Exploring violin sound quality: investigating English timbre descriptors and correlating resynthesized acoustical modifications with perceptual properties.


Performers often discuss the sound quality of a violin or the sound obtained by particular playing techniques, calling upon a diverse vocabulary. This study explores the verbal descriptions, made by performers, of the distinctive timbres of different violins. Sixty-one common descriptors were collected and then arranged by violinists on a map, so that words with similar meanings lay close together, and those with different meanings lay far apart. The results of multidimensional scaling demonstrated consistent use among violinists of many words, and highlighted which words are used for similar purposes. These terms and their relations were then used to investigate the perceptual effect of acoustical modifications of violin sounds produced by roving of the levels in five one-octave wide bands, 190-380, 380-760, 760-1520, 1520-3040, and 3040-6080 Hz. Pairs of sounds were presented, and each participant was asked to indicate which of the sounds was more bright, clear, harsh, nasal, or good (in separate runs for each descriptor). Increased brightness and clarity were associated with moderately increased levels in bands 4 and 5, whereas increased harshness was associated with a strongly increased level in band 4. Judgments differed across participants for the qualities nasal and good.