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Re: origin of 'timbre'
Sorry for the delayed answer.
Timbre definitions (history):
One says that the timbre is shrill not merely that the timbre of a sound is
shrill - Dictionairre de Trevoux.
Timbre functions to differentiate types of sounds - Diderot and D'alambert
Rousseau used descriptive adjectives for different types of timbre (shrill,
soft, dull, bright) - Dictionnaire de Music
All sonorous bodies yield simultaneously an infinite number of sounds of
gradually decreasing intensity. The phenomena is similar to that which
obtains for the harmonics of strings; but the law for the series of
harmonics is different for bodies of different forms. May it not be this
difference which produced the particular character of sound called timbre,
which distinguishes each form of body and which causes the sound of a
Your voice has another timbre than that hard, deep organ of Miss Mann's
- C. Bronte's Shirley.
Klangfarbe depends primarily on sound spectrum. Helmholz also mentions the
beginning and end as well as wind noise and bow noise - Helmholz
Clang color, or timbre, refers to the different types of tones
(clangs) of musical instruments which mainly result from the varied
composition of the sounds or clangs - Rieman in Encyclopaedic Dictionary of
Timbre is the quality which differentiates sounds of the same pitch and the
same intensity - Riemann in Dictionnaire de Musique.
Quality serves to distinguish between musical sound of the same pitch and
intensity produced on different instruments - Barton
Quality, timbre, or tone-color depends on the form of the tone-producing
vibrations. The general motion to and fro is periodic, but the details
within the period are usually highly complex and this complexity persists in
tones of a given character. Differences of quality are due to the varying
unions of partial tones - Pratt
Timbre is frequently defined as that characteristic of the sensation which
enables the listener to recognize the kind of musical instrument producing
the tone, that is, whether it is a cornet, a flute, or a violin. Timbre
depends principally upon the overtone structure, but large changes in the
intensity and the frequency also produce changes in the timbre - Fletcher.
One might use the other two characteristics (pitch and loudness) in such a
definition and say that it is that characteristic which enables one to judge
that two tones are dissimilar while still having the same loudness and pitch
By timbre is meant the distinguishing or characteristic quality of sound. It
is by their timbre that we recognize an instrument, a voice, or the quality
of an organ stop, regardless of the pitch or intensity of the note that is
Timbre depends only on the relative energies of the various harmonics and
not on their phase differences - Sir Jean James.
In general we may say that aside from accessory noises and inharmonic
elements, the timbre of a tone depends upon: (i) the number of harmonic
partials present, (ii) the relative location or locations of these partials
in the range from the lowest to the highest, and (iii) the relative strength
or dominance of each partial - Seashore in Psychology of Music
The characteristic tone quality of an instrument is due entirely to the
relationship among the fundamental upper partials which relationship is
supposed to remain unchanged no matter what the fundamental is -
Bartholomew's Harmonic Theory.
Tone quality depends largely on the degree of complexity of the vibration.
The quality of even a musical tone must be considered usually as a complex
of both harmonic and inharmonic components - Bartholomew.
The characteristic tone quality of an instrument is due to the relative
strengthening of whatever partial lies within a fixed or relatively fixed
region of the musical scale - Bartholomew's Formant Theory.
Timbre may be said to be the characteristic which enables the listener to
recognize the kind of musical instrument which produces the tone. There are
six physical characteristics which determine the quality, namely: (i) the
number of partials, (ii) the distribution of the partials, (iii) the
relative intensity of the partials, (iv) the inharmonic partials, (v) the
fundamental tone, (vi) the total intensity - Olson.
Timbre is that characteristic of a tone which depends upon its harmonic
structure. The timbre of a tone is expressed in the number, intensity,
distribution, and phase relations of its components. Timbre, then, may be
said to be the instantaneous cross section of the tone quality - Olson.
Timbre, an expression for quality of sound, especially in orchestration
- Groves Dictionary of Music.
Timbre is defined as a subjective quality of sound which makes that sound
seem pleasant or unpleasant to the ear. Timbre is dependent on harmonics
as well as the nature of the attack and any formants which may be present
- Encyclopedia de la musique.
Timbre is that attribute of auditory sensation in terms of which a listener
can judge two sounds similarly presented and having the same loudness and
pitch are dissimilar - ASA.
Harmonic Structure Theory (classical theory) - the acoustic spectrum of a
tone is the primary determinant of musical quality. The physical correlate
of timbre lies in the cross-sectional analysis of a tone represented by the
momentary duration of one cycle - Saldanha and Corso.
Formant Theory - the characteristic tone quality of an instrument is due to
the relative strengthening of whatever partial lies within a fixed or
relatively fixed region of the musical scale. In contrast with the classical
theory that is based on a fixed spectrum of a tone, the formant theory
relies upon changes in the spectrum of a tone to produce constancy in
musical quality - Saldanha and Corso.
Although spectrum, transient, phenomena, and quasi steady-state modulation
processes may be the most important dimensions, each of these is
characterized by a great many subparameters, and the definitions based upon
Ohm\u2019s Law are inadequate for any definition of timbre which might be of
musical value - Tenney.
Timbre may be not too much more than one of these leftovers from a dead
musical system - J.K. Randall.
I would hope that we could soon find whatever further excuse we still need
to quite talking about mellow timbres and edgy timbres and timbres
altogether, in favor of contextual musical analysis of developing structures
of vibrato, tremolo, spectral transformation, and all these various
dimensions of sound which need no longer languish as inmates of some
metaphor - J.K. Randall.
Now vibrato is just one of many potentially structurable aspects of
sound which have been too often written off as ingredients of something more
vague - J.K. Randall.
In the broad sense, timbre depends upon several parameters of the
sound including the spectral envelope and its change in timbre,
periodic fluctuations of the amplitude, and whether the sound is
a tone or noise - Schouten in Aspects of Tone Sensation
The five major acoustic parameters of timbre: (i) the range between tonal
and noiselike character, (ii) the spectral envelope, (iii) the time envelope
in terms of rise, duration, and decay, (iv) the changes in spectral envelope
(formant-glide) and fundamental frequency (microintonation), and (v) the
prefix, the onset of a sound is quite dissimilar to the ensuing lasting
vibration - Schouten.
Helmholz showed that timbre depends principally upon the number and
rela-tive intensity of the sounding partials of the fundamental
Quality of tone - the characteristic of a tone that can distinguish it from
others of the same frequency and loudness. The harmonic structure of a tone
is quite inadequate to specify its quality. It was implied in the theory of
quality outlined above that an instrument has a spectrum characterized by a
particular harmonic structure, which would be the same for each note of
The number and positions of the formants determine the tone quality of an
instrument - Formant Theory
The components of the harmonic content of sound which create its timbre: (i)
the harmonic spectrum, (ii) which partials are present or absent, (iii)
their relative intensities, (iv) the pattern which those that are present
form - Honegger in Dictionnaire de la Musique.
Timbre is tone quality -- coarse or smooth, ringing or more subtly
penetrating, scarlet like that of the trumpet, rich brown like that of the
cello, or silver like that of the flute. The one and only factor is sound
production which conditions timbre is the presence or absence, or relative
strength or weakness, of overtone
- Scholes in the Oxford Companion to Music
Acoustical - one tries to associate the variation of timbre to physical
Psychological - deals with descriptions proceeding from the listeners
The classical theory of von Helmholz holds that differences in the timbreof
tones depends on the presence and strength of partial tones and are
independent of the differences in phase under which these partial tones
The individual character of a certain instrument is its acoustic spectrum.
The purpose is to study the structure of the perception of timbre (tone
colour, musical quality) and try to find physical correlates in the acoustic
spectrum. The most importance correlates to these perceptual factors may be
found in the relative strength of the harmonic partial tones: (i) generally
high level overtone richness, sonority, (ii) successively decreasing
intensity of the upper partials - overtone poorness, dullness, (iii) low
fundamental intensity and an increasing intensity of the first overtones
The amount of work done toward specifying the physical qualities of timbre
unfortunately has been much greater than the work done toward finding the
corresponding psychological attributes.
Factor analysis methods have been used to reveal a cognitive classification
of instrument types into woodwind, brass, and string and a classification of
the sounds of these instruments into groups determined by the relative
amplitudes of a sound\u2019s partials.
More recently, multidimensional scaling techniques have been developed by
means of which judgements of similarity of stimuli can be interpreted as
cognitive distances between these stimuli
- Miller and Carterette.
The timbre or tone quality of a musical instrument has been used to denote
that property which enables a listener to identify the instrument
The chief function of timbre in most Western concert music of the past has
been that of carrier of melodic functions. The differences of timbre at
different pitches and in different registers of instruments has been treated
The approach to timbre from acoustic searches for invariants taking the view
that if we are able to recognize and identify a clarinet under conditions of
changing pitch and loudness, in different environments, and with different
players, then, as David Luce says, the implication is that certain strong
regularities in the acoustic waveform of the above instruments must exist
which are invariant with respect to the above variables
Timbre perception is just a stage of the operation of tone source
recognition - in music the identification of the instrument
Timbre is multidimensional. There is not a unidirectional scale for
comparing the timbres of various sounds. The multidimensional nature of
timbre has a
physical counterpart in the many degrees of freedom of a complex tone
Timbre refers to the color of quality of sounds and is typically divorced
conceptually from pitch and loudness. Perceptual research on timbre has
dem-onstrated that the spectral energy distribution provided the acoustical
determinants of our perception of sound quality - Wessel.
A term describing the tonal quality of a sound; a clarinet and an oboe
sounding the same note are said to produce different timbres. It is usually
reserved for descriptions of steady state notes and therefore the physical
quantity with which it is most closely associated in the harmonic mixture,
or the formant, or the spectrum
Timbre is an attribute of the subjective experience of musical tones.
Timbre is coded as the function of the sound source or of the meaning of the
sound. Sounds cannot be ordered on a single scale with respect to timbre.
Timbre is a multidimensional attribute of the perception of sounds
Timbre is the miscellaneous category for describing the psychological
attributes of sound, gathering into one bundle whatever was left over after
pitch, loudness, and duration had been accounted for. - Dowling and Harwood.
Timbre is the subjective correlate of all those sound properties that do no
directly influence pitch or loudness: sounds spectral power distribution,
it's temporal envelope, rate and depth of amplitude and frequency
and degree of its partials
Levels of timbre description include: (i) commonalities shared by all oboe
tones, commonalities shared by all bowed tones, commonalities shared by
all timpani tones, (ii) expressive variation available to performing
musi-cians and(iii) broader family distinctions of method-of-production
distinc-tions (i.e., blown and bowed instruments whose behavior is
continuously; percussive instruments whose behavior is determined completely
at the instant when they are set into motion - Krumhansl.
Until such time as the dimensions of timbre are clarified it is better to
drop the term timbre.
When we do find a characteristic of sound that can be obtained on different
instruments, such as vibrato, the characteristic tends to be given a label
and no longer falls into the nameless wastebasket of timbre
Timbre or tone quality depends upon the frequency of a tone, it's time
enve-lope, it's duration, and the sound level at which it is heard
The character or quality of musical or vocal sound (distinct from its pitch
and intensity) depending upon the particular voice or instrument producing
it from sounds proceeding, from other sources; caused by the proportion in
which the fundamental is combined with the harmonics or overtones \u2013
Timbre is the subjective attribute of source (instrument) that is based on
invariant properties that uniquely characterize the tones produced by the
source. An adequate definition of timbre is both related to and dependent
upon establishing which characteristics are important for perceptually
determining an instrument's distinctive sound quality
- Chi, Hall, and Pastore.
A timbre is a simple perceptual object. Adjectives for constellation of
overtones: bright, dark, mellow, hollow, pure. Noise content: raspy,
hoarse. Attack: smooth, abrupt, sharp, gentle, easing. We attempt to
categorize timbre mainly by relating what we hear to what we have seen and
heard of other musical instruments. Timbre is the aggregate effect of the
periodic and nonperiodic components of a sound and their envelopes
Timbre is the perceptual quality of objects and events; that is, what it
Due to the interactive nature of sound production, there are many stable and
time-varying acoustic properties. Timbre is an emergent property that is
partly a function of the acoustic properties and partly a function of the
Timbre generally has a certain constancy over large changes in the
Timbre is perceived in terms of the actions required to generate the event.
Timbre is perceived in terms of the acoustic properties and that the
connection between acoustic properties and object is learned by experience
Timbre groups fall into categories that are constrained by the underlying
physic of the sound-generating systems and that it is the goal of the ear/
brain system to discover such commonalities in the sounding world.
Parameters should be estimated in order to represent the articulatory aspect
of timbre perception
- Casey et. al.
Timbre is not a thing. It is an abstraction.
Timbre is not an object. It does not exists in the real world as an object.
Timbre is an attribute of a musical tone that is abstracted from the entity
that we call a musical tone
Timbre is not even the only attribute of tone connected to tone quality:
consider volume and density.
Timbre does have a perceptual order \u2013 actually, as a multidimensional
attribute, it has several. In general, instruments are ordered first along
impulse vs. continuant characteristics (relating to the rms amplitude attack
and overall envelope) and secondly along nasality or brightness (relating to
the spectral centroid) - John Hadja
Timbre is an emergent property of a stream \u2013 a grouping of the acoustic
array influenced by acoustic context, and the attention and learning of the
- Stephen Malloch's summary of Albert Bregman
Timbre can be defined as the primary aural information that is used in the
perceptual task of assigning an identity to sound - Stephen Malloch
Electroacoustic musicians/composers and people doing analysis/synthesis
would tend to think of timbre as a gestalt that includes time variations. It
is difficult to decide whether the whole thing is a timbre or whether timbre
itself is varying with time - James Beauchamp
Timbre becomes a rhetorical catch-all subsuming many diverse preoccupations
> Date: Mon, 27 Sep 2004 09:36:20 -0400
> From: =?ISO-8859-1?Q?Claire_Pich=E9?= <clairepiche@VIF.COM>
> Subject: Re: origin of 'timbre'
> Hello Jim
> here is some cues so you can follow parts of the evolution of the word.
> TIMBRE : n.m. emprunté au grec byzantin /timbanon /(...) du grec
> classique /tumpanon /"tambourin", (...) étant associé aux cultes
> orgiaques de Cybèle et de Dyonisos, le mot serait d'origine
> sémitique.(...) /Tympanum,/ d'où viennent la forme héritée disparue
> /tympe /(v.1155) et l'emprunt /tympan. /(...)/ Timbre /s'est
> progressivement éloigné de son sens d'emprunt /tambour de basque /propre
> à l'ancien français; il s'appliquait à la cloche immobile que l'on
> frappait avec un marteau (1374), qui est à l'origine du sens
> métaphorique de "tête" (v.1450). De cette valeur procède la locution
> /avoir le timbre fêlé. /(1606). De nos jours, le mot au sens concret
> désigne une calotte de métal qui, frappée par un marteau ou un vibreur,
> sert de sonnette (1858). Par métonymie, il désigne la qualité de
> sonorité d'un timbre (1762; 1740, "son d'un timbre" et, plus
> généralement, d'un instrument donné, valeur importante en musique./ /Il
> est employé aussi en phonétique (1926; /timbre d'une voyelle/)./ Timbre
> /a eu un autre développement sémantique fondé sur une analogie de forme
> avec le tambour ou la cloche nommée /timbre /au moyen âge. (...)
> Rey, Alain, /Dictionnaire historique de la langue française. /Éditions
> LeRobert: Paris, 1998 (1992). Tome 3.
> beaucham a écrit :
> >I would like to have a good historical reference for the word
> >"timbre". One book (Helmholtz's Sensations of Tone) says it
> >was the original word for timpani. Another source says "a sort
> >of drum with stretched strings". A dictionary says both "bell
> >struck by a hammer" and "tymbanon kettledrum". Is there a
> >good source that discusses the original meaning of the word
> >and how it came to take on its modern meaning?
> >James W. Beauchamp
> >Professor Emeritus of Music and Electrical & Computer Engineering
> >University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
> >2136 Music Bldg. MC-056
> >1114 W. Nevada, Urbana, IL 61801 USA
> >email: email@example.com (also: firstname.lastname@example.org)
> >phone: +1-217-344-3307 (also: 217-244-1207 and 217-333-3691)
> >fax: +1-217-344-3723 (also: 217-244-4585)
> >WWW: http://ems.music.uiuc.edu/beaucham