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On the Sensations of Tone (Dover Books on Music) Paperback – June 1, 1954


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Product Details

  • Series: Dover Books on Music
  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications; 2nd edition edition (June 1, 1954)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486607534
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486607535
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #277,178 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By patmcdaddy@aol.com Patrick McDonald on April 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
Helmholtz's Sensations of Tone became an almost instant classic in the study of hearing when it was published in 1863. It combined the physics, physiology and psychological aspects of hearing in an attempt to explain the origins of musical harmony and dissonance. Though not easy reading, it is accessible to the non-specialist. However it also provides an important historical resource for the specialist and helps one to understand the origins of so much of contemporary hearing research. Indeed, in many ways Helmholtz reads more like a contemporary than a long-past founding father. The appendices provided by the translator are helpful as well. Finally, the inexpensive paperback edition from Dover makes this book an excellent bargain.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By J Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt on April 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is of historical interest only, I think; it's very well written, but a lot of its content is mind bogglingly outdated, ancient. If you need a readable quick intro into sound, read Jeans's book (the first part of it is updated Helmholtz). Then, if you still need to (as in "know specifically what I'm after and it can be found only in Helmholtz"), you can pick this book; but otherwise, resorting to modern literature will be a much better investment of your time.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is worthwhile for the reasons already cited (so I need not rehearse them), but it is important to recognize that much of it has been superceded or disproved. I hope those prospective purchasers who have found their way here are aware of Juan Roederer's THE PHYSICS AND PSYCHOPHISICS OF MUSIC--very much recommended!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Viktor Blasjo on July 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
Part 1 discusses how tones may be perceived as built up by the base tone and the "harmonic upper partial tones". These upper partial tones are what distinguishes different instruments and they determine the "quality of the tone"; e.g. "if only the unevenly numbered partials are present ... the quality of the tone is hollow, and, when a large number of such upper partials are present, nasal", etc. (p. 119). Helmholtz's model of the ear has it that there is a spectrum of hairs in the ear, each with its own mode of vibration. When we hear a tone it is decomposed into its partials through "sympathetic resonance" of the corresponding hairs, and it is this information--i.e. essentially Fourier coefficients--that is sent to the brain.

Part 2 discusses the theory of consonance. Again, the Fourier analysis point of view is the key. The consonance or dissonance of two tones is determined by the interaction of the partials of the tones, giving mathematical precision to the idea that "two consonant tones flow on quietly side by side in an undisturbed stream; dissonant tones cut one another up into separate pulses of tone" (p. 226). Thus one can claim that "ultimately, then, the reason of the rational numerical relations of Pythagoras is to be found in the theorem of Fourier, and in one sense this theorem may be considered as the prime source of the theory of harmony" and so "the enigma which, about 2500 years ago, Pythagoras proposed to science ... 'Why is consonance determined by the ratios of small whole numbers?' has been solved by the discovery that the ear resolves all complex sounds into pendular oscillations ... and that it regards as harmonious only such excitement of the nerves as continue without disturbance" (p. 229).
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is the most historically significant treatment of musical acoustics easily available. The serious musician should keep a copy for reference, but I don't recommend that the novice start here. Some fascinating musical ramifications of elementary acoustics are to be found in PENTATONIC SCALES FOR THE JAZZ-ROCK KEYBOARDIST by Jeff Burns.
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Format: Paperback
This is a classic work that ties together tones, the way musical instruments work, the physics of sound, and the anatomy of the ear. It's very technical, and only the very brave will read it cover to cover, but it's a masterpiece. In the sixties a famous professor at MIT, Jerome Lettvin, would say to students asking to do their thesis with him: "Have you read Helmholtz?"
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By Catherina Gere on November 10, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a beautiful book, containing Helmholtz's limpid descriptions of the experiments he designed to elucidate the neuroscience of music. It is written for the interested non-specialist and succeeds admirably. From the physics of wavelengths to the aesthetics of harmony, a layperson such as myself with no background in music theory is led through a journey into the deepest mysteries of the human brain.
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