Acoustic sound includes, in addition to the fundamental tone, the above-forming partial tones. The fundamental tone is the most audible in the tone and determines for example if it’s heard as note G or D. In cases of most musical instruments the frequencies of partials are same as the harmonics, which are partials whose frequencies are integer multiples of the fundamental tone. The first harmonic partial, which I call in this case the first overtone, has the frequency value twice as big as the fundamental. Second overtone’s value is three times fundamental tone’s frequency. Third, fourth and fifth overtone form major triad. Some partial tones have short durations and are not arranged in an hierarchal order. Human ear experiences them normally as a noise. They also give the sound or instrument its specific timbre or characteristics e.g. attack, solidness, airiness. Instruments like cymbals, drum heads and other percussions naturally produce plenty of inharmonic partials and do not imply any particular pitch.

Harmonic series based on a fundamental tone “C”. Upper numbers show the tuning offset compared to equal tuning


Laaksonen, J. 2006.
Yvert, J-P. 1996.

© Janne Ojajärvi