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Essential Building Blocks of Music

How Tones and Overtones REALLY Work

Tones and Their Properties

What Is a Tone—A Musical Tone?

All music—whether folk, pop, symphonic, modal, tonal, atonal, polytonal, microtonal, well-tempered, ill-tempered, music from the distant past or imminent future—all of it has a common origin in the universal phenomenon of the harmonic series.


As discussed in Chapter 1, humans use discrete pitches, or discrete tones, in both speech and music, unlike the sliding vocalizations of most primates.

A music dictionary will tell you that a tone (or note) is a sound of a definite pitch. And a pitch? A tone.

Not terribly helpful.

The truth is, you can use words to describe a tractor or a tiger lily or a tuba. But not a tone. Like that other critical element of music, time, tone defies verbal description because it’s a phenomenon you perceive with one of your senses. You sense tone, just as you sense color, odour, taste, and touch.

You have to actually hear a tone to understand what a tone is. Once you know what a tone is, you can get to know its properties.

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