CINE 0749-01 Critical Practices Experience

by | Mar 12, 2021


In theory of music and sound an overtone is a musical tone which is a part of the harmonic series above a fundamental. This tone, the overtone, however, does not exist on its own. Per definition it exists only because of the existence of another tone, the fundamental, and although it exists no one consciously cares if it is there or not. And, I can argue that the Fundamental without the overtones is not really a Fundamental (a fundamental to what?). Furthermore, I believe that the fundamental needs the overtones just about the same as the overtones need the Fundamental.

The Fundamental alone, without any overtones, is synthetic, and it is often refferred to as a pure tone. In the real world, you may hear a pure tone in the form of a busy signal when you call a friend or the sound of a dump truck reversing its course, but not as a sound that was produced naturally by an instrument, a human, an animal, and in most cases, not as a result of some natural process or event. The overtones are a natural harmonic sound derivation of a fundamental frequency’s acoustic event.

In the case of a plucked tensioned string, the overtones are all those other frequencies present in the sound produced that shape its color and without them, the sound produced is  monotonous, flat, a pure toned stimulus. If that tensioned string is on a guitar for example, the overtones carry more than just the fundamental frequency. They bring forth all the extra information needed by the listener to interpret it to its own liking. The wood, the material of the string, the size of the neck the tunning machines, the shine on the skin, the strength of the pluck, the strength of the sustain, the hand’s attenuation, even that crack on the front that has been there ever since the guitar was dropped on the way to college.

Removing the majority of the harmonics from the recording of the lowest E note on an acoustics guitar left the E Fundamental almost inaudible and what I find amusing is that these harmonics, when separated and compared to the fundamental, can be both consonant and dissonant (or both in some experimental cases). What humans perceive as sound is the summation of consonant and dissonant contributions from the overtones to a fundamental excitation.

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