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

4.4 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Margenau is Eugene Higgins Professor Emeritus of Physics and Natural Philosophy at Yale University.
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Product Details

  • Series: Dover Books on Music
  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications; 2nd ed. edition (June 1, 1954)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486607534
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486607535
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #514,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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This book is of historical interest only, I think; it's very well written, but a lot of its content is mind bogglingly outdated, ancient.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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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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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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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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This book covers a lot of material in a lot of detail. It is amazing to me how Helmoltz was able to explore acoustics in such depth despite how crude the instrumentation was that was available in that era (more than a century ago). No computers. No oscilloscopes. No function generators. No loudspeakers. No microphones. He had to invent his own instrumentation, but he was incredibly imaginative in doing that. My wife and I were fighting over the book so we bought an extra copy! She's a music student and I'm an engineer, so we we drawn to different parts of the book. But it is only suitable for people with a strong academic background.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"On The Sensations of Tone," by Hermann Von Helmholtz is a classic treatise on the physics of sound. and how it is the foundation of musical structure. For many years I have wanted this book, and now I
have it. The science of sound is the same today as it was in the 1800's when this book was written. It
is a must have for anyone involved in audio or musical instruments. This is a big book, lots of valuable material. The fact that it is still available is a blessing. I can't put it down.
Jackie Jones
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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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