November 16, 2009 Issue

Physics To Go 85 - Waves & music

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Physics in Your World

Strings, standing waves and harmonics  image
image credit: Raina Khatri; larger image

Strings, standing waves and harmonics

What makes a violin sound like a violin and a flute sound like a flute? These waveforms give us a clue. They were generated using recordings of a violin (upper waveform) and tin whistle (lower waveform) playing the same note, yet the shapes of the waveforms are very different. Learn more about the qualities of musical sound here.

Violins and flutes produce sound in very different ways. See how stringed instruments work at Strings, standing waves and harmonics , and compare strings with woodwinds after reading How Do Woodwind Instruments Work?.

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Physics at Home

PhET Simulation: Fourier: Making Waves

Security note:
Once you have clicked on the "simulation" link below, be sure to read the Java Security Advisory before running the simulation: To do that, click the "Read now" button on the yellow band near the top of the PhET page.

Learn about many aspects of the physics of sound with these fun activities:

-- Download PhET Simulation: Fourier: Making Waves to learn how the mathematics of waves determine what you hear.
-- Build your own speaker out of a soda bottle at Soda Bottle Speaker. (Have an adult help you with the hot glue.)
-- For even more ideas, check out The Soundry. Their Interactive Sound Lab contains many more applets to explore the physics of sound.

(This feature was updated on May 5, 2013.)


From Physics Research

PhysicsCentral: Fiddle Physics image
Image credit: Joe Wolfe; image source; larger image

PhysicsCentral: Fiddle Physics

These patterns, known as Chladni patterns, show modes of vibration on a guitar faceplate (left) and a metal plate (right). The motion of the plates shakes sand into lines where the surface is still--these lines are called nodes. Read more about Chladni patterns here, and see the larger image for more Chladni patterns on a guitar.

Check out PhysicsCentral: Fiddle Physics to see how a fiddle works and how Chladni patterns form on a violin faceplate. You can watch Chladni patterns form in this YouTube video, Chladni Patterns on a Square Plate.

This feature was updated August 17, 2013.

Worth a Look

Breaking Glass with Sound

You don't have to be an opera singer to break a glass with sound. Watch Breaking Glass with Sound from MIT TechTV, and be sure to watch the strobe light camera imagery at the end.

For more sound demonstration videos, see this Physics Demonstration Video page from Wake Forest University.

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