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What is Tone? September 22, 2006

Posted by healthyself in 1000 Hz, 320 Hz, 440 Hz, 880 Hz, Blogroll, Cell phone safety, Cell Phones, Ear, Electromagnetic Field, Electromagnetic Spectrum, Electromagnetic waves, Frequencies, Harmonics, Hearing, Noise, Pitch, Sound, Spectrum, Tone, Waves.

Tone (music and acoustics)

Physically, a sound that is composed of discrete frequency (or sine-wave) components; psychologically, an auditory sensation that is characterized foremost by its pitch or pitches.

The physical definition distinguishes a tone from a noise, wherein the components form a continuum of frequencies. Tones may be pure, consisting of a single frequency, or they may be complex. Complex tones, in turn, may be periodic or not periodic. Periodic complex tones repeat themselves at rapid regular intervals. They have frequency components that are harmonics—discrete frequencies that are integer multiples of a fundamental frequency. For example, the tone of an oboe consists of a fundamental frequency of 440 hertz, a second harmonic component with a frequency of 880 Hz, a third harmonic at 1320 Hz, and so on. In general, musical instruments that generate continuous sounds—the bowed strings, the brasses, and the woodwinds—create such periodic tones. Tones that are not periodic (aperiodic) have frequency components that do not fit a harmonic series. Percussive instruments such as kettledrums and bells make such aperiodic tones.

Pitch is a sensation of highness or lowness that is the basic element of melody. Periodic complex tones tend to have a single pitch, which listeners will match by a pure tone having a frequency equal to the fundamental frequency of the periodic complex tone. Aperiodic complex tones tend to have multiple pitches. A second psychological attribute of complex tones is tone color or timbre. Tone color is often represented by descriptive adjectives. The adjectives may be linked to the physical spectrum. Thus, a tone with strong harmonics above 1000 Hz may be called “bright.” A tone with no harmonics at all above 1000 Hz may be called “dull” or “stuffy.”

tone (tōn) pronunciation

  1. Music.
    1. A sound of distinct pitch, quality, and duration; a note.
    2. The interval of a major second in the diatonic scale; a whole step.
    3. A recitational melody in a Gregorian chant.
    1. The quality or character of sound.
    2. The characteristic quality or timbre of a particular instrument or voice.
    1. The pitch of a word used to determine its meaning or to distinguish differences in meaning.
    2. The particular or relative pitch of a word, phrase, or sentence.
  2. Manner of expression in speech or writing: took an angry tone with the reporters.
  3. A general quality, effect, or atmosphere: a room with an elegant tone.
    1. A color or shade of color: light tones of blue.
    2. Quality of color: The green wallpaper had a particularly somber tone.
  4. The general effect in painting of light, color, and shade.
  5. Physiology.
    1. The normal state of elastic tension or partial contraction in resting muscles.
    2. Normal firmness of a tissue or an organ.

v., toned, ton·ing, tones. v.tr.

  1. To give a particular tone or inflection to.
  2. To soften or change the color of (a painting or photographic negative, for example).
  3. To sound monotonously; intone.
  4. To make firmer or stronger. Often used with up: exercises that tone up the body.


  1. To assume a particular color quality.
  2. To harmonize in color.

phrasal verb:tone down

  1. To make less vivid, harsh, or violent; moderate.

[Middle English ton, from Old French, from Latin tonus, from Greek tonos, string, a stretching.]



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