Overtones – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Audio Terms Glossary

What are overtones?

Overtones are higher frequency vibrations that occur simultaneously with the fundamental frequency of a sound. When a musical instrument or vocal cord produces a sound, it is not just a single frequency that is being emitted. Instead, a complex series of frequencies are produced, with the lowest frequency being the fundamental tone and the higher frequencies being overtones.

How do overtones affect sound?

Overtones play a crucial role in shaping the timbre or quality of a sound. They give each instrument or voice its unique character and distinguish one sound from another. The presence and intensity of overtones can make a sound bright, warm, harsh, or mellow. By manipulating the overtones, musicians and audio engineers can create a wide range of sounds and textures.

What is the difference between overtones and harmonics?

While the terms overtones and harmonics are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference between the two. Overtones refer to any higher frequency vibrations that accompany the fundamental frequency of a sound. Harmonics, on the other hand, specifically refer to overtones that are whole number multiples of the fundamental frequency. In other words, harmonics are a subset of overtones that follow a mathematical relationship with the fundamental frequency.

How are overtones used in music production?

In music production, overtones are used to enhance the richness and depth of a sound. By emphasizing or suppressing certain overtones, producers can alter the tonal quality of an instrument or voice. Overtones are also used to create a sense of space and dimension in a mix, allowing different elements to stand out and blend together harmoniously.

How can overtones be manipulated in audio engineering?

Audio engineers have a variety of tools and techniques at their disposal to manipulate overtones. Equalization (EQ) is commonly used to boost or cut specific frequencies, including overtones. Compression can also be used to control the dynamic range of overtones, making them more consistent and prominent in the mix. Additionally, effects such as reverb, delay, and modulation can be applied to alter the spatial and textural characteristics of overtones.

What are some common examples of overtones in music?

One of the most well-known examples of overtones in music is the sound of a plucked string instrument, such as a guitar or piano. When a string is plucked, it vibrates not only at its fundamental frequency but also at higher frequencies that create a rich, resonant sound. Another common example is the human voice, which produces a complex series of overtones that give each singer their unique vocal timbre. In orchestral music, overtones are present in every instrument, contributing to the lush and vibrant sound of a full ensemble.