Overtone Series for Trumpet Players (This Might Melt Your Brain)

The overtone series is the sonic example of the Golden Ratio, and it underlies all music (and all sound, really), no matter where the music comes from. Brass players are intimately familiar with the overtone series (also known as the harmonic series), even if they don’t know what it’s called. Produce sound through any tube (like didgeridoo, shofar, flute, bugle, trumpet, garden hose, etc.) while keeping the length of the tube the same (i.e. don’t push keys or valves), and you’ll hear the overtone series. Here’s a quick example of the overtone series on trumpet for several valve combinations:

With practice, you can sing one note (called the fundamental) and by shaping the inside of your mouth just so, you can sing the overtone series above that fundamental. That amazing skill is wonderfully demonstrated by singer Anna-Maria Hefele in the video below. After her demonstration, there’s a couple more video of what overtone singing sounds like in a piece of music.


SUPERSONUS: The European Resonance Ensemble

Anna-Maria Hefele, overtone singing
Eva-Maria Rusche, harpsichord
Anna-Liisa Eller, kannel
Wolf Janscha, jew´s harp
Marco Ambrosini, nyckelharpa, jew´s harp

Overtone singing was first introduced to me in the form of Tuvan throat singing by virtuosos Hu Huun Tur. Here’s some concert footage. It’s over an hour long, but if you don’t have the time to listen, skip down to the second video that starts at an introduction and superb example of the sygyrt style of singing.


Example of Tuvan Throat Singing


Back-To-School Specials On All Formats:


The Practice of PracticeBasic Music Theory: How to Read, Write, and Understand Written Music, by Jonathan HarnumSound the Trumpet: How to Blow Your Own Horn




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