Physics of Music- Syllabus

University of Vermont Physics

Physics 044

The Physics of Music and Musical Instruments

Fall, 2016


Syllabus & Reading

Homework Assigments

Lecture Supplements

Internet Links



Malcolm Sanders.
Office: A512 Cook Science Building

Office hours: MW 3:30 - 4:30 p.m., and by arrangement.
phone: 656-0050

Please feel free to come to see me any time, to get help, to tell me how the course can better serve your needs, or just to get better acquainted. It may be wise to call ahead to verify that I'm in and not tied up with another student. It is always possible to make specific appointments by talking to me before or after class.

Required Course Materials:

Donald E. Hall,  Musical Acoustics, 3rd edition (Brooks-Cole Publishing Co., California, 2002). During the semester you will be asked to read nearly all of this book, with the exception of Chapter 16. Selected exercises and projects will also be assigned from this book.  At least two copies will be on reserve at Bailey-Howe.

For homework and examinations you will want to have access to a small electronic calculator. If you need to purchase one, the least expensive model available at the UVM Bookstore is appropriate as long as it has sines and cosines and logarithms as well as simple arithmetic operations. The scientific calculator available on a SmartPhone or Tablet is sufficient for this purpose.

SmartPhone, Tablet, or equivalent.:
I'll ask you to answer questions during class I'll ask you to answer LearningCatalytics questions during class. These questions will be transmitted and answered on a webpage link that will be given at the beginning of each class.

LearningCatalytics Subscription:
Please get a subscription to LearningCatalytics by following the link and registering, for a modest fee. A six-month subscription will be sufficient. Once you've obtained access to LearningCatalytics, with a username and password, you will be able to participate in the class sessions by logging into LearningCatalytics at the beginning of lecture and joining the class session with the ID that will be announced at the beginning of class.

Related Books:
Many of the books listed as references by Hall at the end of each chapter are owned by our library. Thus you can find additional information about topics discussed in the textbook, and you are encouraged to browse through the collection.

Group Project:
To allow you to explore your own interests independently and in some depth within the framework of the course, during the last half of the semester the class will be divided into (ideally) four-person teams to do research on a topic of each team's choice. You may form your own teams, or the instructor will suggest team assignments based on interests expressed on your information sheets. Some topics might be how scientific considerations apply to a particular instrument, or how science and technology affected the evolution of a particular instrument or music written for that instrument, or problems in concert hall acoustics. It is expected that most of the research will be done in the library, or through the internet, but other approaches such as interviews with experts may be included.  The culmination of the projects will be a 10-15 minute presentation by each team to the whole class during the last two weeks of the semester. Possible projects might include discussions and often demonstrations of violins, pianos, harpsichords, harmonicas, different timbres of guitars, percussion instruments, single and double reeds, acoustics of the Flynn Theatre, Royal Tyler Hall, or Ira Allen Chapel, mean-tone temperament of the Fisk organ, human pitch perception or Shepard tones. More information about the projects will be provided in due time.

You will submit a one page written "choice of topic" by Friday, September 30 (which I must approve!), and a brief abstract/outline of your presentation (with at least 3 references) by Friday, October 21. A short paper (3-5 pages), describing your project, with references, is due Friday November 11. (You may do one rewrite if you wish, final due date Monday, November 28). Your presentation of your research to the class, will occur sometime during the last 2 weeks of class. Much more detailed instructions about the group projects will be distributed soon.

Homework problems, examinations, and grading:
Selected exercises and projects from the ends of chapters in the textbook will be assigned most weeks during the semester (these will be announced on Blackboard), to help make your knowledge of musical acoustics secure and quantitative. In addition to these problems. I will assign exercises based on Mathematica notebooks that you will download from Blackboard. These notebooks are intended to familiarize you with the basic ideas of acoustics, waves, vibrations and to help you gain insight into the basic working principles behind different kinds of musical instruments.

I encourage you to collaborate with your fellow students on individual homework assignments, but the work that you finally submit must be your own. No fair cutting and pasting someone elses assignment and submitting it as your own. An exception to this rule will be that some assignments will be assigned as group assignments. These will involve explicit collaboration among your group members to perform exercises that may take the form of "mini-acoustics-labs" where you will take measurements in the field and analyze your results. Your finished results will be handed in as a group homework assignment and each group member will receive the same grade. More on this later.

All work on homework assignments, exams and group projects must conform to the UVM academic integrity code. Please read this code and respect it!

Part of your grade will depend on class participation, which in part means simple attendance, but there will also be in class quizzes and other exerciese that will enter into this.

The various assignments will make the following contributions to your grade:

Grading Scheme
Final Exam
Homework Exercises
Group Projects
Class Participation (LC)

Reduced credit will be given for weekly assignments more than three days late, and no credit will be allowed for assignments more than one week late.


Approximate Class Schedule
Week of Topic Textbook Reference
Aug. 29
Sound and its measurement Ch. 1, 2
Sep. 5 Sources of sound Ch. 3
Sep. 12 General properties of waves Ch. 4
Sep. 19 Sound intensity and loudness Ch. 5
Sep. 26 Response of the human ear Ch. 6
Oct. 3 Elements of Music Ch. 7
Oct. 10 Harmonic Series and natural modes; steady tones Ch. 8
Oct. 17
Percussion Instruments Ch. 9
Oct. 24
Hammered and plucked strings, Bowed Strings Ch. 10, 11
Oct. 31
Flow-driven instruments Ch. 12
Nov. 7 Valve-driven instruments; pipe organs Ch. 13
Nov. 14
The human voice; room acoustics Ch. 14, 15
Nov. 21
 Thanksgiving Break -- no classes
Nov. 28
Tuning temperaments, Student Presentations Ch. 18
Dec. 5 Student Presentations  

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