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Department of Physics
Undergraduate Students

Physics 371 - Acoustics for Musicians

This course is intended primarily for undergraduate and graduate music students who wish to learn about the physical basis of sound and musical instruments. Elementary physics principles are used to describe oscillating systems, waves, and wave propagation.  The relationship between the physical stimulus (frequency, amplitude, sound pressure, Fourier components) and the perception of sound (pitch, loudness, timbre) are discussed. The fundamental frequencies of strings and pipes and their overtone structure (partials) are treated quantitatively. The physical basis of consonance is used to show the origin of the diatonic scale.  Differences between  tunings (just tuning, tempered, meantone) are studied. The physics of musical instruments is explained, including the mechanism by which steady tones are excited, enhanced, and propagated in the string, reed, brass, and percussion families, as well as the voice.  The origin of formants in the sound spectrum is discussed. Other topics treated are physiology of hearing and the fundamental principles of room acoustics.  In every lecture, a number of lecture demonstrations is presented. A short term paper on a topic of the student's choosing in the area of musical acoustics is due at the end of the term.

Typical texts are:

"The Acoustical Foundations of Music" by J. Backus

"Musical Acoustics" by D.E. Hall; "Acoustics for Musicians" by W. F. Fry, a UW Emeritus Professor of Physics, available in mimeograph form.

Prerequisites
HS Algebra.


 

 
Last updated: 2/18/2007
 
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