Overtones are certainly one of the musical terms you must have interfaced with if you are a musician or an instrumentalist. It may seem rather confusing at first and appear difficult to understand. However, be rest assured that with this article on “Overtones Music: What they are and how they work”, it will become plain to you.
Overtones are an integral part of a harmonic series. It is simply a frequency higher than the fundamental or normal frequency of an instrument. When the air column vibrates in sections, they produce overtones.
What are Overtones?
Overtone is a term used to describe harmonic waves. They are often applied to high standing waves. And they are determined by the frequency of the vibration an instrument has it produces a sound. For instance, the clarinet produces its woody sound through a low frequency. Another one is the oboe that produces its sound from all harmonic and higher frequencies.
Each vibration of overtones is produced in different frequencies, which in return produce different pitches of a note. The majority of the instruments produce low frequency at first when you initially try to listen to it. Then, when you listen more closely, you hear a higher frequency. This is because most times, the string does not only produce a low frequency. It is also producing a high frequency at the same time.
The lower pitch is typically produced by the left vibration of an instrument. The high frequency on the other hand is what is usually referred to as harmonics. Harmonics in the simplest form is a high frequency generated when you strum a string or blow air through a wind instrument. Such frequency is not produced via the fundamental frequency alone, rather it is a multiplication of it. In essence, it is a component frequency of the signal of a wave that is an integer multiple of the fundamental frequency. The harmonics vibrate at different frequencies all at once.
However, harmonics do not vibrate at the same intensity. While some may be audible, others may be faint and easily fade off. One thing to note is that harmonics and overtones are stronger than the fundamental frequency. The fundamental frequency is essentially the “first harmonic” or natural frequency most notes come with. The overtone on the other hand is a tone whose frequency is a multiple of a fundamental frequency.
What are overtones used for?
They are used in analyzing musical instruments and their tone quality. As well as the sound quality of the note being played on the instrument. Harmonic and overtone are used by musicians to reach a note which may not be originally reached. For instance, when you press down the C5 note on a piano, it vibrates in harmonics.
And when you keep pressing it down, the sound begins to fade off. Then, keep the finger on the C5 and press the C4 for a brief second. Press quickly and take your hands off it. You will notice that the C5 will make sound again. This is because the second harmonic of the C4 is the C5. So, the C4 will excite the C5 note to make a sound again. So, musicians use overtone and harmonic to add extra harmonious sound to the chords they play.
What are overtones in music?
Here is a brief description of what overtone in music could connote:
It is a frequency that is a multiple of the fundamental frequency
The overtone is greater in frequency than the basic or fundamental sound. You can identify an overtone if it sounds greater than the fundamental note. However, an overtone is produced from the lowest or the most basic note.
Overtones are referred to as any standing wave with a higher frequency
Overtones are commonly applied to any standing wave with a higher frequency. The standing wave is also referred to as the stationary or fixed wave. They are waveform which occurs in a fixed medium in such a way that the reflected wave coincides with the produced wave. Just the same way that when you strum your strings together, the vibration they create form a standing wave. And a higher frequency of it is the overtone.
Overtone is similar to harmonic
The overtone is a part of the harmonic, and they are similar. They are both sounds or frequencies that are generated from the fundamental tone an instrument that vibrates. They are both determined by the different frequencies that occur at the same time. Also, the frequency they produce often determines the pitch that will follow.
Overtones are part of the human voice and instruments
The human voice and instruments that produce sounds through vibration have overtones. The way the vibration of the human voice produces a sound could be an overtone. Similarly, when the guitar strings are plucked all together, they produce an overtone. The way they vibrate all together will produce the lowest tone.
Overtone is an integral part of harmonic
An overtone is an integral part of harmonic. And they are formed through the overlap of the high points of two or more fundamental frequencies at certain intervals.
The Overtone is the highest range of fundamental frequency
The majority of the instruments have a fundamental frequency as their default. It is the lowest frequency an instrument produces when it naturally vibrates. The overtone on the other hand is the highest range of these fundamental frequencies. The fundamental frequency is often switched to an overtone when a note is excited using another note.
It is illustrated in the previous example. So, when you play such notes, the frequencies go way higher than the fundamental frequency to produce an overtone.
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The Two Types of Overtones
The two types of overtones include:
- Harmonic Partial: The harmonic partial overtones are simply overtones that are partial. They are partial with the frequencies that are numerical integer multiples of the fundamental frequency. In simple terms, they are integer multiples of the fundamental or basic frequency.
- Inharmonic Partial: It is the direct opposite of the harmonic Partial. It is partial with frequencies that are not the whole number ratio of the fundamental frequency. In order words, it works more with numbers that are not whole numbers, such as 1.2. It is not integer multiples of fundamental frequency.
How Do Overtones Work?
Overtones are produced by working around the fundamental frequencies of notes on instruments. It can be produced by just plucking many strings altogether, they will give different vibrations and frequencies. You could also simply do that on a piano by pressing two or more notes at a time.
They are often used by musicians or instrumentalists and composers to ensure there is consonance between two or more instruments. They could also be sparingly used for dissonance if the idea is to add variety to a song.
However, overtones are crucial to achieving harmony in a song. A song with scattered sounds and no blend will definitely be a No for you. So, this is why things like overtones exist. To help create a balance and agreement.
The several frequencies produced by the harmony gives different pitches to the tone. And they can also be adjusted to create a harmonic series.
How does overtone work? They basically just add variety and agreement to a song. They are typically higher than the regular fundamental frequency.
Can You Hear Overtones?
The overtones are essentially the vibration or ring you hear when you play some notes together. It takes paying close attention to be able to hear it. And few musicians have been perceived to be able to hear the overtones. If you wish you to hear it too, you may need to take some listening practices to help you pay attention to them. However, it is possible for a person to hear the overtones.
Do Overtones Affect Sound Quality?
Yes, overtones affect sound quality. Overtones essentially deal with the frequency by which notes vibrate when played. As such, each vibration adds its quota to the entire sound quality.
For instance, when you pluck a guitar at different positions, it will give you different sounds. The sound will not be the same if it is plucked at other places. The same goes to the violin, the vibration the violin will give when plucked will be different to what it will give when bowed. Each of these vibrations add to the overtones, which in turn impact the sound quality. In essence, overtones impact sound quality.
Learning how overtones work in music can greatly improve your work. They help you create better harmony in your composition. Some singers also use them to improve their voice pitches and chords.
However, overtones are somewhat natural for instruments. So, it will take a little extra effort to influence them, especially if you are a beginner. Nonetheless, with more practice and learning, you should be able to identify and alter them. Read through this article carefully. Try it on your instrument and be sure to give us feedback on how it went in the comment section.