The Harmonic Series: The Genesis of Music

Part 1 - “The Portal Opens”

NOTE: It is suggested the musical examples contained within are listened to on headphones or quality speakers. The resonant sounds of these examples often distort low-quality speakers.

Every time a string on a musical instrument is plucked, a portal is opened to the realm of infinite musical possibility. Deeply listening to the sound of a single oscillating string, we can be held spellbound by the limitless primordial harmonic potentiality contained within.

However, to the casual listener listening on merely the surface level, a vibrating string is but a mundane everyday event:

To the untrained ear, this sound is merely a commonplace musical note. We could call this musical note C.” 

However, this single musical tone is not merely a single frequency. It is a resonant synergistic blend of an infinite series of frequencies called the harmonic series. Listening deeply to a single vibrating string, one can hear an orchestra of fluctuating tones in the higher registers above the fundamental frequency of C.” 

Using the cutting-edge software technology Infinitone DMT, we can unveil this wondrous palette of concealed frequencies and play each of them individually. 

Here is that same vibrating string, followed by the first 32 (out of infinite) unique frequencies that are hiding within:

Spacing of first 32 harmonics compared to standard 12-tone tuning (screenshot from Infinitone DMT software)

We can access a profoundly expressive palette of primordial musical colors by unpacking these covert frequencies. These harmonic colours can be used to create scales and chords that are significantly more resonant and beautiful than those notes found on standard modern instruments and synthesisers.

Through a deeper state of listening to the sounds of a single vibrating string, musicians can break free from limits imposed by standard musical training and greatly expand their range of musical expression.

On standard modern instruments, such as the piano, guitar, synthesizer, or harmonium, there is a palette of merely 12 musical intervals. These discrete musical steps are like discrete colour steps on a rainbow:

Here is the sound of the low-resolution musical color spectrum available in standard 12-tone tuning:

However, the harmonic series provides an infinitely expansive palette of musical colors that is analogous to the palette from which a visual artist selects their colours:

Spacing of harmonics 64-127 compared to standard 12-tone tuning (screenshot from Infinitone DMT software)

Now listen to a palette of 64 resonant “musical colours” drawn from the 7th “octave” of the harmonic series:

Interestingly, these unpacked frequencies can also be repacked to “reverse engineer” a musical tone. In this following example, we will slowly speed up the first 32 harmonics frequencies (from the second musical example) until they are played in exact synchrony, thereby alchemically transforming a tuning into a timbre (the perceived single note created out of a complex array of discrete frequencies). At the end of this sequence, a phaser effect is applied to the new timbre so one can hear the individual frequencies contained within the single perceived tone. Then a tambura sound is faded in so it can be observed how perfectly these calculated synthesized frequencies blend within the sound of organic acoustic strings:

Visual analysis of frequency content of “Accelerating Harmonic Series”

Many philosophical traditions worldwide explore the theme “‘the many’ is contained within ‘the one’.” There is perhaps no better way to experience this than when deeply listening to the sound of a single vibrating string. No wonder so many philosophical texts reference the inseparable relationship between divinity and music!

Through the study of the harmonic series, we can understand both the primordial origins of musical acoustics out of which all current musical traditions are born, as well as tap into new and exciting musical resources that have to potential to be the basis of the “music of the future.” Whether you are a musician playing in a traditional style or a musician seeking to explore new musical territory, knowledge of the harmonic series is essential for deepening your connection with music and developing full command of your musical expression. This series of articles will uncover ancient secrets of this miracle of nature, the harmonic series, so we can better understand our past and evolve brilliantly into the future!

Stay tuned” for the next episode!

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