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How, physically, do we define the timbre of sound?

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Physics of Sound

Acoustics

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Music

How, physically, do we define the timbre of sound?


If pitch corresponds to the frequency of the wave, volume to the amplitude. Then what
characteristic of a wave maps itself to 'quality' and 'timbre'

2 Answers
Eric Pepke
91 Views

I don't know so much about physically, except that, of course, sound is physical.
Mathematically, we define the timbre according to the frequency distribution of the
Fourier analysis of the waveform associated with the sound.
The "pitch" is only the fundamental frequency (usually). Other frequencies exist, and they
are what's responsible for the timbre.
This is a pretty good introduction:
Fourier analysis in Music - Rhea
With a piano, it gets a bit more complicated, because there are three or two strings per
note, and they are tuned to slightly different frequencies. So you get overtones and
undertones that can be below the fundamental frequency. Still, the assumption of a single
fundamental is pretty good for most instruments.

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Written Mar 28, 2014 View Upvotes Answer requested by Aanand Srinivas

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Dan Styles, Music Producer & Audio Engineer. OG Junglist. Web Developer.
Programmer.
44 Views

Timbre, or tone quality, is most closely related to the physical phenomena of unfolding
partials in the spectrum of a sound, called the spectral envelope. It is what allows us to
distinguish between two different instruments playing the same note at the same
amplitude.
Other aspects of timbre include vibrato (most important) and tremolo (less important).
Violins have very narrow formants (or resonating frequencies), and the addition of vibrato
may push a tone in and out of a peak formant region, making for a very dynamic sound.
This is further tempered by our perception of the complex of formants for a particular

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How, physically, do we define the timbre of sound? - Quora

5/13/16, 3:06 AM

sound or instrument regardless of its register, so that, although somewhat different, a low
clarinet note may still be considered related to a much higher one.
Temporal relationships also form an aspect of timbre. Though highly influenced by the
intervallic distance between pitches, if a series of tones is played rapidly enough, they will
merge into a single timbre in a process called fusion. With sufficient reverberation, even
disparate tones can fuse.
Written Feb 25 Answer requested by Bujanca Mihai

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than engage in a rhetorical back and forth

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