In acoustics, a faint higher tone contained within almost any musical tone. A body producing a musical pitch—such as a taut string or a column of air within the tubular body of a wind instrument—vibrates not only as a unit but simultaneously also in sections, resulting in the presence of a series of overtones within the fundamental tone (i.e., the one identified as the actual pitch). Harmonics are a series of overtones resulting when the partial vibrations are of equal sections (e.g., halves, thirds, fourths). Partials are nonharmonic overtones—that is, tones the frequencies of which lie outside the harmonic series. Overtones contribute greatly to the timbre of a given sound source, even though few listeners are aware of hearing any pitch except the fundamental. There are a few rare examples of the human voice creating overtones, notably in the chants of the Tibetan monks and the songs of the Tuvan throat singers. The latter can sometimes produce two overtones.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
For the full entry on overtone, visit Britannica.com.

Seen & Heard

What made you look up overtone? Please tell us what you were reading, watching or discussing that led you here.

Get Our Free Apps
Voice Search, Favorites,
Word of the Day, and More
Join Us on FB & Twitter
Get the Word of the Day and More