Firstly, theories are reviewed on the explanation of tonal consonance as the singular nature of tone intervals with frequency ratios corresponding with small integer numbers. An evaluation of these explanations in the light of some experimental studies supports the hypothesis, as promoted by von Helmholtz, that the difference between consonant and dissonant intervals is related to beats of adjacent partials. This relation was studied more fully by experiments in which subjects had to judge simple‐tone intervals as a function of test frequency and interval width. The results may be considered as a modification of von Helmholtz's conception and indicate that, as a function of frequency, the transition range between consonant and dissonant intervals is related to critical bandwidth. Simple‐tone intervals are evaluated as consonant for frequency differences exceeding this bandwidth. whereas the most dissonant intervals correspond with frequency differences of about a quarter of this bandwidth. On the base of these results, some properties of consonant intervals consisting of complex tones are explained. To answer the question whether critical bandwidth also plays a rôle in music, the chords of two compositions (parts of a trio sonata of J. S. Bach and of a string quartet of A. Dvořák) were analyzed by computing interval distributions as a function of frequency and number of harmonics taken into account. The results strongly suggest that, indeed, critical bandwidth plays an important rôle in music: for a number of harmonics representative for musical instruments, the “density” of simultaneous partials alters as a function of frequency in the same way as critical bandwidth does.

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