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Timbre of A Singer's Voice

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Timbre = Identity

Timbre is a very important element when identifying music. Timbre is one of the main basic music elements that help identify the tone or tones within a musical piece. These differences in tone are what enable us to distinguish between sounds of a guitar and a French horn. In popular music, one of the most identifiable timbres is within the singer’s voice. Every voice produces a different timbre and adds a different element to a musical piece. For example, Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley, and Elvis Presley each have distinct timbres within their voices that characterize their music.


Bob Dylan: The Voice of the Common Man

Bob Dylan is one of the most influential popular music figures of the 20th century. Dylan is widely acclaimed for his ability to write on various social/personal issues in a poetic and sophisticated way. However, Dylan’s voice is not what many music listeners would call aesthetically pleasing. While Dylan may not have great vocal ability, the timbre in his voice perfectly portrays the message in his music.

“Blowin’ in the Wind” is one of Bob Dylan’s most popular songs and is from his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan . Throughout many of his songs, Dylan provides a vocal timbre that is both nasally and rusty, yet profound and full of conviction. In “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Dylan’s timbre perfectly relates with the common person and the struggles they face in life. Dylan’s timbre provides an honesty that is perfectly demonstrated through lyrics about lack of respect (How many roads must a man walk down/Before you call him a man?) and the struggle for freedom (Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist/Before they’re allowed to be free?). Dylan’s vocal timbre would not carry the same message to the listener had it been sung by an aesthetically pleasing singer. Dylan’s voice helps bring these issues to the listener’s attention from a common man’s perspective.

Jeff Buckley: Voice of an Angel

Jeff Buckley is a very different vocalist from Bob Dylan; one who is more of an ideal singer.  Despite his death in 1997, Jeff Buckley has a vocal timbre that was very rich, ethereal, sweet, and powerful. In his performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallejulah,” Buckley’s voice perfectly displays the beauty in his voice. His vocal timbre perfectly balances between glory and sorrow, beauty and pain.  His delivery brings new meaning to “Hallejulah,” a song that uses biblical references such as Samson and Delilah (She broke your throne and cut your hair/And you’re your lips she drew the Hallelujah) from the Book of Judges to describe the power and challenges of love.  His voice perfectly portrays the struggle love can create in a person’s life, which Buckley’s performance of the song particularly moving.  

Elvis Presley: The King

Elvis Presley is another popular music figure that has had a great impact on popular music.  “The King” had a baritone-tenor vocal range that had a rich and deep timbre.  His voice had the ability to duplicate the hoarse, screaming, and wailing qualities of black rhythm and blues and gospel singers. Elvis’ timbre perfectly illustrates these qualities in his performance of “Hound Dog,” originally written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller in 1952.  When Elvis started to sing, “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog crying all the time,” his voice perfectly emulated the raw intensity heard by many rhythm and blues singers.  These vocal qualities were very important to bringing rhythm and blues to a universal audience. 

Timbre's Impact

Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley, and Elvis Presely each have certain qualities that make their timbres of their voices unique. The timbres these vocalists present each provide different meaning to each artist’s respected songs, giving each song a distinct identity. These vocalists show the effect timbre can have on music.


Rhea vonn 08 on November 09, 2011:

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that's not interesting you know


cookie8888 (author) from Indianapolis, IN on April 15, 2011:

@Gistorama - I'm glad you enjoyed my article. Thanks for reading.

@funmontrealgirl - Thank you. I wanted to include at least one atypical singer to show the importance of timbre in a performer's voice.

funmontrealgirl from Montreal on March 21, 2011:

I liked your choices especially Dylan.

Gistorama on February 18, 2011:

Hallelujah is a great song to use to talk about timbre. Just comparing Leonard Cohen's version with subsequent covers of his much beloved song is a great study of this in and of itself. Thanks to reading your hub, I discovered a great Wikipedia article about the song "Hallelujah". It includes four excerpts from covers of the song, including Jeff Buckley's. Great stuff. Thanks for putting this together.

cookie8888 (author) from Indianapolis, IN on October 27, 2010:

Sure thing. I'm glad you enjoyed the video. It's definitely one of my favorites Jeff Buckley videos on YouTube.

Jesse Broman from Los Angeles on October 26, 2010:

Wow. That Jeff Buckley performance was amazing. thanks for sharing that

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