Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: Music Theory ( Answered,   0 Comments )
Subject: Music Theory
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: garyman69-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 21 Aug 2006 18:33 PDT
Expires: 20 Sep 2006 18:33 PDT
Question ID: 758241
What is the origin of the term digital?  A friend once referred to
stringed musical instruments such as a violin and a guitar as being
"digital," in the sense that their notes can be seperated into units. 
In other words, when you pluck a string a single note that will sound
for a finite amount of time, whereas with a flute or saxophone the
duration of a note is based entirely on how long you blow into the
instrument and therefore can't be divided into strict units.  Is this
Subject: Re: Music Theory
Answered By: efn-ga on 21 Aug 2006 21:14 PDT
Hi garyman69,

The word "digital" derives from the Latin "digitalis," meaning related
to fingers or toes.

It is true that there is a difference between musical instruments in
that some can produce continuous tones, while others produce notes
that start and then die away.  A violin would be in the first category
when bowed, and in the second category when played pizzicato.

Your friend's application of the term "digital" to the second kind of
instrument was a figure of speech, an analogy, not standard
terminology.  Analog systems deal with continuous ranges of values,
while digital systems deal with ranges of finite numbers of specific
values.  For example, in an analog clock, the seconds hand sweeps
continuously around the face, while in a digital clock, the seconds
readout suddenly changes from one number to another.  The analogy
likens the separate and distinct nature of the notes produced by the
second kind of instrument to the specific values used in a digital

For more details on what "digital" means, see:

Digital vs. Analog tutorial on the Compu-Kiss website

Definition of "digital" from the Webopedia Computer Dictionary

In general usage, musical instruments are called "digital" because
they are built with digital electronic technology, not because of any
quality of their sound.  For example, "In New Digital Musical
Instruments Eduardo Miranda and Marcelo Wanderley focus on musical
instruments that use the computer as the main sound-generating

I hope this explanation is helpful.  If you need any further
information about this, please ask for a clarification.


There are no comments at this time.

Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy