Timbre: Inside Music from a Lifer

Day 196 Week 29 Q3  Friday July 15, 2022

So how many of you play a musical instrument? If so you already know the incredibly large number of benefits so I will not list them as there are too many pages written about the topic to even point to. Google it.

However, I do want to talk about a more subtle related topic, timbre or tone is key to the experience. For the uninitiated, “timbre” is pronounced “tamber” which rhymes with amber.

Through the ages, music has enjoyed any parents telling their offspring to learn to play, often accompanied by signing the child up for lessons because the benefits are so well-known.  But just as creativity is rampant among the young, and is in general, beat out of people by the time they graduate college, most young musicians never become old musicians, which is a shame. 

And what’s up with this?

The reason most people stop playing is it can be too difficult to get an inspiring sound out of musical instruments. This may be one reason the piano is still the most popular instrument in the world.  It does not take years to get a pleasing sound, but it does take years to play a compelling piece or even a simple piece compellingly. But in terms of instant gratification, the piano wins, and more adults play the piano than any other instrument, even more than the guitar. The second reason the top two are piano and guitar is they are more musically self-contained than the majority of instruments that can only apply a single note at a time, which requires additional players to collaborate with. Single note instruments are monophonic, and instruments that can play polyphonically are in general more popular.

But let us come back to their notion of tone, a mostly subjective, totally qualitative sonic event. The only reason to play an instrument is to make you feel good, and a bad-sounding instrument does not do that – the largest reason people quit. If you can not make a good sound, why bother to practice? Most do not.

In the realm of unsolicited advice – get hold of the best sounding instrument you can.  And no, this does not mean the most expensive instrument because collectability is not the same thing as quality. Also, this is subjective, not everyone agrees on what sounds good or bad. There are no units – quality is qualitative. 

Also, very good Musicians can coax a good sound from an inexpensive instrument, and beginners can make anything, including the very best and very most expensive, sound horrible. The tonal quality of a person’s voice can also play a big role in how influential they can be. Tone matters. The tome of a conversation or a speech can dramatically change outcomes.

Having spent a lifetime in music, the tone has to come first. It is more important to me than pitch and timing accuracy. This is also true in terms of being willing to work for someone or with one.  A disrespectful tone immediately earns a see-you-later exit stage right.

In short, tone can be a deal maker or a deal breaker. And yes, I mean this metaphorically as well as explicitly and literally.  Quality takes time, and if the tone is not there, you are not too likely to bother to spend the time to work the other things out that permit a good tone or rapport.

Musicians, Managers and other Creators need to invest significant effort to get anything perfected. If the tone is not there, you are not likely to make the required investment either in the instrument or the person.