Timbre, pronounced “TAM-ber,” is the character or quality of sound that distinguishes one instrument, voice, or other sound source from another. There are many ways to describe the timbers, also known as tone colors, of sounds. They may be described as thin, thick, light, dark, sharp, dull, smooth, rough, warm, cold, rich, nasal, etc. Tone color is that special sound that makes one instrument sound different from another. It’s what makes violins sound different from trumpets and xylophones sound different from clarinets.
Timbre is an important element at the composer’s disposal. A good composer must understand what an instrument can and cannot do. A flute can’t sound like a tuba, and a clarinet does not sound like a piano.