Hey everyone. This is a visual guide to help you understand harmonics, the way I understand them. If anything is this guide is incorrect, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or shoot a message at me in our discord. The last thing I want to do is spread false information!
The spectrum analyzer I’m using in this guide is Voxengo Span, and is free to download here.
What are harmonics?
Harmonics are a “series of overtones accompanying a fundamental frequency, at fixed intervals”.
Sure, but unless you’re already familiar with harmonics, that sentence made no sense. Let’s put it into pictures and make it easy to understand!
The above picture is a sine wave playing C5. If you notice, the peak of this frequency is at 524hz.
This is the fundamental frequency - the one tone that is being played without any harmonics or overtones.
Overtones are tones played on top of a frequency.
Harmonics are the overtones that are played in integer multiples of the fundamental.
In the above image you can see that there are now more overtone frequencies being played (I ran the C5 sine wave through Serum’s FX Tube distortion). All of the frequencies here are in odd integer multiples of the fundamental.
Knowing this, we can even say that the fundamental is a harmonic frequency as well, because it is an integer multiple of itself! If you’re an audio nerd like me, that’s pretty cool.
And for those who like math (there are dozens of us!):
524 x 1 = 524
524 x 3 = 1572
524 x 5 = 2620
524 x 7 = 3668
Cool harmonics bro, but how do I get them?
Harmonics come in to play naturally with some sounds, instruments, or wavetables.
If you are using something without any natural harmonics (like a normal sine wave), you can add Saturation (read: d i s t o r t i o n) to your sound through various fx plugins. You can use saturation to ‘fill’ up your sound if it’s sounding empty (too much will leave it sounding distorted instead of fuller).
That’s another topic entirely though, so I’ll leave you with your new knowledge of harmonics and samples of Serum’s various distortion algorithms.
Each distortion mode adds different harmonics to your instruments. (different plugins use different algorithms, so Serum’s distortion might not sound like Softubes’ Saturation Knob!)
Careful!!! This gets loud and the upper frequencies are not eq'd out. Even though I did apply some slight compression, have a hand on the volume knob just in case.