How an instrument sounds - Harmonics

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How an instrument sounds - Harmonics

Postby Hugh-AR » 30 Jan 2018 07:05

To those of you who were up at midnight to watch the New Year in, did you have the telly on as we saw the old year out and the New Year in?

I was watching BBC as the clock chimes started. Before the 'bongs' of Big Ben 'on the hour' you get what are the 'Westminster Chimes'. You know, the little ditty you get on the quarter past, half past, quarter to, and on the hour. Well, I could not believe what I heard (or thought I had heard). One of the bells in the 'ditty' was the wrong chime! A low note where it should have been a high note This is the trouble with 'playing music by ear'. Something like this stands out and shouts at me! Well, this morning I tried to find a YouTube video confirming what I had heard, but the only one that had anything before the 'bongs' of Big Ben 'on the hour' had the Westminster Chimes playing perfectly. They sounded as they should. So was I imagining the whole thing? Were my hearing aids playing up?

I spoke on the phone to DonW (who I consider to be a real musician) and unfortunately he hadn't had the telly on. But he said that this was the wrong time of year to pick something like that up. He said that most people wouldn't spot a wrong note anyway; had probably had one too many at this point; and even if they noticed, would they care?

But this evening, more YouTube videos have gone up, and I have found the BBC one with the program I was watching. Have a close listen and tell me .. are the Westminster Chimes right, or not?



So what about that video that had the chimes playing perfectly? I reckon they must have pinched those from another recording from another year/time and stuck it on the front of their fireworks video. Which goes to show, you can't always believe what you see or hear.

Hugh

PS. I like the warning about 'flashing images'! Can you have fireworks without 'flashing images'?
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Re: How an instrument sounds - Harmonics

Postby Hugh-AR » 30 Jan 2018 07:06

I mentioned these 'Westminster Chimes' in the YouTube clip to Don Wherly (DonW), as I thought if anyone would know about clock chimes, he would. In his 'Introduction' he says he was an organ pipe builder, and he says:
I also produced pipes for a Texas clock maker, a builder of musical organ clocks.

Well, when he listened to it he could find nothing untoward with the clock chimes from Big Ben. He said that when you listen to the pitch of a note, it's not just the frequency of the note that you are listening to, but all the harmonics created by the instrument playing it. So if you listen to a note played on a piano, or trumpet, or violin, it is not just the frequency of the note being played that you are hearing. The 'harmonics' associated with it give us the 'sound' of the instrument that is playing it, and so a piano sounds different to a trumpet or a violin, even though they are playing the same 'note'.

Now he did agree, after listening to the YouTube clip closely, that there were some harmonics that were an octave lower in the chime I was referring to, but that the upper frequencies were there as well. So the sound I heard would depend on which frequencies are predominant. And, I was listening to the chimes with headphones, and my hearing aids in. So I removed my hearing aids, and played the YouTube clip through the amplifier with subwoofer that I have attached to my computer. And this time, the chimes sounded right? More or less. I could still hear some of those lower harmonics.

While I was researching all this, I looked up what they had to say about the chimes on Wikipedia. This is what they said:
Along with the Great Bell, the belfry houses four quarter bells which play the Westminster Quarters on the quarter hours. The four quarter bells sound G♯, F♯, E, and B.

These are running from the highest note to the lowest. So B is the bottom chime, and G# is the top one. This means that when the chimes sound, they are playing in the key of E. No wonder the chimes are so 'rich sounding'.

This is what I reckon the chimes should actually be playing as Big Ben comes up to the hour:

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As I was talking to Don, I heard his clock chiming in the background, so asked him to check out what key his were playing in. He checked it out, and told me they were playing in the key of D.

Does anybody else hear a predominantly lower G# (the top note) in that YouTube clip? Or is it just me?

Hugh
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Re: How an instrument sounds - Harmonics

Postby Hugh-AR » 30 Jan 2018 07:50

I have been talking to Don (DonW) again, and he was telling me that he has a 'Baby Grand' Piano at home (in addition to his Yamaha AR 100 organ, and a couple of other keyboards). When playing a single note you hear not only the 'pitch' of the note, but all the harmonics associated with it. This is what gives the Baby Grand the quality and uniqueness of what you hear.

Then, if you go and play that same note on a 'Grand' Piano, although it's the same note, it has a richness far greater than on the Baby Grand. This is because the 'strings' of the Grand Piano are longer than on the Baby Grand and have to be tightened more to get the same pitch. And it's the harmonics generated by this longer, tighter string that gives the Grand Piano it's unique sound.

This reminded me of a concert we went to at our Playhouse Theatre (a while ago now) when we went to see Peter Skellern and Richard Stilgoe. I already had several CDs of Peter Skellern and just love the sound of his Grand Piano. There is nothing like it! And he had his very own Grand Piano up there on the stage.. he didn't use the Grand Piano that they had in the theatre.

In the interval I was able to chat to him about his piano, and he said his piano was not what it seemed as it was 'electronically enhanced'. So not just a Grand Piano then, but an electronically enhanced one. That, he said, was why he had to take his own piano with him wherever he went. It's those harmonics again that give it that sound.

Coming back to our keyboards, the first ones they made generated sine waves, square waves and sawtooth waves, and they mixed these together to create the sounds these keyboards made. These days, they 'digitally sample' a sound source so they can replicate that sound exactly .. together with those harmonics. So we can hear eg. the actual sound of the organ in Salisbury Cathedral, or the Wurlitzer in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, or Acker Bilk's Clarinet, Eddie Calvert's Trumpet etc. And no doubt Peter Skellern's Piano if that has been sampled as one of the pianos available on your keyboard. Anyone got this one?

Hugh
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Re: How an instrument sounds - Harmonics

Postby Hugh-AR » 30 Jan 2018 09:14

Whilst we are on the subject of 'digitally sampling' sounds, take a look at this. This keyboard has been specifically created to replicate the Hammond Tonewheel organ sounds.

viewtopic.php?f=333&t=5990#p38922

Hugh
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