Category Archives: music

MUSIC: tuning,harmonic, equal temper, beat frequency :MATH – part trois !

So, what is the difference in musical effect between the harmonic scale and the equal temper scale ?

Whenever two notes are played together the ear “hears” the two notes both separately and together. The “togetherness” is a consequence of the perception by the ear of a third note, usually quite faint, the beat note with associated “beat frequency”. The effect is very noticeable when two recorders are played, as the notes are very “pure”. A pure note is one which consists of vibrations at exactly one frequency, and this is described by a sine wave or sine function y = sin(2πkx) where x is time and k is frequency.

Below, and with many thanks to DESMOS, which made the job almost painless, are plots of the sum of a frequency 5 wave and a frequency 5+b/2 wave, for various decreasing values of b. (The first has b = 0 to show the sum of the frequency 5 wave with itself, giving a reference point of 2sin(5*2πx)

beatpic1a

Now with frequencies 5 and 10
beatpic2a

Now with frequencies 5 and 9beatpic3a

Now with frequencies 5 and 7, something going on herebeatpic4a

Now with frequencies 5 and 5.75, notice the appearance of the beat in the signalbeatpic5a

Now with frequencies 5 and 5.5beatpic6a

Now with frequencies 5 and 5.25beatpic7a

And finally with frequencies 5 and 5.05beatpic9a

The first thing to note is that the beat frequency is the difference between the two “added” frequencies. This can be seen by seeing the period of the beat in this last one as 20, which is a frequency of 1/20 or 0.05 (= 5.5 – 5). (The math for all of this will be in another post). See London police whistle

The second thing to note is that in the case of 5 and 5.75 the frequency ratio is 5.75/5 = 23/20, and this is greater than the relative frequency of the 9/8 whole tone (C to D), and a bit less than 6/5, one of the estimates for the interval C to Eflat. This one has quite a large effect on the perceived sound of the whole tone interval, and is one reason why it is difficult to hear the two notes separately.

Now we can see what this all means in the harmonic tuning system. Let us take the notes C and E, frequency ratios 1 and 5/4.

The difference is 5/4 – 1 = 1/4. What note, if any, is this?

We have seen that multiplying by 2 doubles the frequency and produces a note one octave higher, so dividing by 2 produces a note one octave lower. Do it again and we get a note two octaves lower.

So the beat frequency for the pair CE is the C two octaves down. I will write this as C,, and the C two octaves up will be C”.

This means that each (in this case) of the two notes C and E is a harmonic of the beat frequency.

Consequently the CE interval will appear to have more “body” than might be expected. Just try playing the C on its own and then with a quieter 2 C’s below added.

This can be done for all the intervals on the harmonic scale (results shown in the table below).

The main conclusion I have come to is that the reason a choir trained without a piano accompaniment has a fuller sound than one used to singing with a piano, or other musical “backing” is that the first type automatically tunes itself in the harmonic system, and consequently has the benefit of beat frequencies which are in tune with the notes being sung.

This is particularly noticeable with barbershop singing.

Let us compare equal temper with harmonic on the major third interval CB

Harmonic: interval is 1 to 5/4, beat frequency is 1/4 or 0.25 , nice !

Equal temper: interval is 1 to cube root of 2 (twelfth root of 2 raised to power of 4, 4 semitones from C to E), and this is 0.260. So when we look at the second harmonic of this we get 4*0.260 = 1.04, which is NOT C. It is a bit less that a semitone above, and creates a low volume buzz that causes the major third to feel harsh.

The fifth, C to G, is not as much affected as the two systems give almost the same frequency.

Table coming

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under a cappella, barbershop, harmonic, math, music, piano, singing, tuning

MUSIC: tuning, scales, fractions, ratio, harmonics :MATH ! Part deux.

Recap from previous post. here is a readable table of the notes and relative frequencies for the scale of C:

beat harmonic scale
Notice that the whole tone intervals are not all the same size. There are two distinct sizes, with frequency ratios 9/8 and 10/9. Only the two semitone intervals EF and BC’ are the same. Check the others ! Use the slightly not obvious relationship between ratios  P/Q = (P/R)/(Q/R)

beat tone semitone

This was the situation faced by J. S. Bach when he wanted to write music in any key. He figured that if two intervals had the same relative size then the two notes from the first, played together, would have the same musical “feel” as the two notes from the second interval. He wanted the major chord Bflat-D-F to sound like the major chord C-E-G, and so on. Not only that, but the scale devised so far is lacking four of the five “black” notes, and hitherto these had been fudged in. If one pursues the harmonic approach one finds that for example F-sharp and G-flat are different. See later for details.

So he figured that as there were 12 semitones in the full octave the frequency of each note would have to be a fixed multiple of the previous note, so multiplying 1 by this fixed number 12 times must get you to 2. In other words the magic number is the twelfth root of 2. Its value is 1.059463094 from my calculator.

The table below shows the comparison between the new Equal Temper scale and the harmonic scale.

beat pitch comparison

In 1722 Bach composed twelve preludes and fugues for keyboard called Das Wohltemperierte Klavier

If the link doesn’t work here it is:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Well-Tempered_Clavier

Part three will look at beat frequencies and reasons for preferring the harmonic system, though not for keyboard instruments.

Leave a comment

Filed under fractions, math, music, musical scales, teaching

MUSIC: tuning, scales, fractions, ratio, harmonics :MATH !

beat spinet 1704A spinet, from1704

Nobody knows when or how humans began to make music, but as soon as they could make things that could be used to play “nice” sounds (call them “notes”) they wanted to make musical instments, objects that could produce a number of different notes. The ocarina was an early one of these, and a strange collection of notes it makes. Eventually it was found that some sequences of notes of increasing pitch sounded “better” than others, and the result was a “scale”. The one I am considering here is the well known eight note scale, which runs from a start note to a finish note one octave higher. Found on a piano as the “white” notes, they are C D E F G A B and C’. As usual, it’s one thing knowing what you want, it’s often quite another to find a way of achieving it. In this case it is “string to the rescue”.

A stretched string can be made to vibrate by plucking it. The result is a “nice” sound. This sound will have a “pitch”, which is musical jargon for the frequency of the vibrations, which is physics/engineering jargon for the rate at which the string repeats its vibrations. This rate is expressed in repeats or cycles per second (or other unit of time).
For the record the pitch of the middle C on a piano is 256 (movements of the string up and back down
per second).

Now it was observed millenia ago that if a finger is placed on a string halfway along and the string is then plucked the vibration rate or pitch is doubled, and the sound is described as one octave higher than from the unfingered string. This new note is also known as the first harmonic of the original. The second harmonic is what you get if the finger is placed one third of the way along the string, and its pitch is three times the original. The third harmonic, with pitch four times the original, two octaves up, comes from a quarter of the original string length, and so on …….
Taking the second harmonic, and halving the frequency, or pitch, we get a new note which is between the original and the first harmonic, and either of these played at the same time as the new note gives a “pleasant” sound.
Doing this for the the fourth harmonic (one fifth of the original string length) we get another new note and the original plus the two new notes together produce what is known as the “major chord”.
On the piano, with C the original note, the new notes described above are the G and the E.
Now we can do some math !
If the pitch of C is 256 then the (harmonic) pitch of G is 256 times 3/2. Why? Because the pitch of a harmonic from a plucked string is inversely proportional to the fraction of the string used to make the harmonic.
First harmonic – half the string – pitch 2 times 256 (one octave up)
Second harmonic – one third of the string – pitch 3 times 256 (to get the G)
Third harmonic – one quarter of the string – pitch 4 times 256 (two octaves up)
Fourth harmonic – one fifth of the string – pitch 5 times 256 (to get the E)
and continuing..
Fifth harmonic – one sixth of the string – pitch 6 times 256
Sixth harmonic – one seventh of the string – pitch 5 times 256
The fifth gives a note one octave up from the second, and the sixth gives a note which we call B-flat,
with pitch 256 times 7 divided by 4

The result of all this is that we now have five notes in the scale:
C 256 … E 320 … G 384 … B-flat 448 … C’ 512
but it is easier to see what is going on if we just look at these as proportions of the “home” note C
Then we get
C 1 … E 5/4 … G 3/2 … B-flat 7/4 … C’ 2
or even better
C 4/4 … E 5/4 … G 6/4 … B-flat 7/4 … C’ 8/4

There do seem to be some holes in this, when comparing with the piano.
Where are D, F, A and B ?
We could go up in eighths, which does produce good values for D and B:
C 8/8 … D 9/8 … E 10/8 … G 12/8 … B-flat 14/8 … B 15/8 … C’ 8/4
but F at 11/8 and A at 13/8 don’t look good.
So we look at G, the first of the “new” notes, and think of it as a new home note. Then we can figure out
the B and the D in relation to the G.

The three notes C, E and G form a major triad (the chord of C major), and have the ratios 1, 5/4, 3/2
So to get the ratios of B and D to G just divide all three by the G to C ratio:
(3/2)/(3/2), (15/8)/(3/2) and (9/4)/(3/2) (using 2 times 9/8 as the ratio for D ‘)
and get 1, 5/4 and 3/2, which shows that G B D’ forms a major triad, just like C E G

We still have a problem with F and A, so let us try to set up F A C’ as a major triad by using some simple fraction manipulation.
F to C’ is to be the same ratio interval as C to G, so using the letter F to stand for its ratio to C we want
C’/F = G/C = 3/2
but C’ stands for the ratio of C’ to C, which is 2
So 2/F = 3/2, and solving we get F = 4/3

You can now do the calculations for A, which ends up as A = 5/3, so our full scale, including B-flat, is
C 1 … D 9/8 … E 5/4 … F 4/3 … G 3/2 … A 5/3 … B-flat 7/4 … B 15/8 … C’ 2

Observe that these frequency ratios determine the notes for the scales of C and F, and the scale of G without the F-sharp.
More ratios of interest can be found, as we can see that the intervals CD, DE, FG, GA, AB are whole tones, and EF and BC’ are half or semitones.

Up to the time when Johann Sebastian Bach intruduced the equal tempered scale together with a set of pieces written in each of the possible keys the methods of tuning keyboard instruments (harpsichord, clavichord, spinet) were based on some variant of the harmonic approach.

Here is a link for some heavier stuff:

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/hframe.html

Next post: The equal tempered scale and some more math.

2 Comments

Filed under fractions, math, music, musical scales, teaching