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Overtones HTML5


When one plays a C with most musical instruments, one produces a resonating ensemble of notes in addition to the fundamental C.  These are the harmonics, or overtones. Even though they are of lesser intensity, they contribute to our perception of the instrument's timbre.

One recognizes in the first harmonics of the series  notes that are in perfect harmony (tonic (or keynote) - perfect fifth - major third). This is why this accord seems to us to be so "harmonious" and balanced. In playing the third and the fifth in addition to the keynote we do nothing more than to reinforce notes already present in the keynote.

Remark: This animation illustrates the "hidden" harmonics that lie behind a single played note (here the lower C). Rolling over an available note results in the vibration of the corresponding mode being displayed. Thus,G , one of the harmonics here, is an overtone heard when one plays the lower C.

Click on a note to illustrate the corresponding mode of vibration.

Learning goals

  • To teach that the sound produced by an instrument is not a pure frequency.
  • To make a link between the Physics of sound and musical acoustics
  • To make clear that the form of the wave being illustrated applies to a vibrating string (guitar, piano, harp) as well as a column of vibrating air (flute, saxophone) under the same limiting conditions.