Flute List Survey Results

Descriptor Summary

The following table shows some of the descriptors captured from the survey. Column 1 indicates the ratings associated with these adjectives. The rating scale range was from 1 ("poor") to 5 ("great"). A 3 would be considered neutral. For example, "Favorable" descriptors accompanied ratings of 4 or 5; "Neutral or favorable" descriptors were used with ratings of 3 or higher; "Unfavorable" descriptors were used with ratings of 2 or lower. The "Across all ratings" category is for descriptors accompanying all ratings (rating from 1 to 5).

Circumstances Descriptors
Favorable resonant, clear, rich, deep, strong/good core, warm, pure, vibrant, colorful, spinning
Neutral or favorable centered, mellow, smooth, light, sweet, round, full, balanced, buzzy, clean, broad, focused
Neutral or unfavorable reedy, trumpety, airy, breathy, dull, muffled, uneven, nasal, forced, sharp, pinched, fuzzy
Unfavorable weak, harsh, lifeless, woolly, uncentered, unsupported, thin, uncontrolled, out-of-control, muted, limp, unfocused
Across all ratings open, hollow, edgy, brassy, overblown, diffuse, loud, soft, bright, dark

Rating Summary

The following chart shows the overall rating (1 = "poor", 5 = "great") for each audio clip. The survey consisted of 6 pairs of notes.


Legend for Harmonics in Spectral Charts

Each harmonic is represented as a line on the left half of each screen. The Y-axis indicates the strength or loudness (higher on the Y-axis means stronger). The following table shows the color coding for harmonics:

Harmonic # Description Graph color
H1 Fundamental (perceived pitch) White
H2 Octave above fundamental Yellow
H3 Octave + fifth above fundamental Green
H4 Two octaves above fundamental Yellow
H5 Two octaves + third above fundamental Red
H6 Two octaves + fifth Green
H7 Two octaves + minor seventh above fundamental Purple

Organization of the Results

The following sections show results for each pair of notes. The information is formatted as follows:

D4 comparisons

#1A (D4) - Rating 3.40 #1B (D4) - Rating 2.37
Favorable: rich, full, dark/bright
Unfavorable: uneven, unstable, harsh
Favorable: full, hollow
Unfavorable: airy, weak, unfocused
  • Generally rated favorably
  • Rich in upper harmonics (H3-H7)
  • H7 (purple) is unusually strong
  • Other descriptors: edgy, brassy, nasal
  • Generally rated neutral or unfavorably
  • This is an example where H2 is predominant
  • H1 can often be weaker than H2/H3 for low notes
  • Other descriptors: fuzzy, muffled, diffuse

#2A (D4) - Rating 2.73 #2B (D4) - Rating 2.29
Favorable: focused, warm, mellow
Unfavorable: weak, thin
Favorable: full, focused
Unfavorable: forced, overblown, sharp
  • Generally rated neutral or slightly unfavorably
  • The harmonics are somewhat evenly distributed
  • H3 (green) very weak, & H5 (red) stronger than H3
  • Other descriptors: hollow, airy, weak
  • Generally rated neutral or unfavorably
  • H3 (green) is unusually strong
  • H1 (fundamental) is weaker than H2, H3, & H4
  • Other descriptors: edgy, harsh, brassy

G4 comparisons

#3A (G4) - Rating 3.61 #3B (G4) - Rating 2.25
Favorable: focused, clear, rich
Unfavorable: harsh, edgy, forced
Favorable: mellow, light, round
Unfavorable: unfocused, breathy, weak
  • Generally rated favorably
  • Strong presence of many harmonics
  • H1 this the third strongest
  • Other descriptors: edgy, supported, brassy/trumpety
  • Generally rated neutral or unfavorably
  • Strong H1 and H2 (H2 fluctuates)
  • Almost no upper harmonics
  • Other descriptors: woolly, woobly, round

#4A (G4) - Rating 2.20 #4B (G4) - Rating 3.23
Favorable: round, full
Unfavorable: airy, weak, unfocused
Favorable: clear, focused, rich
Unfavorable: nasal, trumpety, edgy
  • Generally rated neutral or unfavorably
  • Mainly H1 plus octaves (H2, H4)
  • Fluctuating H1
  • Other descriptors: thin, hollow, light
  • Rated from "great" to "poor" and in between
  • This was the flutist's "straight-tone" version
  • Rich in harmonics; they all fluctuate, strong H3
  • Other descriptors: pinched, resonant, spinning

B4 comparison

#5A (B4) - Rating 3.98 #5B (B4) - Rating 2.36
Favorable: focused, clear, strong
Unfavorable: unsteady/unstable, loud
Favorable: soft/softer, resonant, nice
Unfavorable: airy, unfocused, breathy
  • Highest rated, almost all postive or neutral
  • Shifting H2 & H3 did not detract from quality
  • H2 generally strongest harmonic throughout
  • Other descriptors: vibrant, rich, bright/dark
  • Generally rated neutral or unfavorable
  • Very dominant H1, some H2 (octave)
  • Few upper harmonics
  • Other descriptors include: fuzzy, dull, open

D5 comparison

#6A (D5) - Rating 2.91 #6B (D5) - Rating 2.64
Favorable: clear, good, focused/unfocused
Unfavorable: unfocused/focused, weak, airy

Favorable: focused, edgy, clear
Unfavorable: forced, brassy/trumpety, edgy
  • Rated neutral or slightly favorably/unfavorably
  • Both focused and unfocused used as descriptors
  • Few upper harmonics
  • Other descriptors: open, uneven, balanced
  • Rated "great" to "poor", tending to unfavorably
  • Unusually strong H3 (at this pitch - D5)
  • Rich in harmonics except H6 and H7
  • Other descriptors: harsh, reedy, buzzy

Other Observations/Comments


Results from the Flute List survey indicate a preference towards timbres rich in harmonics. However, the appropriate balance of harmonics is clearly important. For example, if H3 is disproportionate, the quality can become too harsh or edgy for some listeners. On the other hand, insufficient upper harmonics may be judged as too weak or airy. As pitch varies so does the harmonic spectra, therefore the criteria for an appropriate mixture of harmonics changes for each pitch. Additionally, musical context and taste plays a significant role. The survey contained two samples that demonstrated a wide range of ratings which may reflect differences in taste.

These are preliminary observations. The full thesis paper will contain more information.

Additional Information