Trombone Transfer Functions: Comparison Between Frequency-Swept Sine Wave and Human Performer Input

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Source/filter models have frequently been used to model sound production of the vocal apparatus and musical instruments. Beginning in 1968, in an effort to measure the transfer function (i.e., transmission response or filter characteristic) of a trombone while being played by expert musicians, sound pressure signals from the mouthpiece and the trombone bell output were recorded in an anechoic room and then subjected to harmonic spectrum analysis. Output/input ratios of the signals’ harmonic amplitudes plotted vs. harmonic frequency then became points on the trombone’s transfer function. The first such recordings were made on analog 1/4 inch stereo magnetic tape. In 2000 digital recordings of trombone mouthpiece and anechoic output signals were made that provide a more accurate measurement of the trombone filter characteristic. Results show that the filter is a high-pass type with a cutoff frequency around 1000 Hz. Whereas the characteristic below cutoff is quite stable, above cutoff it is extremely variable, depending on level. In addition, measurements made using a swept-sine-wave system in 1972 verified the high-pass behavior, but they also showed a series of resonances whose minima correspond to the harmonic frequencies which occur under performance conditions. For frequencies below cutoff the two types of measurements corresponded well, but above cutoff there was a considerable difference. The general effect is that output harmonics above cutoff are greater than would be expected from linear filter theory, and this effect becomes stronger as input pressure increases. In the 1990s and early 2000s this nonlinear effect was verified by theory and measurements which showed that nonlinear propagation takes place in the trombone, causing a wave steepening effect at high amplitudes, thus increasing the relative strengths of the upper harmonics.

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