If an ambient sound is to be generated with specific frequencies, would it, in general, sound better if those frequencies are notes selected from a specific scale, or frequencies that are all harmonic to the same fundamental frequency.

For example, the A Major scale:

  • A
  • B
  • C#
  • D
  • E
  • F#
  • G#
  • A

Vs. Harmonic frequencies of A2(approximate note values and hz):

  • A2(110)
  • A3(220)
  • E4(330)
  • A4(440)
  • C#5(550)
  • E5(660)
  • F#5 ~ G5(770)
  • A5(880)
  • B5(990)
  • C#(1100)
  • D ~ D#(1210), etc.

The harmonics have some notes in common with the scale, but some are almost perfectly halfway between a note that's in the scale, and one that's not(e.g. 1210 hz).

This isn't for composing music, but rather for an atmospheric sound, like chimes, lacking any structured rhythm or melody.

EDIT: I'm not entirely sure if this should be here or in a music-related stack, feel free to let me know if it should be elsewhere.

  • You're perfectly on-topic here :) As it stands right now, you seem to be asking if doing it this way will 'sound better'. That might be a tough question to answer without any context, e.g., scene, emotion, color, etc.
    – JoshP
    Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 20:52

2 Answers 2


The scale contains a whole jumble of harmonic relations in the sense of "harmony" - if you included all the notes, it would sound like an atonal smear. Stick with harmonics from researching bell sounds, analyze the spectogram of similar sounding chimes in audacity and note the harmonics. Use those as the basis for additive synthesis. It's not just the harmonics but their relative strength that will inform the quality of your sound.

This is an incredibly useful article about bell harmonics,


which applies also to chimes depending on their shape and structure. It also applies, crucially, to bell-like "tones" which our ear will hear as metallic and bell-like if they contain the right harmonics.


You might find yourself here somewhere in between composing a melody and designing a timbre, even if you are focused on atmospheric sounds. Chimes may not be playing a discrete melody but they are typically already playing in a musical scale. I find no reason to completely separate the two theories of Notes vs. Harmonics, just based on mathematics alone. Mainly because they are practically inseparable in music, and the frequencies that you've listed.

Since you are interested in 'generating' frequencies, I suggest starting with a musical scale, but find an appropriate one to suit your taste. The Major scale you have as an example is going to be the most 'pleasing' to the ear and so the most concordant with a pleasant harmonic series. Pleasant is a vague term though. As you probably noticed, integer harmonics are going to be spaced further apart in the spectrum and with less varied notes, but there is little relevance in this if you decide to use more than one base note.

There may be a chance that you're isolating years of musical history with some tiny math relationship here. Even if you were to decide on a harmonic series, or a tone color, you could still then draw from that and perform a melody within a given scale - this is demonstrated by countless musical instruments that exist. The instrument is chosen based on its characteristics, just by hearing it. The same notes may be played, but a different feeling may be evoked.

Ambient sounds are not made by their frequencies, but by their composition. Although you could have some polyphonic instruments be played 'randomly' a lot easier, like the harp, chimes or bells, the performance and variation of the instrument is really a key factor on ambience.

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