 13 kHz?
\text = \log_2\left(\frac\right) = 1.7
\text_ = 52\text + (1.7\text \times -2\text) = 48.6\text = 269.\,

Other uses of term

As well as being used to describe the relationship between two notes, the word is also used when speaking of a range of notes that fall between a pair an octave apart. In the diatonic scale, and the other standard heptatonic scales of Western music, this is 8 notes if one counts both ends, hence the name "octave", from the Latin octavus, from octo (meaning "eight"). In the chromatic scale, this is 13 notes counting both ends, although traditionally, one speaks of 12 notes of the chromatic scale, since there are 12 intervals. Other scales may have a different number of notes covering the range of an octave, such as the Arabic classical scale with 17, 19, or even 24 notes, but the word "octave" is still used.
In terms of playing an instrument, "octave" may also mean a special effect involving playing two notes that are an octave apart at the same time. This effect may have to be created by the musician. However, some instruments are purposely tuned or designed to produce this effect, for example, the twelve-string guitar and the octave harmonica.
In most Western music, the octave is divided into 12 semitones (see musical tuning). These semitones are usually equally spaced out in a method known as equal temperament.
Many times singers will be described as having a four-octave range or a five-octave range. This is technically a misnomer, and is described here: five-octave vocal range. It is important to remember when hearing this description that a piano has octaves total.
Many of the dual toned sirens manufactured by the Sentry Siren Company use an octave ratio on their sirens, usually , which produces a octave.


The notation 8va is sometimes seen in sheet music, meaning "play this an octave higher than written." 8va stands for ottava, the Italian word for octave. Sometimes 8va will also be used to indicate a passage is to be played an octave lower, although the similar notation 8vb (ottava bassa) is more common. Similarly, 15ma (quindicesima) means "play two octaves higher than written" and 15mb (quindicesima bassa) means "play two octaves lower than written." Col 8 or c. 8va stands for coll'ottava and means "play the notes in the passage together with the notes in the notated octaves". Any of these directions can be cancelled with the word loco, but often a dashed line or bracket indicates the extent of the music affected.
For music-theoretical purposes (not on sheet music), octave can be abbreviated as P8 (which is an abbreviation for Perfect Eighth, the interval between 12 semitones or an octave).


  • Burns, Edward M. (1999). "Intervals, Scales, and Tuning", The Psychology of Music second edition. Deutsch, Diana, ed. San Diego: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-213564-4.
  • Fineberg, Joshua (2006). Classical Music, Why Bother?". Routledge. ISBN 041597173X. Cites Bharucha (2003).
  • Sachs, C. and Kunst, J. (1962). In The wellsprings of music'', ed. Kunst, J. The Hague: Marinus Nijhoff.
octave in Arabic: مسافات موسيقية
octave in Bulgarian: Октава
octave in Catalan: Octava
octave in Czech: Oktáva (hudba)
octave in Danish: Oktav
octave in German: Oktave
octave in Estonian: Oktaav
octave in Spanish: Octava
octave in Esperanto: Okto
octave in Persian: اوکتاو
octave in French: Octave (musique)
octave in Western Frisian: Oktaaf
octave in Galician: Oitava
octave in Korean: 옥타브
octave in Croatian: Oktava
octave in Indonesian: Oktaf
octave in Icelandic: Áttund
octave in Italian: Ottava (musica)
octave in Hebrew: אוקטבה
octave in Latvian: Oktāva
octave in Lithuanian: Oktava
octave in Hungarian: Oktáv
octave in Dutch: Octaaf (muziek)
octave in Japanese: オクターヴ
octave in Norwegian: Oktav
octave in Norwegian Nynorsk: Oktav
octave in Polish: Oktawa (interwał)
octave in Portuguese: Oitava
octave in Russian: Октава
octave in Simple English: Octave
octave in Serbian: Октава (музика)
octave in Finnish: Oktaavi
octave in Swedish: Oktav
octave in Thai: อ็อกเทฟ
octave in Turkish: Oktav
octave in Ukrainian: Октава
octave in Chinese: 八度

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

English horn, Octateuch, Spenserian stanza, antistrophe, bassoon, block flute, bombard, book, bourdon, burden, canto, cello, chorus, claribel, clarinet, clarion, concert flute, consecutive intervals, contraoctave, cornet, cornopean, couplet, cromorna, cymbel, degree, diapason, diatessaron, diatonic interval, diatonic semitone, distich, double contraoctave, dulciana, eight, eighter from Decatur, eighth, enharmonic diesis, enharmonic interval, envoi, epode, fifth, flute stop, foundation stop, four-foot octave, four-line octave, fourniture, fourth, gamba, gedeckt, gemshorn, great octave, half step, halftone, harmonic flute, heptastich, hexastich, hybrid stop, interval, koppel flute, larigot, less semitone, line, measure, melodia, melodic interval, mixture, monostich, mutation stop, nazard, note, oboe, octad, octagon, octahedron, octameter, octastich, octastyle, octavo, octet, octonary, octosyllable, ogdoad, one-line octave, organ stop, ottava, ottava alta, ottava bassa, ottava rima, parallel octaves, pentastich, piccolo, plein jeu, posaune, principal, quatrain, quint, quintaten, rank, ranket, reed stop, refrain, register, rhyme royal, rohr flute, second, semitone, septet, sesquialtera, sestet, seventh, sextet, shawm, sixth, small octave, spitz flute, stanza, stave, step, stop, stopped diapason, stopped flute, strain, string diapason, string stop, strophe, subcontraoctave, syllable, tercet, terza rima, tetrastich, third, tierce, tone, tone row, tremolo, triplet, tristich, trombone, trumpet, twelfth, two-foot octave, two-line octave, unda maris, unison interval, utas, verse, vibrato, viola, voix celeste, vox angelica, vox humana, whole step
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