1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.

    Dismiss Notice

¿Frequency Range of Music?

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by megabigeye, Feb 13, 2019.
  1. megabigeye
    This is possibly a simple question, but one that I can't quite find a definitive answer on:

    What is the typical frequency range of recorded music?

    I'm not talking about theoretical limits of instruments or of recording equipment or of human hearing, just the spectrum of frequencies present on most recordings. I specify "most" recordings because I assume there are outliers where some wisecracking musician includes 10Hz and 100kHz "tones;" I'm not really interested in those.
    I've come to assume that most music falls between ~30Hz - 16kHz, but I don't know if this is really true.

    The reason I'm asking is that I often see a) manufacturers claiming infrasonic-to-ultrasonic frequency response (which I mostly disregard as a load of marketing hooey), and b) head-fiers talking about the importance of the extreme upper and lower limits of their gear.

    I apologize if this has been asked and answered elsewhere. I've tried Googling and searching the forums, but I can't find a satisfying answer.
    I'm sure there are other related questions that I could also ask, but let's start with the simple stuff.
    old tech likes this.
  2. castleofargh Contributor
    if you disregard recording, amplitudes, and audibility, then any impact giving an impulse looking signal, will contain an incredibly broad range of frequencies. possibly going very high.
    as to the absolute upper limit, I don't know. I'm guessing that at some point, the air molecules will "disagree" with the movement. ^_^
    megabigeye likes this.
  3. bigshot
    When you say "records" do you mean LPs? If so, your range is pretty much correct. CDs are usually engineered for 20 to 20. Frequencies beyond that are inaudible and add nothing to the perceived sound quality of recorded music. The core frequencies are what matters.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2019
    megabigeye likes this.
  4. Steve999
    I think the lowest note on the biggest pipe organs is a C at 16 hz and some very few freaked out CDs may actually reproduce those notes. This is purely based on google searching. Personally I want my bass to go down to 27 hz since that's approximately the lowest note on a piano, but pitch gets very hard to discern down below 40 hz. In my experience if your stereo hits 40 hz clean it's going to sound really good (assuming everything else is in order).

    As far as highs, that gets argued endlessly. Just based on my reading and goofing around with stereos and computers I tend to believe anything above 16 khz is getting rather pointless for actually listening to music, but I've seen plenty of spectograms of music go clear up to 20 khz on my computer. I won't entertain the nonsense I've read beyond that because you are asking an intelligent question that deserves thoughtful answers, which you are getting at least for now. :kissing_smiling_eyes:
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2019
    megabigeye likes this.
  5. megabigeye
    I found this in another thread, and it more or less answers my question, at least as regards the top end:
    Is there a similar red herring for bass frequencies?

    Okay, so between LPs and CDs there's a 10Hz difference at the bottom, and a 4kHz difference at the top... But is there really any musical information contained within those differences? If there's a CD and an LP of the same recording, how likely is it that the LP is missing meaningful information contained within the CD? My guess is somewhere along the range of "not much" to "pretty much none."
  6. megabigeye
    I read that about the pipe organ too, but then I also read that it only goes down to 30-ish. Ah, the wonder of the internet!

    Wow, I didn't realize a piano was capable of such low notes. But I wonder if it's even relevant for actual music listening? I don't know that I've ever noticed a piano tone below, say, 80 or 100Hz (just a guess). Granted, I don't listen to a whole lot of piano music. For instance, if you were to cut that tone out, would it sound any less piano-y? Or is it a secondary tone that goes largely unnoticed?

    Thanks to everybody for their answers so far!
  7. bigshot
    Again, you’re correct. But in theory, a CD can go below 20Hz. Most recordings don’t contain sound that low because audio systems aren’t set up to reproduce it. Doesn’t matter much because it’s just rumble you feel more than hear.
    megabigeye likes this.
  8. bigshot
    Also, since frequencies are logarithmic, it’s best to speak in octaves rather than numbers of frequencies. A CD has about a quarter octave more at the top than an LP
  9. Steve999
    The low note on a normal electric or acoustic bass is 40 hz. This is a rock-solid note. This is an open string (not being pressed on on a fret while it's played) and a bass player can really get into it. Boom! Or if they snap the string down, Ka-Pow! On a piano or electric organ etc., the same low E can also be prominent. Again 40 hz (approximately, more like 41 hz I think). An important low note in classical, jazz and pop. People make fun of me because of bass but in my view one of the best things you can enjoy on a good stereo is a clean 40 hz (all other things being in order). An LP can get there but I think it's easier to get a clear 40 hz on a CD than with LP an in my experience. In many instances you'll hear more of the fundamental tone at 40 hz on a CD. On a record it may be a higher proportion of the harmonics of the 40 hz and your brain makes the inference to 40 hz. LP often results in a less impactful subjective feeling in the low bass to me. For me this is significant for music listening and music enjoyment. My most direct experience with this is having digitized LPs and then having bought the CD of the same thing. As to the whys and wherefores or the extent my opinions have a basis in objective fact I am not an expert.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2019
  10. megabigeye
    I'm a bit of a dumdum when it comes to this sort of thing. I actually had to look up what an octave is. Prior to that I remembered do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do and that was about it. I think I'm kind of getting it now.
    My takeaway is that there's a little less than an octave difference between 20Hz and 30Hz, and less still between 16kHz and 20kHz? Is a quarter octave the same as the difference between do and re?

    I hope you don't think I'm questioning your wanting low bass! Not at all! It's you prerogative, to each his own, and all that. I was just wondering if the tone heard in pianos is actually 27Hz. Do you actually hear that low note in pianos on your system?
    And I agree, there's something ridiculously addictive about a good, clean low bass note. In Glenn Gould's organ version of Bach's The Art of the Fugue, there are some awesome low notes. I understand classical music less than I understand octaves, but I know those bass notes keep me coming back for more. :homerdrooling:
    ...And listening to it again, I realize there are notes even lower than the ones I was thinking of, but they're barely audible.
  11. bigshot
    The frequency range is logarithmic, which means the numbers between one octave and the next one doubles each time. 20Hz to 40Hz is an octave, and the next octave is 40 to 80, the next one is 80 to 160 and so on. The top octave of human hearing is 10kHz to 20kHz, so 15kHz to 20kHz would represent a quarter of an octave. With "do re me" notes, an octave is 7 notes, so a quarter octave is a little less than two notes on the "do re me" scale.

    When you understand how octaves work, it's easy to see how inconsequential the frequencies above human hearing actually are. When you look at specs for high end gear, it might mention it goes up to 25,000Hz or so, which sounds very impressive because it's a very big number, but since the octave just above the range of human hearing is 20kHz to 40kHz, the extra 5,000 cycles is just an eight of an octave and doesn't even amount to a single note on the "do re me" scale.

    Does that make sense? If you translate the numbers to octaves it is easier to wrap your head around it.

    A general rule of thumb is that anything in the top and bottom couple of octaves in the range of human hearing isn't perceived as a musical note any more. It's just a rumble or a high pitched squeal. Most adults don't hear much past 15kHz anyway, so as the frequency goes closer to the edge of human hearing, it becomes less important. We listen to music in our cars or on our TV sets that doesn't include the outer two octaves of sound at all and it still sounds pretty good. The balance in the core frequencies is what mostly determines sound quality, not frequency extension into the extremes.

    This is the chart that a lot of us like here in Sound Science because it clearly shows how frequencies relate to musical sounds. The red part of the bar is the fundamental notes. The yellow part is the harmonic overtones that give the instrument its character. You can see that there isn't much at all in the top and lowest octaves. Most fundamentals lie below 2kHz and most harmonics lie below 10kHz.

    Last edited: Feb 13, 2019
  12. megabigeye
    Ah, yes! I think I understand!
    I may have known that at some time, but my last "formal" music training was in the 8th grade and I think I learned about octaves in 3rd grade. So it's been a while.
    Your explanation is very clear!
  13. aukhawk
    If you're calling a doubling in frequency (eg 10kHz to 20kHz) an octave then that is 8 notes, not 7 (the clue is in the name). (It's 7 intervals, but they are not equally spaced - or it is 12 equal semitone intervals in Western music convention.) I do agree with Bigshot's general point especially at the high frequency end of things, just picking at the detail there. I agree the difference between 15kHz and 20kHz is hardly worth bothering about in real life, let alone anything higher.

    A Bosendorfer Imperial Grand piano (as played by Oscar Peterson) has a bottom note of C0 which is 16.35Hz. Most grands (88 keys) bottom out at A0 which is 27.5Hz, a note which features quite a bit in some of Philip Glass' Piano Etudes, most recordings don't reproduce it very well. Some synthesized music can extend well below even 10Hz and yet, if there is high harmonic content the subsonic fundamental 'note' can easily be heard. An example is at the end of Bjork's 'Thunderbolt' from her Biophilia album.
    megabigeye and Steve999 like this.
  14. gregorio
    Technically, all music falls between about 31Hz and 4kHz, although most music is less, more like about 40Hz to 2.5kHz. Above and below that we're essentially talking about harmonics. As mentioned, there are some organs (though very few) that go as low as 16Hz but those notes are used as a pedal/sub-harmonic, a "doubling" of the fundamental frequency (note) an octave lower. The same is true of a few organs that have "notes" which equate to about 16kHz, which again are used as higher harmonics to "double" far lower pitch notes rather than used as individual notes. Of course though, higher harmonics are important to sound quality/timbre and therefore ~30Hz to ~16kHz is the basic rule of thumb for recorded music.

    megabigeye likes this.
  15. megabigeye
    Awesome! You guys are great! Lots of interesting information here.
    @aukhawk, Björk is one my favorite artists and Biophilia is one of my favorite albums of hers. I hear some low notes toward the end of "Thunderbolt," listening just now on my IEMs, but I don't think I'm hearing the ultra low frequencies you're talking about. I'll have to give it another listen sometime when I have some other cans at hand. Is there a particular release of the Philip Glass Etudes that features those notes? I'd definitely be interested in checking those out. I enjoy Philip Glass, but I don't listen to much. I also have some Oscar Peterson, but definitely haven't noticed any ultra-low notes.
    Ha! Maybe I listen to more piano than I give myself credit for. Usually I just think of it as an artist or genre or music fitting a particular mood, but I don't think of it as "piano music."

    Are you and @gregorio talking about the same thing with doubling and, E.G., Björk's using higher frequencies to allow infrasonic tones to be heard? And does "doubling" in this instance refer to playing two notes an octave apart, or just playing two notes simultaneously?

    Gregorio, don't you mean that all fundamental tones fall between 31Hz and 4kHz (with the exception, I guess, of some organs, according to the chart above)? Wouldn't the harmonics also be considered part of the music? I mean, a violin wouldn't sound quite like a violin if you didn't hear the harmonics. I guess this is why when you're using a low-fi system it can be hard to distinguish between different instruments.

    And thanks for that chart, @bigshot. I've seen variations on that, but that one is the most complete I've seen. I like that it includes descriptions of what such tones contribute, "chest thump," "warmth," etc. Very useful. I'm reading that as the red/orange bands are the fundamental tones, the yellow are the harmonics; but then what is the black band?

    Edit: there are some very low notes on "Hollow" from Biophilia, too.
    PS-- if you like the drumming on "Náttúra" and can stomach what I'd call adrenaline art metal, you should check out his (Brian Chippendale) band Lightning Bolt. I think I once described their music as being like if Philip Glass and Can had a baby and that baby had an evil twin which fell out of a plane, only with more adrenaline. If that doesn't sound like your thing, maybe stay away.
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2019

Share This Page