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Sound problem I spotted

  1. Jan 2, 2009 #1
    hallo, I found this problem at another forum and I got intrigued by it:

    Imagine a flute and violin.
    You play a a musicnote on it , a sol. You will get several overtones.

    Now when doing this the sound of the overtones will diminish (the volume goes down) when using the flute, however when doing it on a violin the overtones will stay +- the same.

    how do you explain this?
    I have absolutly no idea and too bad, in the textbook they dont explain it either
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 9, 2009 #2
    I would say, that because, a flute can be considered as a simple "one dimensional" object, so the overtones will diminish quickly, since there is only one quanta determining the clean notes.

    Whereas a violin has a very "non-regular" body, and it is a three dimensional resonator, for which we have 3 quanta, and hence their series is much more complicated..
  4. Jan 10, 2009 #3
    What do you mean with the word quanta? just to be sure I am not interpretating it wrong.
  5. Jan 10, 2009 #4
    Here's a thread from a flute forum which indicates that the player produces the overtones, or not, at will, although these people don't agree on the physics:

  6. Jan 10, 2009 #5


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    Hallo djef! :smile:

    Just guessing … maybe it has something to do with the node of a flute being just outside the open end of the flute, and different frequencies losing energy differently?

    Have a look at this New South Wales website … http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/jw/basics.html … maybe you'll find something there.
  7. Jan 11, 2009 #6


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    How much does it diminish? Naively, a flute note sounds pretty constant to me after the initial "attack". I googled "flute spectrogram" and got stuff that looks pretty constant:
    http://eamusic.dartmouth.edu/~book/MATCpages/chap.4/4.2.add_synth.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  8. Jan 11, 2009 #7
    If you go to the flute forum I linked to and search it for "overtones" you get the distinct impression that certain ranges of notes allow for the production of more overtones, and that, the flautist must learn how to consistently produce them: adapting to different ranges. There is some disagreement among them on how to do this, and on the physics of it in general, because each particular flute design is different (subtly) and the physiology of each flautist is different. The wikipedia article on flutes adds more insight into this.

    If we suppose the OP scenario describes a flautist picking up an instrument he's never played before, and producing a note with overtones at first, which then die out because he's unused to that instrument, then it's realistic: once you start to appreciate the specific flautist/flute relationship in play here. "Playing overtones" is, from what these players say, something that has to be deliberately learned and practiced on the flute. Very subtle changes in the direction and force of the airstream, size of the opening made with the lips, and other considerations, affect the production of overtones, apparently.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  9. Jan 11, 2009 #8


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    Thanks! I looked up the flute forum and there seem to be 2 related but distinct uses of "overtone". The first relates to the colour or timbre of a particular pitch, while the second is about getting different pitches using the same fingering by overblowing. I wonder which the OP meant. If he meant the second, then the corresponding thing on the violin would be playing "harmonics". The common thing in both seems to be getting to instrument to sound without the lowest mode sounding.

    Flute overblowing - (essentially) no fingers! Also some harmonica overblowing:


    Here's a violin harmonic, and the technique is completely different - touching the string at a node rather than altering air pressure/velocity or whatever.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  10. Jan 12, 2009 #9
    Good point. I do not know.

    When I went to the last link in your first post I ran into the demonstration of "Shepherd's Tones" and now I am a basket case. I can't sort out how that works. The sound just keeps rising in tone without getting anywhere.
  11. Jan 12, 2009 #10


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    :rofl: Yes, I love that too :smile:
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