The contribution of timbre attributes to musical tension

Morwaread M. Farbood, Khen C. Price

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Timbre is an auditory feature that has received relatively little attention in empirical work examining musical tension. In order to address this gap, an experiment was conducted to explore the contribution of several specific timbre attributes - inharmonicity, roughness, spectral centroid, spectral deviation, and spectral flatness - to the perception of tension. Listeners compared pairs of sounds representing low and high degrees of each attribute and indicated which sound was more tense. Although the response profiles showed that the high states corresponded with increased tension for all attributes, further analysis revealed that some attributes were strongly correlated with others. When qualitative factors, attribute correlations, and listener responses were all taken into account, there was fairly strong evidence that higher degrees of roughness, inharmonicity, and spectral flatness elicited higher tension. On the other hand, evidence that higher spectral centroid and spectral deviation corresponded to increases in tension was ambiguous.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)419-427
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics


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