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February 2, 2022

Timbre / tam-ber / noun

Definition: Timbre refers to the quality given to a sound by its overtones or the quality of auditory sensations produced by the tone. Timbre can also identify the resonance by which the ear recognizes a voiced sound or the characteristic quality of a sound that distinguishes it from another.

Etymology: Timbre was likely borrowed from the Greek word for kettledrum, tympanum, and made its way to France as timbre, originally meaning small drum. The word then changed to mean “bell without a clapper,” “sound of a bell,” and finally “quality of a sound.” 

It first appeared in English in the 12th century and had a variety of different meanings. By the 19th century, it was used to mean “sonorous quality of a sound” [distinct from pitch, or volume] and finally, by 1853 became associated with its current meaning.

In a Sentence

The timbre of the saxophone blends beautifully with the brass.

His voice has a unique dark timbre.

The timbre of the Stradivarius is unequaled.

The power, control, and timbre of Pavarotti’s voice dominated opera for a generation.


Resonance, Tonality, Inflection


Pitch, Volume, Silence


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