Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time
. It is also referred to as temporal frequency, which emphasizes the contrast to spatial frequency
and angular frequency
. Frequency is measured in hertz
(Hz) which is equal to one event per second. The period is the duration of time of one cycle
in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal
of the frequency. For example: if a newborn baby's heart beats at a frequency of 120 times a minute (2 hertz), its period, —the time interval between beats—is half a second (60 seconds divided by 120 beat
s). Frequency is an important parameter used in science and engineering to specify the rate of oscillatory
phenomena, such as mechanical vibrations, audio signal
), radio wave
s, and light
Definitions and units
For cyclical phenomena such as oscillation
s, or for examples of simple harmonic motion
, the term ''frequency'' is defined as the number of cycles or vibrations per unit of time. The conventional symbol for frequency is ''f''; the Greek letter ''
) is also used. The ''period''
is the time taken to complete one cycle of an oscillation. The relation between the frequency and the period is given by the equation:
The term ''temporal frequency'' is used to emphasise that the frequency is characterised by the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit time, and not unit distance.
The SI derived unit
of frequency is the hertz
(Hz), named after the German physicist Heinrich Hertz
by the International Electrotechnical Commission
in 1930. It was adopted by the CGPM
(Conférence générale des poids et mesures) in 1960, officially replacing the previous name, "cycles per second
" (cps). The SI
unit for the period, as for all measurements of time, is the second
. A traditional unit of measure used with rotating mechanical devices is revolutions per minute
, abbreviated r/min or rpm. 60 rpm is equivalent to one hertz.
are described in terms of their period rather than frequency.
Period versus frequency
As a matter of convenience, longer and slower waves, such as ocean surface wave
s, tend to be described by wave period rather than frequency. Short and fast waves, like audio
and radio, are usually described by their frequency instead of period. These commonly used conversions are listed below:
Related types of frequency
* Angular frequency
, usually denoted by the Greek letter ''ω'' (omega)
, is defined as the rate of change of angular displacement
(during rotation), ''θ'' (theta)
, or the rate of change of the phase
of a sinusoid
al waveform (notably in oscillations and waves), or as the rate of change of the argument
to the sine function
: Angular frequency is commonly measured in radian
s per second (rad/s) but, for discrete-time signal
s, can also be expressed as radians per sampling interval
, which is a dimensionless quantity
. Angular frequency (in radians) is larger than regular frequency (in Hz) by a factor of 2π.
* Spatial frequency
is analogous to temporal frequency, but the time axis is replaced by one or more spatial displacement axes, e.g.:
, ''k'', is the spatial frequency analogue of angular temporal frequency and is measured in radians per metre
. In the case of more than one spatial dimension, wavenumber is a vector
In wave propagation
For periodic waves in nondispersive media
(that is, media in which the wave speed is independent of frequency), frequency has an inverse relationship to the wavelength
, ''λ'' (lambda
). Even in dispersive media, the frequency ''f'' of a sinusoidal wave is equal to the phase velocity
''v'' of the wave divided
by the wavelength ''λ'' of the wave:
In the special case
of electromagnetic waves moving through a vacuum
, then ''v = c'', where ''c'' is the speed of light
in a vacuum, and this expression becomes:
When waves from a monochrome
source travel from one medium
to another, their frequency remains the same—only their wavelength and speed
Measurement of frequency can be done in the following ways,
Calculating the frequency of a repeating event is accomplished by counting the number of times that event occurs within a specific time period, then dividing the count by the length of the time period. For example, if 71 events occur within 15 seconds the frequency is:
If the number of counts is not very large, it is more accurate to measure the time interval for a predetermined number of occurrences, rather than the number of occurrences within a specified time. The latter method introduces a random error
into the count of between zero and one count, so on average
half a count. This is called ''gating error'' and causes an average error in the calculated frequency of
, or a fractional error of
is the timing interval and
is the measured frequency. This error decreases with frequency, so it is generally a problem at low frequencies where the number of counts ''N'' is small.
An older method of measuring the frequency of rotating or vibrating objects is to use a stroboscope
. This is an intense repetitively flashing light (strobe light
) whose frequency can be adjusted with a calibrated timing circuit. The strobe light is pointed at the rotating object and the frequency adjusted up and down. When the frequency of the strobe equals the frequency of the rotating or vibrating object, the object completes one cycle of oscillation and returns to its original position between the flashes of light, so when illuminated by the strobe the object appears stationary. Then the frequency can be read from the calibrated readout on the stroboscope. A downside of this method is that an object rotating at an integral multiple of the strobing frequency will also appear stationary.
Higher frequencies are usually measured with a frequency counter
. This is an electronic instrument
which measures the frequency of an applied repetitive electronic signal
and displays the result in hertz on a digital display
. It uses digital logic
to count the number of cycles during a time interval established by a precision quartz
time base. Cyclic processes that are not electrical, such as the rotation rate of a shaft, mechanical vibrations, or sound wave
s, can be converted to a repetitive electronic signal by transducer
s and the signal applied to a frequency counter. As of 2018, frequency counters can cover the range up to about 100 GHz. This represents the limit of direct counting methods; frequencies above this must be measured by indirect methods.
Above the range of frequency counters, frequencies of electromagnetic signals are often measured indirectly utilizing heterodyning
). A reference signal of a known frequency near the unknown frequency is mixed with the unknown frequency in a nonlinear mixing device such as a diode
. This creates a heterodyne
or "beat" signal at the difference between the two frequencies. If the two signals are close together in frequency the heterodyne is low enough to be measured by a frequency counter. This process only measures the difference between the unknown frequency and the reference frequency. To reach higher frequencies, several stages of heterodyning can be used. Current research is extending this method to infrared and light frequencies (optical heterodyne detection
Visible light is an electromagnetic wave
, consisting of oscillating electric
and magnetic field
s traveling through space. The frequency of the wave determines its color: 400 THz ( Hz) is red light, 800 THz () is violet light, and between these (in the range 400–800 THz) are all the other colors of the visible spectrum
. An electromagnetic wave with a frequency less than will be invisible to the human eye; such waves are called infrared
(IR) radiation. At even lower frequency, the wave is called a microwave
, and at still lower frequencies it is called a radio wave
. Likewise, an electromagnetic wave with a frequency higher than will also be invisible to the human eye; such waves are called ultraviolet
(UV) radiation. Even higher-frequency waves are called X-ray
s, and higher still are gamma ray
All of these waves, from the lowest-frequency radio waves to the highest-frequency gamma rays, are fundamentally the same, and they are all called electromagnetic radiation
. They all travel through a vacuum at the same speed (the speed of light), giving them wavelengths inversely proportional to their frequencies.
where ''c'' is the speed of light (''c'' in a vacuum or less in other media), ''f'' is the frequency and λ is the wavelength.
In dispersive media
, such as glass, the speed depends somewhat on frequency, so the wavelength is not quite inversely proportional to frequency.
Sound propagates as mechanical vibration waves of pressure and displacement, in air or other substances. In general, frequency components of a sound determine its "color", its timbre
. When speaking about the frequency (in singular) of a sound, it means the property that most determines pitch
The frequencies an ear can hear are limited to a specific range of frequencies
. The audible frequency
range for humans is typically given as being between about 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz (20 kHz), though the high frequency limit usually reduces with age. Other species
have different hearing ranges. For example, some dog breeds can perceive vibrations up to 60,000 Hz.
In many media, such as air, the speed of sound
is approximately independent of frequency, so the wavelength of the sound waves (distance between repetitions) is approximately inversely proportional to frequency.
, Southern South America
, most of Asia
, and Russia
, the frequency of the alternating current
in household electrical outlets
is 50 Hz (close to the tone
G), whereas in North America
and northern South America, the frequency of the alternating current in household electrical outlets is 60 Hz (between the tones B♭ and B; that is, a minor third
above the European frequency). The frequency of the 'hum
' in an audio recording
can show where the recording was made, in countries using a European, or an American, grid frequency.
Aperiodic frequency is the rate
of incidence or occurrence of non-cyclic
phenomena, including random processes such as radioactive decay
. It is expressed in units of measurement
of reciprocal seconds
) or, in the case of radioactivity, becquerels
[Bureau international des poids et mesures]
''Le Système international d’unités (SI) / The International System of Units (SI)'', 9th ed.
(Sèvres: 2019), ISBN 978‑92‑822‑2272‑0, sub§2.3.4, Table 4.
It is defined as a ratio
, ''f'' = ''N''/''T'', involving the number of times an event
happened (''N'') during a given time duration
(''T''); it is a physical quantity
of type temporal rate
Conversion: frequency to wavelength and back
*ttp://www.sengpielaudio.com/calculator-notenames.htm Keyboard frequencies = naming of notes – The English and American system versus the German system
br>Teaching resource for 14-16yrs on sound including frequencyConversion: Weston Frequency MeterA simple tutorial on how to build a frequency meter
calculation.A frequency generator with sound, useful for hearing tests