What Is Tonal Sound?

Knowing the properties of sound and its various nuances is important for somebody working in audio production.

There are various things to know about sound and this point one particular kind of sound called the Tonal Sound.

You’ve probably come across the term “tone” if you work in audio production.

It’s a good idea to understand such terminology because it’s helpful to know things like this if you work in music.

Without wasting too much time, let’s get into the meaty stuff that you’re obviously looking for.

With that said, what is tonal sound?

Tonal sound is a high energy sound whose frequency is concentrated in a narrow part of the spectrum.

Most of the time sound energy from a sound source will be spread over a wide band of frequencies.

Sometimes a sound or noise source will only emit noise or sound that is concentrated in a narrow part of the spectrum or contains a high amount of energy at a single frequency (which is called a pure tone). This is what is referred to as tonal noise.

Some examples of sound sources that can cause tonal noise include fans, compressors, motors and transformers.

Most of them have a lot of moving parts that rotate or vibrate at a given, audible frequency. Mains electrical power is another common source of tonal noise, for example, in transformers causing them to vibrate at 200Hz.

Tonality

Tonality in music is simply the arrangement of pitches and/or chords of a musical work in a hierarchy of perceived relations, stabilities, attractions and directionality.

In this particular hierarchy, the single pitch or triadic chord with the greatest stability is what is called the tonic.

The root of the tonic chord forms the name that is given to the key; so in the key of C major, the note C is both the tonic of the scale as well as the root of the tonic chord which is C–E–G).

Synonym for Key

The word tonality is now more widely used by amateur and rookie musicians and in popular music as a synonym for “key”

This is the most common usage which refers to the arrangement of musical phenomena around a referential tonic, as found in European music from about 1600 to about 1910, using two modal genera, major and minor.

An example of a tonal sound

An example of a tonal sound is a musical sound that has a definite pitch, such as pressing any key on a piano; a sound with a noise like character would be what we refer to as white noise, which is the sound similar to that produced when a radio is not tuned to a station.

Tonal balance

In the most basic way, tonal balance simply refers to the distribution of energy across the range of audible frequencies which is around 20 Hz to 20 kHz…usually in the context of a full mix.

In a broader sense you could think of this as the balance between the bass, midrange, and treble.

Simply put, When we talk about tonal balance we’re really talking about how the different frequencies and frequency ranges in a mix balance against each other and how their parts make up the whole.

It’s not really easy to say what a good tonal balance comprises of because what might be a good tonal balance for one song could be completely inappropriate for another.

Furthermore, we’re talking about art which inherently has a subjective element to it.

Therefore it is fair to say that judging the quality of a song’s tonal balance is not only largely personal, but is also subject to context.

However, we can still do a good job of making some general observations about tonal balance in a broad sense.

First, if we look at the tonal balance for an entire song which consists of a typical mix of drums, bass, voice, and some additional instrumentation, it is not uncommon to have a peak somewhere below 100 Hz with a gentle slope down as we move to higher frequencies.

Second, within the context of any given genre, it is not out of the ordinary to have some subtle variation from this typical shape with a reasonably defined maximum deviation above and below the average.

This type of shape and deviation is exactly what Tonal Balance Control shows us.