Nevertheless I think each time there is one sound, there is one fundamental note and harmonics ?

  • 2
    Just to know how to word a potential answer, how familiar are you with the concept of Fourier transform?
    – Tom
    Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 12:04
  • I just know that in Fourier transform there is fundamental and harmonics that are at multiples frequencies of fundamentals
    – user80618
    Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 12:10
  • 1
    Semantics: Since this question wants to get specific and analytical, it's more useful to talk about "pitches" than "notes," since the word "note" comes with other meanings (duration, confusion over octaves, etc.) Also, thought experiment: does white noise have pitches? (Sure, all sounds are "made of" frequencies, but it doesn't mean there has to be a fundamental.) Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 12:49
  • Not everybody says that: youtube.com/watch?v=dNlu6d3Xjbc&t=1m28s (for those who don't want to click the link, it's Terry Bozzio explaining his pentatonic drum kit)
    – ojs
    Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 13:45
  • 1
    Not everyone says this. It's common knowledge that drums can be pitched, and some percussion like the xylophone family is clearly pitched. Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 16:53

1 Answer 1


Each time there is a periodic sound/signal, there is a fundamental and harmonics. There are proper periodic sounds (like a regularly interrupted air stream) and there are almost proper periodic sounds where higher modes of vibration are approximately harmonic, like piano strings where thicker strings exhibit some disharmonicity with higher partials being somewhat sharp of being proper harmonics. Those are pitched sounds.

But something like the crash of a cymbal or a hissing sound just does not have enough dominant frequencies to lend itself to a periodic or almost-periodic representation.

Drums tend to be unspecific enough in frequency (also depending on just how you strike them) to count as unpitched while timpani are constructed and tuned specific enough to count as pitched. That's sort of the borderline that is drawn musically.

  • Good answer, periodicity is the key!
    – Tom
    Commented Aug 17, 2021 at 12:18

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