Physics of Music Essay example

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"He who understands nothing but chemistry does not truly understand chemistry either"

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799)

Music is not purely a form of art. There is a great deal of science that goes behind the production of beautiful musical sounds. In order to understand how music is possible, one must have an understanding of physics. Physics allows us to create musical instruments with different tone qualities and the ability to be played in a certain way to produce a specific pitch or note. Music is sound, and sound is vibrations or waves that are at the right frequency to be perceived by the human ear. Audible vibrations are waves with a frequency between 16 and 20,000 vibrations per second. So what causes sound waves? Sound waves are caused by a disturbance in an elastic medium. These can include the strings on a violin, the reed on a clarinet, and even the human vocal cords. Click on the links below to discover how science makes it possible to create a variety of musical sounds.

Stringed instruments produce sound when an action such as plucking or bowing causes them to vibrate. When a string is fixed at both ends, two transverse waves will move from the left and right side of the disturbance. When the waves hit the fixed ends of the string, they bounce back and continue to vibrate until they are eventually stopped by friction and "leaks" through the fixed points. It can be proved with mathematics that standing waves are the only stable vibrations that are possible for a string with two fixed ends. Because these waves are standing waves, the only possible wavelengths are found by 2L/n, where L is the length of the string and n is the harmonic number, which is can be any integer describing the mode of the stret...

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...of valves that attach to additional tubing. When the valves are pressed additional lengths of tubing are inserted into the airway of the horn to lower the pitch.


Askill, John. Physics of Musical Sounds. Litton Educational

Publishing, Inc. 1979.

Fletcher, Neville H. and Rossing, Thomas D. The Physics of

Musical Instruments. Springer-Verlag New York Inc.


Harder, Paul O. and Steinke, Greg A. Basic Materials in

Music Theory. Prentice Hall. 2000.

Levarie, Siegmund and Levy, Ernst. Tone: A Study in

Musical Acoustics. Kent State University Press. 1968.

Roederer, Juan G. The Physics and Psychophysics of Music:

An Introduction. Springer-Verlag New York, Inc.


Serway, Raymond A. and Beichner, Robert J. Physics for

Scientists and Engineers. Thomson Learning, Inc.


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