!ay 24, 2006 - Musicology Departmen" - #niversi$ of Gra%


Psychoacoustics and Music Perception

In this interdisciplinary approach for the study of the timbre of the classical guitar, we
distinguish between :

An Interdisciplinary Study of the
Timbre of the Classical Guitar :
Relating Gestural Control, Acoustics and
Verbal Description of Guitar Tones

• instrument-dependent dimensions of timbre, relating to the structural
components of the instrument (static)
• performer-dependent dimensions of timbre, relating to the gestures applied by
the performer on the instrument (dynamic)
Starting point: an inventory of verbal descriptors (adjectives) commonly used by
professional musicians to describe the brigthness, the colour, the shape and the
texture of the sounds they produce on their instruments.

Prof. Caroline Traube
Laboratoire d’informatique, acoustique et musique (LIAM)
Faculté de musique, Université de Montréal, Québec, Canada

Comparison between the elementary units of speech
and instrumental music:
phonemes and notes


Primary feedback


Acoustic signal



Secondary feedback (auditory)

Comparaison of acoustical features

Comparison based on functional value
- Phonemes are a set of universally accepted and understood symbols used to
describe the sounds of a language as it is spoken. Phonemes transcribe the
timbral features of a language, but not the pitch, the dynamics, the duration nor
the speed of articulation.

De la musique avant toute chose
- Notes on a score indicate the pitch and duration of the sounds the performer
must play. Scores generally include dynamics as well.
In Western instrumental music, timbral features are rarely notated.

« Speech and music, acoustics and coding, and what music might be ‘for’», Joe Wolfe (ICMPC Proceedings)


tongue. 1940). Phonetics and phonology Phonetics is the scientific study of the sounds of language and of the spoken communication process.The Ch’in (ancient Chinese seven-string lute) « The flying dragon grasping its way through the clouds » For this instrument has been developed a very complex timbre notation system including more than one hundred symbols. not of kind. but their gamut is wider in music. the hand having more or less a clawing posture. Phoneticists are more concerned with the sounds of speech than the symbols used to represent them. 1990). Production Phonetics subdisciplines Articularory phonetics is concerned with the positions and movements of the lips. Phonology is the study of the function of phonemes in a given language and the opposition and contrasting relations in the system formed by the sounds of this language. Pitch. Robert Hans Van Gulik « The lore of the Chinese Lute » from a Japanese manuscript copy of the Yang-ch'un-t'ang-ch'in-pu (Gulik. This symbolic picture illustrating a finger technique for the Ch'in suggests that the touch should be broad and firm. and other organs in producing speech Transmission Acoustic phonetics is concerned with the acoustic properties of the speech sound Perception Auditory phonetics is concerned with speech perception. Music may have evolved out of language and songs would then be exaggerated speech. duration and speed of articulation are all used in speech and in music. 2 . dynamics. ALL SOUNDS ARTICULATED SOUNDS Phonemes Notes Language Music Levman (1992) indirectly supports this idea in his discussion on the origins of music and language where he states that the differences between the performance of music and language are of degree. The study of speech Phonemes and notes as they are heard There exists a continuum of articulated sounds or utterances in which language and music exist as they are heard (Nattiez.

Vowel space (F1-F2 plane) The study of instrumental sound production : sonetics Frequency of first formant F1 Sonetics is the study of music in its gestural. By analogy with phonemes and phones. acoustical and psychoacoustical reality (Vecchione. we can define : • Sonemes (from Latin sonus. only the sones have an objective existence. The soneme could be defined as an element in the palette of timbre nuances achievable on a given instrument. « sound ») as sound elements in a musical instrument « language ». dark. Frequency of second formant F2 Perceptual dimensions of an instrumental timbre space [Grey & Moorer. etc. the sones are the actual musical sounds as produced by performers. 1990) : • articulatory sonetics is concerned with the relations between acoustical signals and characteristics of the signal-producing gesture • acoustic sonetics is concerned with the acoustic properties of the musical sound • auditory sonetics is concerned with timbre perception. hollow. nasal. • Sones as the objects of study in sonetics. labelled with verbal descriptors such as round. 1977] Macroscopic view of timbre Exploring the timbre subspace of the classical guitar aggressive dry cold glassy narrow nasal Microscopic view of timbre G pointed thin ponticello incisive explosive sparkling whole chocolatey warm velvety deep cavernous hollow wet G = guitar heavy dark soft estompé mat somber morne damped surd blunt closed sugary tasto fleshy percussive metallic brilliant round natural clear rich full opaque fat large pulpy creamy sweet smooth milky thick brassy resonating blooming bright luminous transparent skinny cristallin sharp open dense voluptuous enveloping Timbre verbal descriptors for classical guitar tones 3 .

the decay rate varies. from a high value at the beginning of the note to a low value at the end of the note. f t Guitar : string plucked close to the middle of the string spectral analysis t f 4 . finger or nail) Fingering : selection and modification gesture Fingering parameters • • • • location along string Fret-string choice Finger pressure Vibrato Bending brightness ? vibrato spectral flux plucking angle Fingering points Plucking points Mapping articulatory timbre space and perceptual timbre space attack time Articulatory Timbre Space Perceptual Timbre Space nut x bridge x tonehole neck with frets Influence of plucking angle on envelope decay rate (a) If the plucking direction is (c) spectral analysis (a) perpendicular to the soundboard. the decay rate is minimum.Instrumental gesture parameters for the guitar Plucking : excitation and modification gesture Plucking parameters • • • • • • Position of plucking finger along the string Angle between finger and string (in an orthogonal plane parallel to the string) Angle between hand and string (in an orthogonal plane perpendicular to the string) Degree of relaxation of finger Weight of finger on the string Pick material (pick. (b) parallel to the sound board. the decay rate is maximum. (b) Guitar : string plucked close to the bridge (c) diagonal with respect to the soundboard.

Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology. Describe how each timbre is obtained (what gesture is used to obtain a given timbre) ck pluse to e o l c ridg b sugary tasto fleshy cristallin round sharp natural clear rich full opaque open fat ? large pulpy creamy luminous thick sweet smooth milky clusters of synonyms clusters of antonyms Acoustic signature of plucking position p l Relative plucking position : R = p/l Amplitude of nth mode of an ideal vibrating string of length l. Caroline Traube. what it evokes…) estompé [“Verbal descriptors for the timbre of the classical guitar”. Provide synonyms and antonyms for each adjective. Define each adjective by describing the nature of its corresponding timbre (how it sounds. 3. 2004] damped closed The physics of an ideal plucked string Vertical displacement y of an ideal vibrating string of length l. Graz. Peter McCutcheon. plucked at a point p from an height h : l p h warm ck pluse to o l c nut velvety mat hollow wet surd deep cavernous heavy dark somber blunt soft morne cold percussive aggressive dry narrow nasal pointed glassy transparent thin skinny ponticello incisive brassy metallic resonating explosive brilliant blooming bright sparkling whole chocolatey 2. plucked at a point p from an height h With initial conditions : R = p / l = 12 / 60 = 1 / 5 Amplitude of nth mode: Shape taken by the ideal string over time after being plucked at 1/4 of its length from the bridge Spectral envelope has comb filter shape 5 .Collecting verbal descriptors Verbal descriptors for the timbre of the classical guitar We asked 22 guitarists (university students at undergraduate and graduate levels in guitar performance) to define in writing 10 adjectives they commonly use to describe timbre. ss tne h g bri More specifically. we asked them to : ck pluse to le o l c neho to 1. Philippe Depalle .

VOICE : varying formants are due to variable resonators (mouth. Since the product l fo = c (speed of sound).. It is sufficient to find similarities between the acoustical signatures of the sounds produced by those systems (i. F1 is constant on a given string for a given absolute plucking position p. Variation of theoretical spectral envelope (magnitude in dB vs frequency in Hz) with plucking distance from the bridge (from 4 to 17 cm).Perceptual effect of plucking position Comb filter “formants” First formant frequency : A measure of brightness : the spectral centroid F2 = 3 F1 F3 = 5 F1 F4 = 7 F1 odd formant frequencies only etc. between their effects) independently of their cause.e. palate change the shape of the vocal tract) GUITAR : varying formants are related to performer-dependent dimensions of timbre and not instrument-dependent dimensions of timbre! source filter sound FORMANTS ARE HERE 6 . Perceptual analogies between the voice and the guitar FORMANTS ARE HERE We suggest that: To establish perceptual analogies.. Variation of spectral centroid (Hz) with plucking distance from the bridge (cm). it is not necessary to find strong similarities between the structures of the acoustical systems. tongue.

7 .We selected four variations of the performance which were described by the guitarist as ponticello. Played by Peter McCutcheon. F2 F2 F1 F2 F1 F1 Nine French-speaking non-professional musicians and non-guitarists performers were asked to sing nonsense syllables that they felt perceptually close to guitar tones. brassy. round and tasto. associating a consonant to the attack and a vowel to the release of the tone. Philippe Depalle .Guitar vowels (spectra with “odd” formants) F2 = 3 F1 F1 To produce the stimuli. 2004 ] Stimuli Results Excerpt from « L’encouragement » for two guitars.Proc. F2 F1 Experiment: vocal imitation of guitar tones F2 [ “Phonetic gestures underlying guitar timbre perception”. Fernando Sor. we asked a professional guitarist to play the same melody with different timbres. Caroline Traube. International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition.

The adjectives thin and round would be opposites along the ACUTENESS dimension. 1985].verbalisation (adjectives). distinctive features of speech could be relevant perceptual dimensions of the classical guitar timbre space and can help to explain guitar timbre descriptors. ACUTENESS. we can infer that the adjectives closed.an instrumental gesture parameter (plucking position).Listening to guitar sounds as vocal sounds Applying distinctive features of speech to guitar tones MIDPOINT BRIDGE shape of mouth thin and nasal tones round and open tones hollow or closed tones  Mapping between . a hollow or cavernous sound would actually sound like the [u] vowel produced as the mouth forms a hollow cavity. Applying some distinctive features of speech to guitar sounds. . LAXNESS) in the (F1. round. F2) plane [Slawson.spectral content of sounds (formant structure) and . A warm or chocolatey sound would likely be associated with the maximally LAX point. Explaining guitar timbre verbal descriptors Among the adjectives commonly used by guitarists to describe timbre. 8 . In conclusion. The trajectory traced with a dotted line correspond to the relationship F2 = 3 F1. Sound color associated to each string First formant frequency : Equal-value contours for three distinctive features of speech (OPENNESS. we noticed that an interesting set refers to phonetic gestures. Finally. which is found for the first two local maxima of a comb filter. large. open indicate different degrees of OPENNESS.