Re: Overtones

Subject: Re: Overtones
From: Richard Wentk (
Date: Mon Jun 28 2004 - 11:59:31 EDT

At 08:22 28/06/2004 -0700, you wrote:
>I was researching the differences in musical instruments when someone told
>me that the main difference is the amount of overtones after the
>Fundamental frequency. Is this true?

More or less. But don't forget:

The overtone patterns evolve as a note plays
Real instruments don't have simple overtone patterns. Most are inharmonic
to at least a small extent.
Instruments with more than one sound generator (e.g. anything with multiple
strings, or any ensemble) produce complex phase cancellation effects in the
overtone structure which also affect the perceived sound.

>Could I distiguish instruments from one another just by counting the
>amount of overtones?

For a good first approximation you can identify instruments using just the
loudness and frequency distribution of overtones. Even a static snapshot is
a much better start than it should be.

But to really characterise the timbral structure you need to look at the
envelope of each overtone as well, and also the way the overtones change
with differences in playing technique (dynamics, at the very least.) And
pitch too.


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