Beat (acoustics)


Beat (acoustics)

In acoustics, a beat is an interference between two sounds of slightly different frequencies, perceived as periodic variations in volume whose rate is the difference between the two frequencies.

When tuning instruments that can produce sustained tones, beats can readily be recognized. Tuning two tones to a unison will present a peculiar effect: when the two tones are close in pitch but not yet identical, the difference in frequency generates the beating. The volume varies like in a tremolo as the sounds alternately interfere constructively and destructively. When the two tones gradually approach unison, the beating slows down and disappears, giving way to full-bodied unison resonance.

Mathematics and physics of beat tones

This phenomenon manifests acoustically. If a graph is drawn to show the function corresponding to the total sound of two strings, it can be seen that maxima and minima are no longer constant as when a pure note is played, but change over time: when the two waves are nearly 180 degrees out of phase the maxima of each cancel the minima of the other, whereas when they are nearly in phase their maxima sum up, raising the perceived volume.

It can be proven (see List of trigonometric identities) that the successive values of maxima and minima form a wave whose frequency equals the difference between the two starting waves. Let's demonstrate the simplest case, between two sine waves of unit amplitude:

:{ sin(2pi f_1t)+sin(2pi f_2t) } = { 2cosleft(2pifrac{f_1-f_2}{2}t ight)sinleft(2pifrac{f_1+f_2}{2}t ight) }

If the two starting frequencies are quite close (usually differences of the order of few hertz), the frequency of the cosine of the right side of the expression above, that is ("f"1−"f"2)/2, is often too slow to be perceived as a pitch. Instead, it is perceived as a periodic variation of the sine in the expression above (it can be said, the cosine factor is an "envelope" for the sine wave), whose frequency is ("f"1 + "f"2)/2, that is, the average of the two frequencies. However, because the sine part of the right side function alternates between negative and positive values many times during one period of the cosine part, only the absolute value of the envelope is relevant. The frequency is thus the difference of the two starting frequencies ("f"1 − "f"2). This can be seen on the diagram on the right.

A physical interpretation is that when cosleft(2pifrac{f_1-f_2}{2}t ight) equals one, the two waves are in phase and they interfere constructively. When it is zero, they are out of phase and interfere destructively. Beats occur also in more complex sounds, or in sounds of different volumes, though calculating them mathematically is not so easy.

Beating can also be heard between notes that are near to, but not exactly, a harmonic interval, due to some harmonic of the first note beating with a harmonic of the second note. For example, in the case of perfect fifth, the third harmonic (i.e. second overtone) of the bass note beats with the second harmonic (first overtone) of the other note. As well as with out-of tune notes, this can also happen with some correctly tuned equal temperament intervals, because of the differences between them and the corresponding just intonation intervals: see Harmonic series (music)#Harmonics and tuning.

Difference tones

Consider the two waves starting in unison, "f"1−"f"2 = 0. As the difference between "f"1 and "f"2 increases, the speed increases. Beyond a certain proximity (usu. about 15 Hz), beating becomes undetectable and a roughness is heard instead, after which the two pitches are perceived as separate. If the beating frequency rises to the point that the envelope becomes audible (usually, much more than 20 Hz), it is called a difference tone. The violinist Giuseppe Tartini was the first to describe it, dubbing it "il Terzo Suono" (Italian for "the third sound"). Playing pure harmonies ("i.e.", a frequency pair of a simple proportional relation, like 4/5 or 5/6, as in just intonation major and minor third respectively) on the two upper strings, such as the C above middle C against an open E-string, will produce a clearly audible C two octaves lower.

Audio|terzosuono.ogg|An interesting listening experiment is to start from a perfect unison and then very slowly and regularly increase the pitch of one tone. When one tone starts to split out from the former twin-note, a slow rumbling can be heard, gradually increasing into an audible tone.

Uses

Musicians commonly use interference beats to objectively check tuning at the unison, perfect fifth, or other simple harmonic intervals. Piano and organ tuners even use a method involving counting beats, aiming at a particular number for a specific interval.

The composer Alvin Lucier has written many pieces which feature interference beats as their main focus.

Binaural beats

Binaural beats are heard when the right ear listens to a slightly different tone than the left ear. Here, the tones do not interfere physically, but are summed by the brain in the olivary nucleus. This effect is related to the brain's ability to locate sounds in three dimensions. In addition, there are indications that binaural beats may have a psychological or neurological effect upon the listener.

ample

See also

* Voix céleste
* Gamelan#Tuning
* Heterodyne
* Interference

External links

* [http://www-math.mit.edu/daimp/Beats.html JAVA applet] , MIT
* [http://www.physicallyincorrect.com/2007/11/beating-your-guitar-into-tune/ "Beating your Guitar into Tune"]


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