Is there a name for the sound produced by the mechanical action of a musical instrument? I'm referring specifically to sounds not usually associated with the instrument's voice—the movement of a trumpet's valves, the hiss of a trombone's slide, the clunk of a piano pedal being engaged.

I've always considered the rhythmic clacking of the saxophone keys an essential effect of this Philip Glass recording (Concerto for Saxophone (Quartet Version) - Movement I, off the album Saxophone from 2002):

And I believe it is being used quite intentionally in this Balmorhea song (To The Order Of Night):

I sometimes, analogously, call this effect "pentimenti"—a visual arts term, referring to the not-fully-obscured remnants of previous stages of a painting or drawing.

  • Yes. As a classical guitarist I can tell you the name is 'a bloody nuisance'. .
    – PeterJ
    Dec 17, 2019 at 13:27
  • Do you have another link to the Phillip Glass? I see an error saying that the "account associated with this video has been terminated," and am not able to view it. Dec 18, 2019 at 22:23
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    @ElizaWilson I've updated to a different version of the recording—this one is the full album, but the track I'm talking about is the first one. Moreover, I've future-proofed this post by adding the actual names in the text, in case those youtubes also die.
    – derektb
    Dec 19, 2019 at 23:32
  • Glass link is dead again. Could not readily find a replacement with prominent sax-key noise. However, FYI, as a point of interest, Nils Frahm close-mics his piano specifically to pic up the instrument noises:
    – Aaron
    Nov 24, 2020 at 3:14

2 Answers 2


The answer, and I am serious, is "noise". "Noise" is defined as sounds that do not create a repeating oscillating waveform, which is to say that they do not produce a pitch. All instruments have components of their sound that are types of noise.

Many percussion instruments, including drums, produce more noise than waveforms with pitch, but percussion instruments are very much musical instruments because you can play them in a rhythmic manner.

The "noise" components of every musical instrument are integral to giving our ears clues as to what we are listening to. If music is recorded in such a way that the noise components are minimized, our ears are diminished in our ability to discern one instrument from another.

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    At least some noises created by the playing of musical instruments have specific names. For example, when playing the piano both upper key noise and lower key noise are components of the sound. The former is the sound of the fingers hitting the keys, and the latter is the sound of the keys hitting the keybed when fully depressed. I'm not sure there if there are terms like "valve noise" or "key noise" for woodwinds, but I wouldn't be too surprised if there were. Feb 6, 2016 at 3:47
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    Congrats on becoming the second high scorer! Keep up the good work!
    – Tim
    Feb 6, 2016 at 20:17
  • @Tim, I have no idea how that happened. I need to get out of the house more and spend less time in front of my computer.
    – user1044
    Feb 6, 2016 at 20:43
  • @tim You better look out Tim he's right on your heels and gaining on you. Time to step into high gear or you might lose your spot at the pinnacle ;-) Feb 6, 2016 at 23:27
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    We usually specify by naming the part of the instrument that makes the noise. With a piano, it's "hammer noise" or "pedal noise". With a saxophone it's "key noise". With a guitar it's "finger squeak" or "pick noise". On a pipe organ it's "valve noise". Etc.
    – user1044
    Feb 7, 2016 at 3:06

"Instrument noise" would be the term to use I think. The German term, by the way, would be "Nebengeräusche" (literally "secondary sounds") which is less easily confused with "music as such". This distinction may be important in cases like "Jericho" where the walls fell down due to the "main sound" of the instruments according to the biblical story. Already an unbelievable feat I might add.

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