Physics of Sound and Music

Over the next few months I am hoping to develop a course on the Physics of Sound and Music. Although this course isn’t on the books yet, it has been offered in the past, and it would fit into the new core model at Pacific. We have adopted a program that replaces the old “pick two courses from each column” breadth requirement. The new model is based on focal studies, which are course clusters containing coherent, cross-discipline content. To bring more non-majors through the department, and also to extend our overlap with the music and arts departments, it would work well to have a sound and music course, and a light and vision course.

For the time being, it looks like we will split up our two four-credit non-majors courses into four two-credit courses. This will let us tailor the topic more directly to the students, and in particular, to the focal study they elect to take. The result of this split will likely be: sound and waves; optics and photography; atoms, electrons, and fields; and mechanics. There are some obvious things missing, like thermodynamics, so we are going to have to consider this approach carefully. I’m happy to hear from people who have tought or taken sound/music classes from physics departments. Any things you liked or didn’t like?


One thought on “Physics of Sound and Music

  1. I took such a course in college. I won’t bother going to find the text because it was advanced undergrad or maybe even graduate level. One of the coolest things for me was learning about the physical/musical relationship of the harmonic (overtone) series, and why it’s so intimately tied so string instruments. This leads naturally to topics such as:
    * why non-string instruments (bells, tympani) sound different (different overtone series)
    * why plucking/bowing a string instrument in different places yields different sounds
    * why thick strings are made the way they are (high mass, low rigidity… otherwise they become bars)
    * why different instruments “fit” together (because they often fill different frequency ranges)

    There’s also the fascinating magic of tempering… tons of cool stuff there.

    Sounds like fun.


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