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The timbre (also the timbre ) is one of the parameters of the individual tone in music . It is determined by its sound spectrum , i.e. the specific mixture of fundamental or 1st partial , overtones and noise components as well as the temporal course of this spectrum, the volume and other parameters.

Sound composition or sound composition

The tone composition of approximately periodic vibrations can be analyzed with the help of the short-time Fourier transform (STFT). Depending on the setting of the STFT analyzer, relatively precise statements are made about the partials or the duration of the partial components of the sound. The partials and envelopes ( formants ) determine the characteristic tone or timbre of many musical instruments. This is one reason why different instruments sound different at the same pitch of the perceived fundamental.

With mechanical musical instruments and the human (singing) voice, overtones are always present in addition to the fundamental tone. Pure sine waves with the frequency of the fundamental can only be generated electronically, for example with a synthesizer . In these respects, the respective resonance of a sound must also be taken into account.

There are also sounds used musically that have more complex compositions.

  • Bell sounds are difficult to describe with simple pitch relationships. In general, strong inharmonicity leads to a more metallic sound.
  • Drum tones are a mixture of tones and noise signals.
  • Even narrow-band noise can be used as a musical timbre (howling wind).
  • In the case of many musical sounds, noise components also determine the timbre (e.g. blowing noises on wind instruments and organ whistles).

Transient behavior

The transient behavior , i.e. the temporal course of the spectrum and the volume in the first fractions of a second of a tone, is particularly decisive for the timbre . If these first tenths of a second are faded out, some instruments are difficult to identify.


The formants , which are independent of the pitch played and which essentially depend on the design of the instrument, are essential for the sound character of a musical instrument. Characteristic minima and maxima in the overtone spectrum of an acoustic oscillation are called formants .

The perceived and measurable sound of speech sounds is causally determined by formants: their specific position enables the acoustic differentiation of the vowels a, e, i, o, u (see also: Vowel triangle ).

Playing technique

In addition to the nature of the tone generator (e.g. instrument, singing voice), the type of stimulation (stimulation, playing technique) also determines the timbre of a tone. This plays an important role in jazz and other contemporary music styles ( pop music ), in which a certain musician can often be recognized by his "tone".


The timbre, i.e. the existing frequency components and their temporal behavior, makes it possible for us to differentiate between tones produced on different instruments, but also differently produced tones on the same instrument by ear .

Tone dynamics

Dynamic changes result in timbre changes - that is, spectral changes. Examples: increased blowing, different strokes, etc.

Musical instruments sound different in the piano than in the forte. The formants are different. This is referred to as timbre dynamics , in particular spectral dynamics , in addition to the amplitude relations.

If the volume is increased significantly with compressors , the timbre dynamics are retained and audible.

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Timbre  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations