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Music Department
Advanced Conducting: Music 336
Dr. Peter LaRue

The Overtone Series & Intonational Considerations

Virtually all musical endeavors [in the tradition of western music] are based upon the acoustical principles of the overtone series. The words "overtone series", " harmonic series", and "partials" are generally interchangeable. Our discussions will involve only the first eight partials. For our work with conducting, a strong working knowledge of the overtone series is imperative as it will help you understand:

1. pitch considerations [how to handle 3rds/5ths of chords - stretch octaves - etc.]
2. issues of balance and blend
3. instrumental - fingerings [regular and alternate]  

The overtone series may start on any pitch; the pattern however, is always the same:

1. perfect octave
2. perfect fifth
3. perfect fourth
4. major third
5. minor third
6. minor third
7. major second

naturally occurring pitch problems include:

1. fifth partial is always flat
2. sixth partial is always sharp
3. seventh partial is flat and unusable

  *Instrumental Only*
Pitch Problems Which Must Be Remembered

1. one and three combinations are generally very sharp
2. one and two combinations can raise the pitch slightly
3. top of chalumeau register on the clarinet [throat tones g - b flat]
4. severe effects of air temperature and changes  

We Can Help Pitch Problems With:

1. fourth valve/rotor on tubas and baritones
2. alternate fingerings/slide positions
3. tucking of chin [as opposed to old roll method] on the flute
4. in rare cases modifications on instruments [extra bores, change slide lengths, etc.]