What is timbre?

February 4, 2015
What is timbre?

Sounds are different in nature and character. Height, intensity, method of extraction. Such “marks of distinction” also include timbre - a subjective assessment of sounds that have the same basic parameters.

What is timbre: definition

The word itself comes from the French "timbre" (which means: "bell" or in a figurative sense - "distinguishing feature"). Any voice or instrument has a timbre. This is the coloring of the sound. That quality, thanks to which the sounds of the same height and strength, extracted by different instruments, for example, or by voices, differ.


At the beginning of the 20th century, the German physicist Helmholtz determined that sounds contain overtones, tone characteristics that form a spectrum. Due to these differences, vowel sounds and differ. Increasing or weakening overtones leads to a change in timbre.

Human voice

The difference in timbres of human voices directly depends on the vocal cords and on the resonating cavities: mouth, nose, and throats. A striking example is Tuvan throat singing: artificially modifying timbre with the help of natural resonators.

Musical instruments

In various studies on acoustic instruments it is said that the material of which they are made has a great influence on the timbre, for example, of a violin or guitar. Also - the composition of the lacquer coating (the so-called lacquer secret, which real masters have always kept secret and passed on to their students). In electric musical instruments, the main role is played by the sound-removal equipment, which regulates the timbre of the sound.

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