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Boulder’s Third Note: The Magic of Beat Frequencies in Vocal Harmony


When two different musical tones are played or sung together, an interesting phenomenon known as beat frequency occurs. This beat frequency is a third tone, created by the interference of the original two tones, and its frequency is the difference between the frequencies of the original tones. For example, if one tone has a frequency of 440 Hz (cycles per second, or Hertz) and another has a frequency of 450 Hz, the beat frequency would be 10 Hz. This third tone can add a unique, rich quality to the music, contributing to the overall harmonic experience. Two people sing harmony, a third note appears! This is the true meaning of “synergy.” More comes out than was put in.

In the context of singing, when two people sing in harmony, they produce two distinct frequencies that interact to create these beat frequencies. This effect goes beyond just creating a pleasant sound; it can also produce a physical sensation of resonance. This is because the beat frequencies can be felt as vibrations in the body, enhancing the physical and emotional experience of singing in harmony.  Imagine having three people singing harmony. That means that six notes are coming out into the world. Three in, six out. Our bodies literally vibrate with the extra notes.

Some Country Rock Groups of the ’60s and ’70s Used Three Part Harmony To Particular Advantage!

The creation of beat frequencies when singing in harmony can indeed be described as synergistic. Synergy refers to the interaction of elements that, when combined, produce a total effect greater than the sum of the individual elements. In harmony, the combined effect of the original tones and the beat frequencies produces a richer, more complex sound that can resonate deeply with both the singers and listeners.

This physical resonance is not only enjoyable but also deeply satisfying. The sensation of these added vibrations can create a feeling of connection and unity among the singers, as they are literally in sync with each other. This phenomenon can explain why singing in harmony feels so good physically and emotionally. It is a powerful example of how music can create a profound and tangible connection between individuals through sound waves and resonance.

Lenny Lensworth Frieling

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