The Physics of Sound: Harmonics

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When you pluck a string, a very interesting thing happens.

Not only does the string vibrate like this…


but it also vibrates like this…


and this…


and this…


and this…


and so on and so on.

The first vibration is called the fundamental and is perceived by us as the pitch of the note.  The “extra” vibrations are called overtones or harmonics. Notice that the “shape” of each harmonic is found by dividing the length of the string into sections, each section having a length that is a whole number division of the total length of the string: 1, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5 and so on.



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