[Smt-talk] The Overtone Series

Ildar Khannanov etudetableau at gmail.com
Tue Jul 22 23:22:14 PDT 2014

Interestingly enough, Seikilos epitaph begins with the triad; its first
three tones form a triad. The Morning Raga that I have heard recently plays
out a triad, formed between the drone and the melodic voice. Listen to
Victimae paschali laudes immolent Christiani: when you will finish
listening to this phrase you will realize that the melody plays out a minor
triad on the span of an octave and the fourth. Listen to famous Arabic
melody of the 13th century, Ya hazzali keifa hanni, it constitutes the
structure of two triads, related as dominant and tonic. Listen
to Bashkirian prolong song Selimakai, you will hear a triad. These are
examples from 25 centuries of history and pretty much global distribution.

All these examples are based on their local historical pitch systems. What
is amazing, however, is that they are all inscribed into triadic structure.
Triad is ubiquitous. It exceeds any concept. It is not a product of
cultivation; it grows like weeds. If there are laws of nature in music, the
triad is one of them. Triad is not a concept. Using the terms from our
previous discussion, I could say that triad is passive cause, clay (hule),
trees (silva). It takes an active cause, Logos, to breath in it a meaning
and certain functional differentiation.

I agree with Andrew: what you hear is not all what your ear does perceive.
How, in a raga, in maquam, in a nomadic song, a singer matches the third
(or the fifth) to a tone? What is his or her criterion? It is something
that is related to intuitive discovery of the tones of the natural overtone

Best wishes,

Ildar Khannanov
Peabody Institute
etudetableau at gmail.com

2014-07-22 14:32 GMT-04:00 Victor grauer <victorag at verizon.net>:

> To Carson, Ildar, Dimitar et al.
> You don't need to convince me about harmonics. I'm very aware of them and
> have used them in my own work. But there is a difference between the
> harmonics you can produce when experimenting or performing on a string
> instrument and the overtones you hear when listening to isolated "normal"
> tones on any instrument at all. As we all know very well, overtones are
> usually heard as timbre, not as discretely identifiable pitches. What makes
> an oboe sound different from a violin is the relative strength of the
> different overtones. Same when you sing on the vowel "a," which sounds
> different from "o" or "ee" only because the overtone patterns are different
> for each vowel.
> Sure, it's possible to train yourself and others to hear the overtones as
> discrete pitches, but that's very different from the claim that overtones
> are routinely heard as a "chord" made up of such pitches rather than a tone
> color. For this reason it seems obvious to me that the triad could not have
> originated from listening to the overtone series.
> Now admittedly it might be possible to claim the triad could have
> originated from experimenting with string harmonics, which is a different
> matter. But in that case one is not listening to a chord, but to individual
> pitches. You might derive some scales that way, but there's a big
> difference between a scale and a chord.
> Moreover, as I see it the real problem with deriving the triad from the
> overtone series is that the triad as such appeared only very late in music
> history and only in the Western tradition. The polyphonic tradition that
> began in the churches, monasteries and cathedrals of Europe was based on
> intervals, not complete chords -- although chords including triads,
> certainly appear, they are incidental, not a fundamental element of the
> musical structures. It wasn't until the 16th century that, very suddenly
> and out of nowhere, we find music clearly and unequivocally based on triads.
> Many theoreticians, I think, rely too heavily on the purely theoretical
> aspects of music, ignoring equally important historical aspects pertaining
> to the origin and development of culturally based traditions. As I see it,
> the triad is one of these traditions. It appeared at a certain time and
> place in music history and proceeded to evolve as a tradition. One can
> theorize about the manner in which the triad is employed and the way in
> which it expanded into seventh chords, ninth chords, secondary dominants,
> etc. But there was nothing "natural" about its origin, it was a cultural
> phenomenon through and through.
> Victor Grauer
> Pittsburgh, PA, USA
> http://www.amazon.com/Life-Times-Musical-Virus-Critical-ebook/dp/B00LH0GKJC/
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