Timbre is the quality of a musical note or sound that distinguishes different varieties of sound production or musical instruments. The physical qualities of sound that mediate the perception of timbre include spectrum and envelope. Timbre is additionally known in psychoacoustics together sound quality or sound color.

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For example, timbre is what, through a small practice, human being use come recognise the saxophone native the trumpet in a jazz group, also if they room playing notes at the very same pitch and amplitude. Timbre has been dubbed the psychoacoustician’s multidimensional wastebasket category together it can denote numerous apparently unrelated facets of a sound.


….”One of the simple elements of music is called color, or timbre (pronounced “TAM-ber”). Color includes all the facets of a sound that execute not have actually anything to do with how high or short it is, just how loud or soft, or exactly how long or short. In various other words, if a flute plays a note, and then one oboe plays the exact same note, because that the same size of time, at the same loudness, you can still conveniently tell the 2 notes apart, because a flute sounds various from one oboe. This difference is the shade of the sound. Timbre is resulted in by the fact that each keep in mind from a musical instrument is comprised of much more than one sound wave.

These set of sound waves, dubbed harmonics, room basically the same for every instrument. Tiny differences in the balance of this waves – how numerous you have the right to hear, and also how loud they are compared to each other – create the plenty of different musical colors. The harmonics in ~ the beginning of each keep in mind – the assault – are especially important because that timbre, so it is actually much easier to identify instruments that room playing brief notes with solid articulations than it is to determine instruments play long, smooth notes…”

Tone quality is used as a synonym for timbre

Tone color is additionally often offered as a synonym. Human being who experience synesthesia might see certain colors when they hear particular instruments. Helmholtz provided the German Klangfarbe (tone color), and also Tyndall suggest its English translation, clang tint. Yet both terms were disapproved of through Alexander Ellis who additionally discredits register and color for your pre-existing English definitions (Erickson).Colors of the optical spectrum space not generally explicitly connected with details sounds. Rather, the sound of an instrument may be described with words favor “warm” or “harsh” or various other terms, perhaps suggesting that tone shade has much more in usual with the sense of touch 보다 of sight.

The American criter Association specifies timbre together “<…> the attribute of sensation in terms of which a listener deserve to judge that two sounds having the exact same loudness and pitch space dissimilar”. A keep in mind to the 1960 definition (p.45) adds that “timbre depends generally upon the spectrum that the stimulus, however it additionally depends upon the waveform, the sound pressure, the frequency place of the spectrum, and the temporal characteristics of the stimulus.”

Spectra and timbre

The wealth of a sound or note created by a musical instrument is because of the combination of a variety of distinct frequencies. The lowest frequency is dubbed the fundamental frequency and the pitch it produces is used to surname the note. For example, in western music, tools are generally tuned come A = 440 Hz. The other frequencies are called overtones of the fundamental frequency, which may include harmonics and partials.

Harmonics are whole number multiples of the fundamental frequency — x2, x3, x4, etc. Partials are various other overtones. Most western instruments produce harmonic sounds, yet many instruments develop partials and also inharmonic tones.When the orchestral tuning note is played, the sound is a mix of 440 Hz, 880 Hz, 1320 Hz, 1760 Hz and so on. The balance of the amplitudes of the various frequencies is responsible for the properties sound of every instrument. This is used in FM synthesis.

The fundamental is not necessarily the the strongest component that the in its entirety sound. Yet it is comprise by the existence of the harmonic collection — the A above would be distinguishable indigenous the one one octave below (220 Hz, 440 Hz, 660 Hz, 880 Hz) through the existence of the third harmonic, even if the fundamental were indistinct. Similarly, a key is frequently inferred native non-harmonic spectra, supposedly through a mapping process, an attempt to uncover the closest harmonic fit. It is feasible to include artificial ‘subharmonics’ come the sound making use of electronic impacts but, again, this walk not influence the naming of the note.William Sethares (2004) wrote that just intonation and also the western equal tempered range derive indigenous the harmonic spectra/timbre of many western instruments.

Other considerations around the timbre

The timbre of a sound is likewise greatly influenced by the adhering to factors: strike or interonset interval, decay, sustain, release and transients. Therefore these space all common controls on samplers. For instance, if one takes far the strike from the sound the a piano or trumpet, it becomes more daunting to determine the sound correctly, due to the fact that the sound the the hammer hitting the strings or the an initial blat that the player’s lips are highly characteristic that those instruments.

Timbre is frequently cited as one of the fundamental aspects of music. Formally, timbre and also other determinants are usually second to pitch. “To a significant degree the music that Debussy elevates timbre to an unmatched structural status; currently in L’Apres-midi d’un Faune the color that flute and also harp features referentially,” according to Jim Samson.Surpassing Debussy is Klangfarbenmelodie and surpassing the the use of sound masses.

Erickson provides a table of subjective experiences and related physical phenomena based on Schouten’s 5 attributes:

Tonal character, usually pitchedPeriodic sound
Noisy, through or without part tonal character, including rustle noiseNoise, consisting of random pulses characterized by the rustle time (the average interval between pulses)
ColorationSpectral envelope
Beginning/endingPhysical rise and also decay time
Coloration glide or formant glideChange the spectral envelope
MicrointonationSmall change (one up and down) in frequency
VibratoFrequency modulation
TremoloAmplitude modulation
Final soundSuffix

Often listeners are able to determine the sort of tool even throughout “conditions of transforming pitch and also loudness, in various environments and with various players.” In the situation of the clarinet, one acoustic evaluation of the waveforms mirrors they are irregular sufficient to imply three instruments rather than one. David Luce suggests that this means “certain strong regularities in the acoustic waveform that the over instruments have to exist which are invariant with respect to the above variables.”

However, Robert Erickson says that over there are few regularities and also they execute not explain our “powers that recognition and identification.” He argues the borrowing from researches of vision and visual tardy the concept of subjective constancy.

Exploring music color and also timbre

Watch “Fantasia” or “Fantasia 2000” together. Point out that many facets of the music affect the photos the artists chose: melody, harmony, rhythm, loudness, tempo (how fast the music is going). Timbre also strongly affects some of the choices. For example, in the Mickey Mouse/Sorcerer’s Apprentice succession (in both movies), the reedy sound the the woodwinds is connected with the enchanted broomstick, if the more liquid sound the the string section is associated with water, and the crashing sound the cymbals turns into thunder and crashing waves.

What other instances can the students point out of a particular sound shade being associated with photo or character?To acquaint the students with the colors of specific instruments, take ar trips to concerts whereby the students will have the ability to see which tool is making which sounds.

For student that room old enough or musically experienced enough to begin to find out the colour of every one of the instruments of the orchestra, Britten’s Young Person’s guide to the Orchestra is a great place to start. Numerous orchestras will function this piece at a “young person’s concert”, and also some of these concerts include an “instrument petting zoo”, a possibility for the college student to get up close to the instruments.

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For younger children, a performance or record of “Peter and the Wolf”, which features fewer instruments, may be much more appropriate. Enlarge students who have the right to recognize the timbre of most instruments may reap playing “name that instrument” through a piece of music the features plenty of different instruments in fast succession. Some great choices because that this game are Copland’s Rodeo, the start of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (“The Rite of Spring”), Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, and also Holst’s The Planets.