I'm doing a project on instrument detection using the harmonic profile of each instrument. The idea is that the relative amplitudes of the harmonics will allow me to identify what instrument is producing the sound.

Does there exist a reference for each instrument harmonic profile?

  • Are you able to create such profiles from recordings? There should be plenty of material on the web, to get something at least for a few instruments. Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 23:52
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    Unfortunaly that idea of yours is just not very good. Although the relative amplitudes are different between instruments and allow you to distinguish, say, a flute from an oboe, they won't get you much further than that, because even a single instrument can have quite different spectrum depending on playing dynamics, recording etc.. Those changes are stronger than the general differences between different instruments. In lots of cases it's only the transients and extra noise components that allows distinguishing what instrument it is. Commented Mar 30, 2020 at 12:13
  • @leftaroundabout Well, then just add the transients to get more fine-grained categorization? :) And after that, add more (and more and more) dimensions ... You might also need note-onset detection to figure out where an attack transient might be. Then add pitch tracking and stereo image tracking to follow the set of instruments, if it's an ensemble... How do you distinguish between a flute + glockenspiel playing in unison from someone playing a sampler? Eventually train a neural network, because the amount of logic turned out to be impossibly big. Maybe! :) Who knows what you learn if you try. Commented Mar 30, 2020 at 15:16

1 Answer 1


People regularly ask this question. As leftaroundabout says, in practice it just doesn't work. Or at least, it's absurdly difficult to do as well as a trained human ear.

Now, if you are brave enough :-) try this:

Rather than generating harmonic profiles, I would recommend using Machine Learning /Neural Net software to train a tool to identify instruments. The upside is that it'll probably be pretty accurate. The downside is that you'll never know how it works.

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