Dynamics refers to amplitude, or how loud/soft the music is. Musical sounds range from silence to deafening loudness, and all the possibilities in between account for dynamics. When a tone gradually gets louder, it is called a crescendo. When a tone gradually gets softer, it is called a decrescendo. Terraced dynamics occur when amplitude changes suddenly, rather than gradually. Scientifically, tones are measured in decibels. Musical analysis is more concerned with the loudness and softness of tones relative to each other (dynamics).
Perception of dynamics is dependent on context. A “loud” dynamic during a rock concert is likely much louder than a “loud” dynamic during a solo flute recital. Dynamic range refers to the range between the loudest and softest notes. The dynamic range of a flute recital is likely to be greater than that of a rock concert, since Western classical music tends to use more dynamic contrast than heavy metal music.
Timbre refers to the character or quality of a musical tone or tones. Timbre allows us to distinguish between: an electric and acoustic guitar a choir and an orchestra a heavy metal band and the literal “heavy metal” of a Caribbean style steel band. (CD ex. #1-30)
Computer-generated images called spectograms show visual differences in the timbre of tones. Timbres can be explained by the fact that all tones are made of multiple pitches, not just the one pitch generally perceived by the listener. (e.g., the pitch F, or A, or C). Each spectogram is a snapshot of all the partials, or each of the many pitch components, contained in a tone. Just as a flute and saxophone sound different in terms of timbre, they appear different on computer spectograms.
Tones contains two types of partials: the fundamental pitch, which appears darkest on the spectrogram harmonics, the series of overtones When we hear a note, we hear it as having the pitch of the fundamental, for example F, or B. We also hear the overtones, but they merge together to create the timbre of the note.
Some music traditions employ the ability of performers to manipulate the relationships between the fundamental pitch and its harmonics. The didgeridoo, CD ex. #1-13, requires the player to manipulate harmonics by constantly changing the shape and position of their mouth. Mongolian khoomii, as in CD ex. #1-6, is an extraordinary example of not only harmonic manipulation, but multiphonic singing (the singing of multiple tones at once).
Experienced musicians can even distinguish the timbre of particular players. Jazz enthusiasts can tell whether the saxophonist on a recording is John Coltrane or Lester Young, just as a casual listener can quickly identify Bob Dylan or Louis Armstrong. What words might you use to describe timbre? Words used are often metaphors: textural, anatomical, metaphysical, emotional, socioeconomic, taste-related, color-related.
Western terms used to describe timbre are imprecise and rather subjective. Other languages, like Japanese, have richer and more exact terms of timbral description. Often more accurate than timbral description is simply naming the instrument producing the sound.
Music Instrument Classification A music instrument is any sound-generating medium used to produce tones in the making of music. This includes the voice and familiar instruments such as maracas, flute, didgeridoo, cymbals, electronic instruments like synthesizers, digital samplers, and sound modifiers, and “found” sounds: both invented tones and tones perceived by listeners as music, like a bird singing. Instrumentation refers to the types and numbers of instruments used in a piece or performance.
Thousands upon thousands of instruments exist, and systems of categorization date back 3,000 years in places like China and India. The oral/aural tradition-based society of the ’Are’are categorize all non-vocal instruments as ’au, or bamboo. The best-known Western instrument classification system divides instruments into strings, winds, and percussion. It has limitations in terms of categorizing global instruments. The Hornbostel-Sachs system (1914) uses four original categories and a fifth added later on. These five categories are explored in the following slides.
Chordophones are instruments in which the sound is activated by the vibration of a string or strings (chords) over a resonating chamber. Methods of string activation vary, including use of fingertips, plectra, bows, or mallets. The piano is a chordophone (pressing down key activates felt-tipped hammer, which strikes a string).
Membranophones are instruments in which the vibration of a membrane (natural or synthetic) stretched tightly across a frame resonator produces the sound. This category includes many drums, but also kazoos! Membranes are activated in different ways: with fingers, sticks, palms, and even mouths.
Idiophones are instruments in which the vibration of the body of the instrument itself (rather than a string, air tube, or membrane) produces the sound. Sound activation techniques range from shaking, striking, rubbing, plucking, stamping, and clapping. Compound instruments, like the drum set, combine categories (idiophones and membranophones.)
Pure electronophones, such as synthesizers and digital samplers, use electronics to generate the sound and to amplify and enhance it. “Hybrid” electronophones, like the electric guitar, are modified conventional acoustic instruments that make use of electronics for amplification and processing. If you have to plug in an electronophone for it to function as it should, it is pure. If it can function at least marginally without being plugged in, it is hybrid. All electronic music instruments can be categorized as sound generators and sound modifiers.
Sound generators are used to produce sounds; sound modifiers are used to alter and enhance them. Digital sampling allows for any existing sound to be recorded, stored as digital data, and then reproduced either “verbatim” or in electronically manipulated form. Digital synthesis creates electronic sounds from scratch, whereas digital sampling originates with a recorded external source. Music recording technologies have revolutionized the making, reception, perception, and meaning of music on a global scale.
In the mid-1960s, multitrack recording was invented. It relied on overdubbing: the layering of dozens of separately recorded musical tracks one atop the other. This allowed for the creation of new sounds and the transformation of existing ones, changing the conception of what it means to “make music.”