Physics 1240: The Physics of Sound and Music, Fa 2005(There is much more general course information available here.)
The topics of sound and music are part of our lives - not just for pleasure (though that's certainly a big part of it, and not to be neglected!) but also for communication, science, health and medicine, psychology, business... The topics we will cover (described below) are interesting and important learning goals, but there are much deeper course goals too: to help you learn to apply quantitative reasoning and problem solving skills to complex situations, to understand and appreciate the underlying physical principles involved, and to answer questions about and make sense of the phenomena of sound and music in your own life (e.g. wiring your speakers, setting them up properly in your room, preventing avoidable ear damage as you age, understanding noise and harmonics when playing, synthesizing, or just listening to music...) We will learn how to learn from a physics textbook (less obvious than it might appear, you can't just read it like a newspaper or novel!), and how to tackle both quantitative and qualitative problems. We'll develop some basic but essential math skills (esp. graphs and scientific notation). I want you to appreciate the nature of scientific argument (and the deep connections of scientific understanding to experiments), to increase your skills and confidence in physical "sense-making", and above all, to enjoy the course!
We will roughly be following the textbook throughout the semester, more
after the first couple of weeks. In some cases, we will jump around a bit,
the order of the chapters of the
text is not especially "sequential", and there are cases where we can
improve on the author's choices! Once
we get going, it'll be a helpful resource. I anticipate roughly 1 chapter
per week. You must keep up with the
reading, it's very important!
The course starts with a brief survey covering the three basic and essential principles of the semester
#1 The production and "nature" of sound (in Chapters 1 and 3),
#2 The propagation of sound (in Chapters 2 and 4),
and #3 The detection and perception of sound (in Chapters 5 and 6).
The rest of the course will cycle back through these three big principles, filling in details and deepening the connections. We will talk more about the ingredients of music, and the oh-so-important idea of "harmonics". Then we'll visit instruments, figuring out how and why they work, what their character and nature is. We'll wrap up with issues of room acoustics and electronic synthesis, trying to pull together everything we've learned.
If you've never had any physics class before, some of the background ideas in the first couple of chapters will be a little tough going at first- but never fear, I won't assume you've had any formal training in physics or music) and we'll learn how to read this textbook and make sense of it! Your experiences in life have taught you all the physics you need - you just have to organize (and re-organize) how you think about it, add a few mental "models" with broad explanatory power, and sharpen up your understanding so that it consistently matches with physical reality!
Here is an even more detailed Chapter by Chapter list of basic learning goals. (This is not everything you need to know, but they are some of the important big ideas)