# What is meant by 'harmonics' in a musical note, and how are harmonics explained in physics? How is this relevant to how the same note played on different musical instruments sound different?

Aug 16, 2016

Harmonics are additional higher-frequency vibrations in a standing wave, such as occurs in the string or air column of a musical instrument.

#### Explanation:

If a guitar string is plucked or a flute is blown, a standing wave of a particular frequency will be created. This is the 'fundamental', and is the particular note being played - maybe an A.

The A just below middle-C on a piano has a frequency of 440 Hz.

An A played on a flute sounds quite different from an A played on a guitar, though. This is because there will also be a blend of harmonics playing, at a range of volumes. This blend is called the 'timbre' of the sound.

Harmonics are often multiples of the frequency of the fundamental. A tone one octave higher - the first A above middle-C for example - has a frequency twice as high: 880 Hz for that A. Another octave higher, the frequency doubles again, and so on. There are also other multiples, like 3/2.