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Music Theory for Computer Musicians by Michael Hewitt

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Tone Quality (Waveform)

Tone quality—also called tone color or timbre—is the property that enables the ear to distinguish between the sound of, say, a flute and a violin playing the same note. The tone of the violin has a richness and a warmth compared to the tone of the flute, which is smooth and less complex.

To explain why these sounds have a different timbral quality, you must consider something that is vitally important to both music and our perception of it—the complex makeup of a single musical tone. When you hear a musical tone, you hear it as a readily recognizable singular event. Closer scientific examination of musical tones, however, shows that this is very much an illusion. Each musical tone that you hear is in fact a highly complex ...

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