Sound Quality: Definition, Differentiation & Noise

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  • 0:01 Timbre
  • 0:40 Noise
  • 1:45 Loudness and Pitch
  • 2:35 Differentiating Sounds
  • 3:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

How does your brain tell the difference between a note played by a guitar and the same note played by a piano? The answer has to do with sound quality, or timbre. Learn about the characteristics that your brain interprets to distinguish sounds.

Timbre

When you go to a concert, your ear can pick out different sounds. You might hear notes being simultaneously played by a piano, guitar, and violin. Each of these instruments will sound different to you, even if they have the same pitch and loudness. So, how does your brain distinguish between different sounds? The answer has to do with the timbre, or the quality of the sound. Timbre is a general term used to distinguish one sound from another. In this lesson, we will learn about sound quality and how you use it to differentiate sounds and noises.

Noise

Regardless of whether you are talking about the pleasing sounds coming from a concert band, or the annoying sounds being generated by the person sitting next to you, we can think of sounds as a mixture of sound waves occurring at different frequencies.

As sound waves travel toward your ear, they alternately compress and expand the air. This movement of the air causes your eardrum to vibrate. The eardrum transfers this vibration to the small bones of the ear, turning the vibrations into nerve signals. From that point, your brain takes over interpreting the sound as pleasant music or annoying noise. So, we see that noise is largely a subjective phenomenon, which is really just something your brain considers to be undesirable sound. For example, a little girl playing a violin for the first time might sound like noise to you, but to her proud parents, it might sound like beautiful music.

Loudness & Pitch

Your brain recognizes different characteristics of sound. One easy characteristic to pick out is loudness, which is the strength of the sound. If we were to look at sound waves, we would be able to tell the loudness by the amplitude, or height of the waves. Basically, large amplitudes produce loud sounds. For example, a shout would produce a sound wave with a larger amplitude than a whisper.

Another characteristic of sound that your brain recognizes is pitch. Pitch deals with the frequency of sound wave vibrations. For example, a large instrument, like a tuba, produces low-pitched sounds that vibrate slowly, whereas a piccolo produces high-pitched sounds that vibrate rapidly.

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