Physics of Music (PHYS*1810)
Code and section: PHYS*1810*01
Term: Winter 2023
Instructor: Elisabeth Nicol
A course designed for arts and social science students with an interest or background in music. The fundamentals of vibrations and waves will be introduced and applied to a study of archetypal instruments. The psychoacoustic basis of pitch and loudness will be discussed.
Students who have standing in any other 1000 level physics course (except PHYS*1020 and PHYS*1600) may not enrol in this course. BSc students may not take this course for credit.
Course Delivery For Winter 2023, the course will be delivered asynchronously online through CourseLink.
Lecturer: Dr. Elisabeth Nicol
Office: MacNaughton 329
Getting Help: Both online and in-person office hours (TBA) will be available.
- Musical Acoustics (Third Edition) by D.E. Hall (Brooks/Cole, 2002)
Outline of Material to be Covered (as time permits)
|Chapter 1||The Nature of Sound
1.2 Acoustics and Music
1.3 Organizing Our Study of Sound
1.4 The Physical Nature of Sound
1.5 The Speed of Sound
1.6 Pressure and Sound Amplitude
|Chapter 2||Waves and Vibrations
2.1 The Time Element in Sound
2.4 Simple Harmonic Oscillation
2.5 Work, Energy, and Resonance
|All except section 3|
|Chapter 3||Sources of Sound
3.1 Classifying Sources of Sound
3.2 Percussion Instruments
3.3 String Instruments
3.4 Wind Instruments
3.5 Source Size
|All except section 6|
|Chapter 4||Sound Propagation
4.1 Reflection and Refraction
4.4 The Doppler Effect
4.5 Interference and Beats
|All except section 3|
|Chapter 5||Sound Intensity and Its Measurement
5.1 Amplitude, Energy, and Intensity
5.2 Sound Level and the Decibel Scale
5.3 The Inverse-Square Law
5.5 Combined Sound Levels and Interference
|All except section 4|
|Chapter 6||The Human Ear and Its Response
6.1 The Mechanism of the Human Ear
6.2 Limits of Audibility and Discrimination
6.3 Characteristics of Steady Single Tones
6.4 Loudness and Intensity
6.5 Pitch and Frequency
6.6 Pitch and Loudness Together
6.7 Timbre and Instrumental Recognition
|Chapter 7||Elemental Ingredients of Music
7.3 Scales and Intervals
7.4 The Harmonic Series
|Sections 3 and 4 only|
|Chapter 8||Sound Spectra and Electronic Synthesis
8.1 Prototype Steady Tones
8.2 Periodic Waves and Fourier Spectra
8.3 Modulated Tones
|All except section 4|
|Chapter 9||Percussion Instruments and Natural Modes
9.1 Searching for Simplicity
9.2 Coupled Pendulums
9.3 Natural Modes and Their Frequencies
9.4 Tuning Forks and Xylophone Bars
9.5 Drums, Cymbals, and Bells
9.6 Striking Points and Vibration Recipes
9.7 Damped Vibrations
|Chapter 10||Piano and Guitar Strings
10.1 Natural Modes of a Thin String
10.2 Vibration Recipes for Plucked Strings
10.3 Vibration Recipes for the Piano
10.4 Piano Scaling and Tuning
|Chapter 11||The Bowed String
11.1 Violin Construction
11.2 Bowing and String Vibrations
11.4 Sound Radiation from String Instruments
|Chapter 12||Blown Pipes and Flutes
12.1 Air Column Vibrations
12.2 Fluid Jets and Edgetones
12.3 Organ Flue Pipes
12.5 Fingerholes and Recorders
12.6 The Transverse Flute
|All except section 4|
|Chapter 13||Blown Reed Instruments
13.1 Organ Reed Pipes
13.2 The Reed Woodwinds
13.3 The Brass Family
13.4 Playable Notes and Harmonic spectra
|Chapter 14||The Human Voice
14.1 The Vocal Apparatus
14.2 Sound Production
14.4 Special Characteristics of the Singing Voice
|Chapter 15||Room Acoustics
15.1 General Characteristics for Room Acoustics
15.2 Reverberation Time
15.3 Reverberation Calculation
|Sections 1-3 only|
|Chapter 16||Sound Reproduction||None|
|Chapter 17||The Ear Revisited||None|
|Chapter 18||Harmonic Intervals and Tuning||None|
|Chapter 19||Structure in Music||None|
|Chapter 20||Epilogue: Science and Esthetics||None|
|Test #1 (Wed. Feb. 15)||30%|
|Test #2 (Wed. Mar. 22)||30%|
|Test #3 (Final Exam, Mon. Apr. 17)||30%|
Multiple choice quizzes will be administered through Courselink. These are meant to keep students up-to-date on the basics of the course material. Details will be provided on the first day of classes. It is anticipated that there will be about 10 weekly quizzes with ten multiple choice questions each. No make-up quizzes can be provided for missed quizzes and a missed quiz receives an automatic grade of 0. However, the two lowest quiz marks will be eliminated from the final grade calculation, which should accommodate those who miss a quiz.
There will be three tests. Two tests will be given during the semester and a third test will be given during the final exam time slot for the course. It is anticipated that the tests will be no more than 60 minutes each and will test both conceptual understanding and the ability to do simple numerical problems related to the course material. Each test will cover about one third of the course material. The two semester tests will be administered through Courselink.
The date for the final exam is Monday Apr. 17 at 8:30am. The final exam will be the third test for the course and cover the material since Test #2. Policies and procedures for final exams and missed final exams will hold. Students are responsible for ensuring that they have no conflicts with other exams scheduled at the same time. The exam will be administered through Courselink.
Absence due to Illness or for Compassionate Reasons
If either one of the first two tests is missed because of illness or for compassionate reasons, the student should consult the instructor. If the final examination (Test #3) is missed for any reason, the regulations in the current undergraduate calendar should be consulted.
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