Timbre's function in the perception of affective intentions: Contextual information and effects of learning

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Ohio State University. Libraries

Research Projects

Organizational Units

Journal Issue


Timbre has been identified by music perception scholars as a component in the communication of affect in music. While its function as a carrier of perceptually useful information about sound source mechanics has been established, less is understood about whether and how it functions as a carrier of information for communicating affect in music. To investigate these issues, listeners trained in Chinese and Western musical traditions were presented with phrases, measures, and individual notes of recorded excerpts interpreted with a variety of affective intentions by performers on instruments from the two cultures. These excerpts were analyzed to determine acoustic features that are correlated with timbre characteristics. Analysis revealed consistent use of temporal, spectral, and spectrotemporal attributes in judging affective intent in music, suggesting purposeful use of these properties within the sounds by listeners. Comparison between listeners' perceptions across notes and longer segments also revealed greater accuracy in perception with increased musical context. How timbre is used for musical communication appears to be implicated differently across musical traditions. The important role timbre plays also appears to vary for different positions within a musical phrase, suggesting that patterns of change over time are crucial in emotional communication.



timbre, musical affect, acoustic features, cross-cultural differences


Future Directions of Music Cognition (2021), pp. 246-249