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Descriptors of Sound


Descriptors of sound:  

13 members have voted

  1. 1. Which of the following words may qualify as unequivocal descriptors of sound?

    • Bright
      13
    • Dull
      11
    • New
      0
    • Old
      0
    • Woody
      2
    • Wet cardboard
      2
    • Rich
      10
    • Thin
      12
    • Chocolaty
      2
    • Dark
      10
    • Full
      10
    • Shrill
      11
    • Velvety
      6
    • Scratchy
      10
    • Lush
      2


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The main difficulty though is that instruments really don't have a specific sound.  

Changes in setup change the sound significantly. And changes in playing change the sound significantly.

To be meaningful, we need instead to talk about the palette of sounds an instrument offers, and how the playing experience differs.

 

 

 

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22 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Perhaps, Unfortunately, the guy was only looking to have his soundpost moved. Maybe I should have suggested a rosin change, or a rehair?

Or a mute.

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22 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Sorry if I didn't make that clear. It was the customers in the Los Angeles vicinity (including Las Vegas musicians) who often moved between shops like a prostitute choosing their next date, not the luthiers.

Yes, some strange things have gone on in Ann Arbor.

  1. But the customers would have been like "johns" drifting from one street corner to another.  They were doing the paying.  :P  :ph34r:
  2. No doubt.   :lol:
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49 minutes ago, David Beard said:

The main difficulty though is that instruments really don't have a specific sound.  

Changes in setup change the sound significantly. And changes in playing change the sound significantly.

To be meaningful, we need instead to talk about the palette of sounds an instrument offers, and how the playing experience differs.

Yes. Which words do you have in your palette, that are clearly understood?

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5 hours ago, Rue said:

I think a few descriptors are fairly unequivocal. For example, bright or dull...probably most of us could agree that any given violin has that quality of sound.

But some of the others? Not so much.

 

I prefer to think about an instrument having or lacking a capacity for this or that.

And many of these descriptors lay at opposite ends of a spectrum.  So, warm to dark is a spectrum.

So in regard to a spectrum like that, there are basically two interesting things about a particular instrument in its current set up.

1) How well can I access all parts of that spectrum?  And, 2) where is the instrument naturally entering that spectrum?

So, our descriptors tend to include both negative and positive versions of describing the ends of the main spectrums.  I.e. Bright v Harsh, or Dull v Warm.

If an instrument offers healthy full access to the entire spectrum, then I'll use a positive descriptor that describes the instrument's natural entry point to the spectrum, or perhaps that describes one end of the spectrum that the instrument thrives at, the not lacking the opposite capacity.  So I might say Bright, Sunny, Brilliant etc.  Or warm, lush, rich, deep, etc.

But, if the instrumwnt is out of balance, if it offers one capacity and not the other, then I will use the negative adjectives: harsh, dull, screechy, etc.

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1 hour ago, Rue said:

Yes. Which words do you have in your palette, that are clearly understood?

Palette?

And what's with the rich, dark, chocolaty, full, velvety, lush carry on?

I know what's on your pallette.

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Due to the inherently subjective nature of human perception of sensory phenomena, I fail to see the use in using any of this language at all. Listening to a player on a given instrument and also carefully watching them play it tells both of you precisely what you need to know. At this point, I think there is much more to be gained from questions pertaining to the response, available dynamic range, and timbral possibilities of the player-bow-fiddle unit than any discussions of a subjective nature.

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7 hours ago, Don Noon said:

Sound is subjective if you ask people if something sounds old or not.  However, with objectively measured sound, there does seem to be some spectral features more common in old instruments.

it always sounds old when they know it's from the 1700's to 1800's , coincidentally it also sounds old when it has a convincing antique job.

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54 minutes ago, sospiri said:

Palette?

And what's with the rich, dark, chocolaty, full, velvety, lush carry on?

I know what's on your pallette.

Uh-huh. Sure.

It is Mother's Day. Just thinking about a box of chocolates...

Did you know about that??? :P

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18 minutes ago, Rue said:

Uh-huh. Sure.

It is Mother's Day. Just thinking about a box of chocolates...

Did you know about that??? :P

Of course. The list was hardly subliminal was it?

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3 hours ago, David Beard said:

I prefer to think about an instrument having or lacking a capacity for this or that.

And many of these descriptors lay at opposite ends of a spectrum.  So, warm to dark is a spectrum.

So in regard to a spectrum like that, there are basically two interesting things about a particular instrument in its current set up.

1) How well can I access all parts of that spectrum?  And, 2) where is the instrument naturally entering that spectrum?

So, our descriptors tend to include both negative and positive versions of describing the ends of the main spectrums.  I.e. Bright v Harsh, or Dull v Warm.

If an instrument offers healthy full access to the entire spectrum, then I'll use a positive descriptor that describes the instrument's natural entry point to the spectrum, or perhaps that describes one end of the spectrum that the instrument thrives at, the not lacking the opposite capacity.  So I might say Bright, Sunny, Brilliant etc.  Or warm, lush, rich, deep, etc.

But, if the instrumwnt is out of balance, if it offers one capacity and not the other, then I will use the negative adjectives: harsh, dull, screechy, etc.

Unfortunately, in my lexicon, warm and dark are essentially the same thing. They are both good sound quality, neither is associated with great power, but if someone says, “oh that is a lovely dark sound“ or, “oh, that is a lovely warm sound, I’m going to interpret that as meaning the same kind of sound.

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18 minutes ago, PhilipKT said:

Unfortunately, in my lexicon, warm and dark are essentially the same thing. They are both good sound quality, neither is associated with great power, but if someone says, “oh that is a lovely dark sound“ or, “oh, that is a lovely warm sound, I’m going to interpret that as meaning the same kind of sound.

This is problem with individual interpretation...when I think "warm and dark"...I am reminded of changing babies' diapers in the middle of the night...

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Like another commenter above, they make more sense to me when considered as ends of a spectrum:

Clean vs Muddy/Fuzzy

Complex/Rich vs  Thin?    (is complex the same as rich?)

Resonant vs Tinny

Open vs Nasal

Smooth/velvety vs Harsh/Raspy

Dark vs Bright

Ringing vs Dull

I have used "round" to describe a violin but not sure I can adequately explain what that means....but I think I know it when I hear it.

 

 

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44 minutes ago, Brad H said:

I have used "round" to describe a violin but not sure I can adequately explain what that means....but I think I know it when I hear it.

I think of "round" as having good low frequencies, or fundamentals on the low strings... too round becomes "tubby".

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1 hour ago, PhilipKT said:

Unfortunately, in my lexicon, warm and dark are essentially the same thing. They are both good sound quality, neither is associated with great power, but if someone says, “oh that is a lovely dark sound“ or, “oh, that is a lovely warm sound, I’m going to interpret that as meaning the same kind of sound.

You are not taking my meaning.  We agree that these are both positive, and mean much the same.

My point is that I won't use positive adjectives unless an instrument does a fair job of producing the opposite end of the spectrum.  

If an instrument had a lovely warm capacity, but couldn't also produce a reasonable brilliance when called, then I would use only negative adjectives like dull, muted, etc.

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48 minutes ago, David Beard said:

My point is that I won't use positive adjectives unless an instrument does a fair job of producing the opposite end of the spectrum. 

This doesn't make sense to me.   If you are describing a violin's tone, you can describe what is present and what isn't, but I don't understand how the lack of one characteristic should result in ignoring a trait that is present.

49 minutes ago, David Beard said:

If an instrument had a lovely warm capacity, but couldn't also produce a reasonable brilliance when called, then I would use only negative adjectives like dull, muted, etc.

 How about "lovely, warm tone but lacking in brilliance"?   

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1 hour ago, David Beard said:

You are not taking my meaning.  We agree that these are both positive, and mean much the same.

My point is that I won't use positive adjectives unless an instrument does a fair job of producing the opposite end of the spectrum.  

If an instrument had a lovely warm capacity, but couldn't also produce a reasonable brilliance when called, then I would use only negative adjectives like dull, muted, etc.

Oh I understand what you mean, I wasn’t talking about that as a general comment on the overall sound of an instrument, more, a particular passage. If I’m playing a passage on the A string and then I move high up on the D string And play the same passage, the resulting sound will be warmer and darker because I’m playing on a thicker string with more mass, I guess. Overall brightness or lack thereof, I have always thought of as being a function of string choice, and I would say a cello sounds warmer with those strings and brighter with those strings. I’m not sure I’ve ever considered an overall sound of an instrument as anything other than “good” or “not good”

Although, the three greatest cellos I’ve played, a Carletti, a Gand, And some unknown yellow Roman thing that was being offered by David Brewer(my god what a cello that was) I would describe as warm and powerful, But I just assumed that was the set up, and with a different set up the sound would be thin and bright.

Edited by PhilipKT
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3 hours ago, Rue said:

This is problem with individual interpretation...when I think "warm and dark"...I am reminded of changing babies' diapers in the middle of the night...

In related news, I found 43 results for "sounds like crap", and everyone seems to agree on what it means.  :huh:

https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/search/&q="sounds like crap"&search_and_or=or&sortby=relevancy

BTW, Happy Mother's Day!!!!  :)

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1 hour ago, Brad H said:

This doesn't make sense to me.   If you are describing a violin's tone, you can describe what is present and what isn't, but I don't understand how the lack of one characteristic should result in ignoring a trait that is present.

 How about "lovely, warm tone but lacking in brilliance"?   

To me, that lack is what matters.  A good instrument needs to allow musical playing.  That isn't possible if you're stuck in one end of the color palette.

If an instrument offers range, but excels more at one end, that's fine.  But if it excels at one end and lacks range, that is entirely unbalanced and bad.  The setup should be reworked for better balance.

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There's a difference between using a word to describe a particular sound, and using a word to describe an instrument (and its potential or variety or potential sounds)

If we are using words to describe the sound then presumably a chocolatey sound being produced on a violin E string has something in common with a chocolatey sound being played by the kettledrums.

Its not the drums themselves that are chocolatey (unless the timpanist has too many long rests and an addiction to sweeties). As David Beard says a good instrument should be usable to create a wide variety of different kinds of sounds.

The only words I would mark down are "old" and "new". I don't have an idea what an "old sound" might sound like. Perhaps a bit faint and scratchy, like a shellac 78 played on an antique hand-cranked portable machine; and a new sound could be the same recording played on an iphone through slightly tinny bluetooth speakers?

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I find it hard to believe that 'old sound' is an entirely made up concept.  We've already established that violins can be stronger in some areas than others by default.  Is it really the case that the concept of 'ideal' tone hasn't changed over the past 400 years?  Some of my jazz bandmates and I play on 1920's horns, and there is definitely an 'old sound' associated with them.  Not old as in worn out.  They sound closer to what you hear on recordings from that era.  The market for modern horns caters to a different taste.  You can adjust fiddles a lot more than winds/brass, but surely old violins were made to appeal to the violinists of the time-- not necessarily the violinists of today.  

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1 hour ago, chiaroscuro_violins said:

[...] You can adjust fiddles a lot more than winds/brass, but surely old violins were made to appeal to the violinists of the time-- not necessarily the violinists of today.  

It sounds plausible, but doesn't square with history.

I think we got lucky in the sense that the original demand wasn't for something with a real particular colorization to it, but for a 'vocal like', flexible, and mostly neutral sound.

The violin has proven adaptable above all.  It's rolled with the changing styles in classical playing, and even been adopted into regional music styles all around the world.  It even has major roles in Indian and Arab music now.

The key thing about the best violins, including the original famous Old Cremona instruments, is astounding expresive versatility and adaptability.

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I've now read about a kazillion more descriptors (well, maybe that's a slight exaggeration) than the ones mentioned.

I  don't think any are any more useful, and just seem increasingly personal in meaning.<_<:rolleyes:

Maybe we should switch to colour descriptors? What is seafoam green exactly?

:ph34r:

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