What is timbre?

Timbre, which is also called timber is the quality or character of a sound from its intensity and pitch. It describes the auditory sensations generated by the tone of a sound wave.

The timber of a sound varies with harmonics, frequencies, number of overtones and their relative intensities. Timbre is the characteristic tone color of an instrument that arises from reinforcement by individual singers of different harmonics of a fundamental pitch. The tuning fork’s timber and stopped diapason organ pipe is pure and clear because of the sound that they generate is almost without overtones.

The major contributors to the quality of timbre of the sound of any musical instrument are vibrato, harmonic content, attack and decay. Some of the vital factors that are important for substantial forces existing in sound include the relative intensity and the number of the upper harmonics and the harmonic content.

Some of the musical sound sources shave overtones that are not harmonics of the fundamental. While characterizing such sources in terms of their overtones is always possible to classify a periodic waveform in terms of harmonics, such an analysis is known as Fourier analysis.

The timber is identified by the instrument’s shape such as cylindrical or conical pipe, by the frequency range in which the instrument can produce overtones and the instrument’s sound. By constricting various parts of the vocal tract the singing voice of the timber is modified.

According to the investigators, it takes a duration of about 60 ms to recognize the timbre of a tone and any sound shorter than about 4 ms is perceived as an atonal click. According to recent studies, it takes about a 4 dB change in mid or high harmonics to be perceived as a change in timbre whereas around 10 dB of change is needed in one of the lower harmonics.

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