Compression and RarefactionLeadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it. - Dwight Eisenhower
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Longitudinal Wavelength of Sound Waves

Longitudinal and Transverse Waves

Sound is a longitudinal mechanical pressure wave with the particles traveling directly toward or directly away from the vibration source.


Compression and Rarefaction

Sound waves have two phases, compression and rarefaction, or decompression.

When you look at snapshot of a pressure wave, you'll see points where compression and rarefaction are taking place. Compressions are places where the carrier medium is denser than at equilibrium. Rarefaction occurs at places in between, where the carrier medium is less dense. Note again, that the individual particles only move directly toward or directly away from the vibration source to create compression or rarefaction.

For more discussion about compression and rarefaction, see sound wave interference.


A discussion of longitudinal wave lengths, compression and rarefaction.


Wavelength is merely the distance between two compression or rarefaction cycles.


Longitudinal Wavelength of Sound Waves

Since a pressure wave repeats its pattern once every wave cycle, the wavelength is the distance between two adjacent compression cycles, or the distance that the compression wave traveled through the medium in one cycle. In other words, the wavelength is the distance from one compression to the next, or from one rarefaction to the next, and is the distance the wave traveled through the medium in one cycle. It is interesting to note that the same vibration will have different wavelengths depending on the carrier medium.

Drawing a Pressure Wave as a Transverse Wave

It is easier to draw a pressure wave as a transverse wave. Imagine you set up a microphone and measured the instantaneous pressure as sound waves traveled by. You would be converting the pressure waves into a transverse wave diagram that is easier and more convenient to draw.

Compression and Rarefaction


Remember, the sound is still a longitudinal pressure wave, but by looking at the microphone's pressure measurements, we can more easily draw the sound wave as a transverse wave. If we drive a speaker with the microphone's transverse wave, the speaker will convert the transverse pressure signal into an actual longitudinal pressure wave that we can hear as sound.



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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