Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Computer Science


Computer Science


John Clements


Many skilled flutists place a high priority on "good" tone quality, or timbre. Timbre can be defined as the audible difference in character that a listener perceives for two notes played at the same pitch. Different timbres are determined by the combination and balance of harmonics that comprise a note. Unlike pitch and rhythm, timbre is difficult to objectively quantify. This project explores (1) how tone quality is described by skilled flutists, (2) whether the harmonic spectrum has some correlation with tone quality, (3) whether certain harmonic spectra are preferred, or considered "good".

Thirty-one flutists ranging from high school students to professionals were recorded. A set of samples was used in surveys and interviews to capture descriptors and ratings of tone quality. All of the recorded samples were analyzed using application programs, Harmonic Analysis Tools (HAT), created for this study. HAT uses digital signal processing techniques to produce "spectral signatures". The signatures consist of the harmonic content, pitch, and amplitude of a sample. In the future, with further development, HAT may be a useful tool for musicians for tone development in the practice room.

The outcome of this research is a baseline set of some often used descriptors. In addition, results showed some correlation between harmonic spectra and descriptors. There were also trends in preferences with respect to certain spectral characteristics. An unexpected finding was that University students showed divergent timbre preferences compared to highly experienced flutists. (2627 kB)
Selected audio examples for thesis

readme (1 kB)
Instructions for using the audio files