The Physics of MusicOne of the problems with 'majority rule' is the majority is usually wrong. - Thomas Jefferson
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The Physics of Music

The Physics of Music

Music is the creation of complex sequences of sounds that have a pleasent effect.

For some currently inexplicable reason, when more than one frequency is heard simulatanously, it can have an a profoundly pleasent or amazingly disconcerting effect.

In music, the sensation of frequency is commonly referred to as the pitch. A Low pitched sound vibrates at a lower frequency than a high pitched sound.

When two sounds are very close to the same pitch, we normally experience the sound as an oscillating sound with a beat. However, when the sounds differ enough, we start to hear the two separate, independent sounds. The degree of difference required is a major area of study in the field of psychoacoutics and is discussed in our section on psychoacoustics.

This affect is so powerful, musicians call the space between notes by a special name: the Interval. Lets look at the most common intervals used in music.

The Octave

The octave is simply the doubling of the frequency, or the creation of a sound with an interval ratio of 2 to 1.

The Fifth

The interval of a fifth is the most common and has a calming effect. It is obtained from the interval ratio of 3 to 2. This interval is created by simply taking a lower octave of the third harmonic. So, if we had a frequency of 100 Hz, the third harmonic is 300 Hz. One octave below 300 Hz is 150 Hz. So, the interval of the fifth would be created by playing a sound at 100 Hz and another at 150 Hz simultaneously. Note: It's easier to multiply the fundamental frequency by the ratio, 3/2 in this case, to obtain the second frequency.

For more discussion on this subject, see musical intervals.


Longitudinal Wavelength Sound Waves Pitch and Frequency Speed of Sound Doppler Effect Sound Intensity and Decibels Sound Wave Interference Beat Frequencies Binaural Beat Frequencies Sound Resonance and Natural Resonant Frequency Natural Resonance Quality (Q) Forced Vibration Frequency Entrainment Vibrational Modes Standing Waves Law of Octaves Psychoacoustics Tacoma Narrows Bridge Schumann Resonance Animal BioAcoustics More on Sound


Law Of Octaves Sound Harmonics Western Musical Chords Musical Scales Musical Intervals Musical Mathematical Terminology Music of the Spheres Fibonacci Sequence Circle of Fifths Pythagorean Comma


Drum Vibrational Modes


Aristotle Copernicus Einstein Fibonacci Hermann von Helmholtz Kepler Sir Isaac Newton Max Planck Ptolemy Pythagoras Thomas Young
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Understanding the Physics of Sound
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