Music to Your Ears: Understanding Why Timbre Is Important For Any Instrument

Timbre is the quality of a musical note or sound that distinguishes different types of sound production or musical instruments. Timbre is one of the basic elements of music. In timbre listening, focus is on texture and color of music and sound rather than perceiving pitch and harmony. Timbre is very much important for various musical instruments. The technique of timbre listening is used as either a conscious, intentional, or intuitive process. The technique is also used by students and scholars of music in aural skills acquisition. It is very easy to distinguish between the sounds of two different or similar musical instruments with the help of difference in the timbre of the sounds. Trombones for example have a bright, brassy timbre that is easily heard. Flute’s timbre is dominated by the fundamental harmonic, giving it a very clear, uncomplicated sound. The bass guitar has a longer scale-length and thicker strings than a standard guitar which creates a range of notes that are pitched an octave lower than the guitar. The timbre of the acoustic guitar lends itself to a variety of tasks and roles which are completely different from the timbre of the electric guitar. The pickups and amplifier of electric guitar creates a metallic sound. Because they have similar timbre; the sound of Saxophone and the French horn compliments each other.

Acoustic Consonance and Dissonance

The concept of “consonance and dissonance” (C&D) was an important contribution to the sound of musical instruments. It is important to musical styles belonging to different culture and traditions. C&D has varied through the course of history. Any sound that is used freely is consonant and is metaphorically resolute, static, and restful where as dissonant is any sound that is restricted in its treatment. Characteristics of Dissonance are: dynamism, motion, and energy. Acoustic Consonance and Dissonance considers individual sounds isolated from any musical context.

History of Timbre

The role of timbre in music was initially evaluated largely because of the music of Debussy. It was initiated about 600 years ago in the West by Pythagoras. This famous mathematician and Greek philosopher also found out that all sounds are a collection of numerous vibrations or frequencies. On the other hand, wave motions were brought into the notice of everyone by Ernst Heinrich Weber along with his brother.

Timbre: Its shear volume

The American Standards Association defines timbre as that sense of music that lets a person distinguish between two different sounds having the same pitch and loudness. Every musical instrument has its own timbre, pitch, rhythm and loudness and all these are stated as the primary aspects of sound. Identifying what kind of instrument is creating timbre could be done by considering the changing pitch and loudness in various surroundings and initiated from different players.

Spectral Envelopes of sound

The timbre of a sound is largely affected by numerous aspects of its envelope and that includes attack time and characteristics, decay, sustain, release and transients. These all are known to be some common controllers of the synthesizers. For instance, if the attack from the sound of a piano is taken away, it gets difficult to identify that sound correctly. The envelope, in precise, is said to be the overall amplitude structure of a sound. This simply implies that the sound narrowly fits within its envelope and is expected to be clear from a time-domain display of approximately any attractive sound with ample zoom for the entire waveform to be visible.

Excitation Pattern Plots

The timbre of pitched musical instruments could be analyzed through the excitation with respect to Higher Order Statistics (HOS) and subspace study. Excitation signature is basically anticipated so as to correctly describe the features of an instrument sounding system. This further characterizes the category of musical instrument instead of differentiating within one particular kind of instrument family. The HOS based features provide greater significant timbre patterns in the time and frequency domain along with the 2nd order statistics features.