Auditory Illusion! Shepard Tone, A Tone That Goes Up Or Down Endlessly

Auditory Illusion! Shepard Tone, A Tone That Goes Up Or Down Endlessly

Martin Luther once said, “Music is a gift and grace of God, not an invention of men.” Music is simply god-like and every layman will relate to this. It is another entity all together. Its complexity can bewilder the most talented musicians out there! There is so much to music than you know. It comes in different types of harmonies, rhythm and beats. You will be surprised at the different tones it can also produce.

Penrose Stairs

You know the feeling when you always keep moving up? Just like the Penrose stairs. It occurs repetitively and seems surreal at the same time. You still keep going up, even after you come back to the same place. It is something like an impossible reality, something that fools the human eye.

Startlingly, a similar thing can happen with tones, giving you what you call an auditory illusion. What are we talking about? The Shepard Tone. It sounds like a tone that seemingly goes up or down endlessly – At least that’s what it appears to be doing!

When you encounter it for the first time, it may sound bewildering. In reality, in the case of a ascending Shepard Tone, it is a series of sounds arranged in a loop that starts from a low point and then goes up. Then the cycle repeats itself. But if you listen closely, you will eventually find that unique, exact point at which one loop ends and the next loop starts.

In simple words, it is just a play of different notes, as one of them goes an octave higher, the rest follows on. Then this continues as an unending cycle. Remember the barber's pole?

This works for discreet notes also. To get an idea of how this works for individual notes, take a listen to this endless Mario Stairs video.

You can also see how it’s being used in movies, like Dunkirk! If you don’t know what Dunkirk is about, then it is about time to watch it, or maybe you will after reading this.

Dunkirk is a 2017 American war film, which depicts the evacuation of World War II. It starts with a ticking sound, which rises higher and higher but never actually does. This little auditory trick is actually what gave Dunkirk’s soundtrack that might.

It went even further than that -- It actually shaped the screenplay. Hans Zimmer used the Shepard Tone extensively in the score. The Shepard Tone is also found in other Nolan films like Sherlock Holmes. Yet another reason to watch another great movie! Get started with your Shepard Tone experience now.