Physics and Music

Like many musicians, I have an interest in the physics of sound, but not a formal background in the science. I recently came across this great YouTube video of Dr. Robert Astalos and Dr. Tracy Doyle giving a talk on physics and music at Adams State University (I taught there back in the early 2000s, although at the time it was Adams State College).

Dr. Robert Astalos, associate professor of physics, and Dr. Tracy Doyle, professor of music, provide a uniquely collaborative view into how music works via “mediums”, and why tones sound different on various instruments, utilizing the underlying principles of physics.

They go over a great discussion and demonstration of the harmonic series and how instruments, such as the euphonium, flute, and guitar, play over the harmonic series. There’s a discussion of tuning systems too. There’s a piano performance by Dr. Bill Lipke, who has been teaching at ASU since I was teaching there (it was sure cool to see a familiar face in this video).

While I didn’t learn anything that was completely new to me, the nuances discussed and the demonstrations were fascinating to me. I was particularly interested in the wave demonstrator that Astalos used to show how the standing wave gets subdivided to play over the harmonic series.

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