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Music Acoustics any of the tones, with the exception of the fundamental, that constitute a musical sound and contribute to its quality, each having a frequency that is a multiple of the fundamental frequency
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a constituent tone of a complex vibration (mechanical, including sound and electrical, vibrations) having a frequency higher than that of the fundamental tone. The ratio of the frequencies of the overtones to the fundamental tone is shown by breaking the complex vibration down into a series. Overtones whose frequencies are integral multiples of the frequency of the fundamental are called harmonic overtones, or harmonics. All other overtones are nonharmonic. An overtone can be separated by means of a resonator.

A musical sound is composed of the fundamental tone and the harmonic overtones, or partials. Overtones occur because a sounding body (string, air column) vibrates not only as a whole but also in sections (1/2, 1/3, 1/4). Overtones are weaker than the fundamental tone, and thus blend with it. As a result, they are not detected by the ear. However, the presence and relative force of each overtone determine the timbre of a sound. Nonharmonic overtones are inherent to sirens, bells, and various noises.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A component of a complex sound whose frequency is an integral multiple, greater than 1, of the fundamental frequency.
A component of a complex tone having a pitch higher than that of the fundamental pitch.
One of the normal modes of vibration of a vibrating system whose frequency is greater than that of the fundamental mode.
A harmonic other than the fundamental component.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.