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Chapter 5
How Music Works, Part III:
Dynamics, Timbre,
and Instruments
Dynamics
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
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.
Textural: velvety, airy, gravelly
Anatomical: nasal, throaty
Metaphysical: ethereal, heavenly
Emotional: somber, melancholy
Socioeconomic: rich, majestic
Taste-related: creamy, sweet
Color-related: blue, red hot
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 Instruments
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.
Music Instrument Classification
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
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).
Aerophones
Aerophones produce sound by the action of air passing
through a tune or some other kind of resonator.
In addition to tinwhistles, flutes, and organs, this category
includes the human voice.
Membranophones
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
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.)
Electronophones
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.”
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