Seven Important Characteristics N°6 Harmonics

The richness and character of a musical note is often found within the harmonics.

Harmonics are commonly referred to as “timbre.” Every instrument has a fundamental frequency, referred to as the fundamental, and harmonics associated with it.

On an oscilloscope, the fundamental shows up as a pure sine wave, as seen in the Ruben’s Tube video; however, sound is much more complex.

Most sounds contain more information in addition to the fundamental. In music, instruments have their own musical makeup of a fundamental plus additional harmonics unique to that instrument.


This is how we can distinguish a bass guitar from a tuba, a French horn from a violin, or any two sounds when the same note at the same volume is played.

Instruments that sound smoother, like a flute, have less-harmonic information and the fundamental note is more apparent in the sound.

Instruments that sound edgier, like a trumpet, tend to have more harmonics in the sound with decreased emphasis on the fundamental.

If you were to play a low E on the bass guitar, known as E1, the fundamental note would be about 41 Hz.

You can figure out the harmonics by simply multiplying the fundamental times 2, 3, 4, etc. The fundamental note E1 = 41 Hz. The second harmonic would be 82 Hz (41 × 2).

The third harmonic would be 123 Hz (41 × 3).

The fourth harmonic would be 164 Hz (41 × 4).It is a common practice among engineers to bring out a sound by boosting the harmonics instead of boosting the fundamental.

For instance, if the goal is to hear more bass, boosting 900 Hz may bring out the neck, or fretboard, of the instrument and make the note pop out of the mix.

The result is more apparent in bass, without the addition of destructive low end to the instrument.Additionally, harmonics are divided into evens and odds.

Even harmonics are smoother and can make the listener feel comfortable, whereas odd harmonics often make the listener

feel edgy. Many engineers and musicians use this knowledge when seeking out microphone preamps, amplifiers, and other musical equipment containing vacuum tubes.

These tubes create even distortion harmonics that are pleasing to the ear and odd distortion harmonics that generate more edge and grit.


Taking a music fundamentals class or studying music theory can definitely benefit you as an audio engineer.

These classes and concepts can help you develop a well-rounded background and better understanding of music.

You can never know too much in this field!

The more you know, the easier time you will have communicating effectively with skilled musicians.

If you are able to speak intelligently, they are more likely to be comfortable working with you and putting their trust in you.

The more skills you possess the better your chance for success.

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