HANDBOOK OF ACOUSTICS - online book

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ON THE QUALITY OF MUSICAL SOUNDS. 85
A Compound Tone is due to the combination of two or more pendular vibrations, or waves.
Every Compound Tone may be resolved into a certain number of Simple Tones, whose relative pitch follows the law of the partial series.
Similarly, every compound wave may be resolved into a certain number of simple pendular waves, whose lengths are in the ratios of
The form of the sound wave, therefore, determines the number, order, and relative intensities of the partials, that is, the quality of the resultant sound. On the other hand, given the quality, it is not possible to determine the corresponding wave form, since for any one such quality, there is an infinity of wave forms, due to the infinite number of relative positions or phases in which the con­stituent pendular waves may start.
The ear does not perceive a Compound Tone as such, but analyses it into its constituent pendular waves, each of these latter producing the sensation of a Simple Tone at its own particular pitch and intensity.