Rethinking Communication in Health and Social Care

by Annette Roebuck

Pitch and Key

Chapter 4 discusses the importance of pitch, both as a general communication principle and more specifically in communicating with service users in health and social care settings.

Pitch is the equivalent of how far up or down the musical scale the sounds we make are. Some cultures make more overt use of pitch in communication than others. For example, Mandarin makes extensive use of pitch changes within speech: the sound can mean something entirely different if the pitch changes. In the English language, there are many words with multiple meanings (polysemy); therefore, changes in pitch offer important cues as to meaning.

Within health and social care settings, this means that misunderstandings can occur between staff and vulnerable communicators. People who find verbal communication difficult may not always follow pitch cues to take their turn in ways that staff are expecting, and may not understand the emotional meaning behind changes in pitch.

Listen to the audio clip below. You will hear the same words spoken several times, but in different ways.

After you have listened to the clip, return to page 86 of the book and have a go at the questions and activities in Box 4.4 to help put what you have learned into practice!