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Physical Characteristics

middle C, pure tone, tuning fork, timbre, principal component

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If A above middle C is played on a violin, a piano, and a tuning fork, all at the same volume, the tones are identical in frequency and amplitude, but different in quality. Of these three sources, the simplest tone is produced by the tuning fork; the sound in this case consists almost entirely of vibrations having frequencies of 440 Hz. Because of the acoustical properties of the ear and the resonance properties of the ear's vibrating membrane, however, it is doubtful that a pure tone reaches the inner hearing mechanism in an unmodified form. The principal component of the note produced by the piano or violin also has a frequency of 440 Hz, but these notes also contain components with frequencies that are exact multiples of 440, called overtones, at 880, 1320, and 1760 Hz, for example. The exact intensity of these other components, which are called harmonics, determines the quality, or timbre, of the note.

Article key phrases:

middle C, pure tone, tuning fork, timbre, principal component, overtones, harmonics, amplitude, violin, Hz, piano, frequency, volume, sound, notes, example, components, sources, case, quality

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