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Physics Essay: Making Music

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Michelle Clarke 12MA

October 2001

Physics Essay: Making Music

Music is made from a number of sound waves being combined together. These sound waves are produced by the source instrument and can be changed, by adjusting the frequency or speed of the wave. Wave motion can be simply described as a mechanism by which energy is conveyed from one place to another in mechanically propagated waves without the transference of matter. The oscillation may be of air molecules, as in the case of sound travelling through the atmosphere; of water molecules, as in waves occurring on the surface of the ocean; or of portions of a rope or a wire spring.  Waves are changes in pressure of the air; sudden changes in the pressure create sounds. In the case of producing sounds the waves usually travel through the air, as a longitudinal wave.

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When making music sounds are created, this is due to the travelling waves from the instrument. In the case of a wind instrument such as the recorder the particles that are moving are the air molecules inside the instrument. As the player blows into the recorder the air molecules begin to vibrate, and the wavelength depends on the tube length, or where the covered hole on the recorder is. In any instrument there is a fundamental wave, this is the wave with the lowest frequency that can be produced by any particular musical instrument. This fundamental wave is known as a standing wave, this is a wave that seems to be constant; i.e. it does not move. In the case of a recorder, or other open tubes the fundamental wavelength is equal to twice the length of the tube.

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The three important factors can all be linked to the frequency via an equation: -

Different instruments use different lengths of string or columns of air to produce different pitches and sounds. For example the Banjo has shorter strings than a guitar so therefore produces higher notes. Other instruments produce many different sound waves at the same time (an oboe for instance) these sine waves combine to create a waveform. This means that several harmonics are produced together to create the final sound.

Michelle   12MA        Page         October 2001

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