A mixture of three pure tones (top) yields a complex resultant tone (bottom), such as might be …—© Merriam-Webster Inc.

Quality of sound that distinguishes one instrument, voice, or other sound source from another. Timbre largely results from a characteristic combination of overtones produced by different instruments. This distinctive combination (which usually varies across the range of pitches) is what principally permits a listener to distinguish a clarinet from a flute, an alto from a tenor, or even a Stradivarius violin from a Guarneri violin, when both are sounding the same pitch. One element of timbre results from the differing methods of producing the sounds (blowing, bowing, striking, etc.), especially audible at the moment a note begins.

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