Physics of Music-- Physics 341 -- Spring 2015/2016
Lecturer: W. Unruh. 311B Hennings bldg (East side of bldg inside
Tel: 822 3273 FAX: 822 5324
Teaching Assistant: Emil Ljungberg
Web Site: www.theory.physics.ubc.ca/341-current
(For Assignments, Solutions, extra notes, this blurb, etc.)
Text:There is no "official" text book, but there are two books which are (strongly) suggested. Both have
different strengths and weaknesses,
- T. Rossing, Wheeler: The Science of Sound.
This is a good "textbook", whose mathematical level is, however, a bit higher
than this course will use or require. Its approach is close to my
own in philosophy, and he generally gets the science right ( which unfortunately is not true
of all books on the this topic). If you find difficulty with the
algebra, just skip over it and read the words and pictures around the
equations. Try to understand the equation in a general way, but do not
worry if you have difficulty. You will not be memorizing equations in
- A.H. Benade: -- Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics
This classic text (one of the first of the modern texts on the
subject) is idiosyncratic, but covers a lot of musical
acoustics and the science of how instruments operate. It is not a good
main text but is a classic in the field and an excellent supplementary
book which has the advantage of a cheap price as a Dover Paperback.
Also, by its different approach, it can illuminate issues which my approach
may leave shadowed for some students.
Course Times: Lectures MWF 11:00 Henn 202
Course components: (The mark distributions are approximate)
I have not made the above mark distribution definite as I want freedom
to be able to adjust marks to take into account happenstances of the year.
- Midterms=about 20%
The midterm will take place toward mid February-- date to be
Traditionally my midterms
have been hard especially because students are not used to my problem
style. (I value people being able to think about what they have learned
rather than rote regurgitation of the material).
- Assignments= about 20%
There will be about 8 assignments throughout the term. It is important
that these be done on time. Solutions will be posted here on this web site
(www.theory.physics.ubc.ca/341-current ) Assignments will be due about 7 days after they are assigned
and solutions will be posted about three days later. Assignments handed
in after the solutions are posted will not receive marks.
Late assignments will loose 5% per day, until the solutions are posted,
at which time you will get 0 for that assignment if it has not been handed in.
The solution posting time is the
time of appearance of the solutions on the course web page, which can be
accurately determined to the second. Note that assignments put into the box
outside my office after I have left for the day should be date-stamped by
some other responsible, disinterested person, so I know when it was put into
the box. DO NOT put them into the metal racks outside 311B as I do not look
for them there.
You may discuss the problems with each other, and approach either
me or the TA with questions (we will not solve the problems for you,
but will try to provide guidance as to how to think about the problems)
However, I expect all of you to write up and
understand your own solutions. Copying someone else's solutions will
not be looked on with favour. (Plagiarism-- the use of someone elses
material as if it were your own-- is a high offence in the university.
This includes copying other people's solutions to assignments
someone else do your work for you. People have been barred from the
university for such offences.)
I do encourage you to work together on assignments and on trying to understand the
questions, the course material or even how to do the problems by working
together. However you must write up your own solutions, using your own
understanding of the solutions in writing it up.
- Essay= about 25%
Due: Last day of classes.
Length: 10 pages.--ie, 3000 words
Format: Up to you. (Eg, if a web page would be more
suitable to the way you want to make your point, use that, or
if a tape, CD, DVD, MD would be useful, I can read those-- but
do not send me the computer files from proprietary editors
(MS Word, etc) assuming that I can read them on my computer. I
cannot. Of course you may use whatever document processor you
wish to in order to produce a printed paper copy, which I can read. I can
also accept postscipt or PDF documents for electronic submission.
If in any doubt, ask me.)
Make sure you reference your sources.
The essay topic is up to you to decide. It can be on any topic in the physics
of music. This should be a chance for you to study in more depth some topic
which you would be interested in knowing more about. Topics in the
past have ranged from the physics of some instrument, the physiology
of the human ear, the perception of music and tonality, to the
analysis of the sound structure of farts, or the collapse of the Tacoma
Narrows bridge ( an example of of low frequency acoustic feedback).
People have also carried out experiments, either on an instrument which
interested them, or on some other acoustical phenomenon.
Please make sure that you have an idea of what you want to write on by
the time of the midterm. You are expected to do your own (secondary
source) research on your topic, and any indication of a "canned" essay
(Ie, any essay written in whole or in part by someone else)
will be regarded with great disfavour by both me and the University.
(See the University Policy on Plagiarism in the calendar.)
(Students have been expelled for handing in essays written by others, or where
major sources were not attributed).
You are required to state your sources for the material you use with an
appropriate bibliographical reference. The format of the Bibliographical
reference I leave up to you, as long as it allows me to find the location of
You can use the Web as a bibliographical source, but treat it with
appropriate suspicion. Anyone can post anything on the web. Truth or
validity need not be a criterion for posting material on the internet.
Re the length. By 10 pages I mean about 3000 words, Title page, blank
inside pages do not count as "pages". The shorter the essay, the more
important the words contained in it are and it is hard (though not impossible)
to make a 2000 word essay so compelling that this makes up for its length.
Furthermore, very very few pictures
are worth 1000 words. While the use of pictures is encouraged, they should be
relevant and contribute to the understanding of the essay, and should be
minimal size to convey what they are meant to convey.
Essays over 4000 words annoy me, as I have to read them under time pressure at
the end of term. Annoying the
marker is never a good tactic. (Of course, if the
essay is so brilliant that I just cannot put it down, I might well not notice its
Line spacing should be 1.5 to double space.
Late essays will loose 5% of the maximum mark per week (or part of a week)
late. Thus if the essay is marked out of 20 marks, each week late will loose 1
mark. The maximum possible loss is 20%, but by that time the marks have to be in to the
dean, and you will get an Incomplete on the course. If that lasts long enough
the mark you get will be as if the essay had gotten 0.
- Final= about 35%
The final exam will consist of a number of questions of which you
will not have to answer all for maximum marks (ie, there will be some choice). It will test a
combination of your knowing the material and your ability to use it to
think about the world of sounds and music.
I expect everyone to pass, although offer no guarantees. On past
record it is rare to fail the course if you put in the work.
In fact, in the past
students have, in general, done well, but this course will
require you to think.
Purpose of the Course
The purpose of the course is to learn to look at and begin to understand
the acoustical world through the eyes (or is it ears) of a physicist.
This includes the production of sound by musical instruments (or other means),
the transmission of sound to and through the atmosphere,
the perception of sound by the ears and the experience of sound by the
Despite the impression you may have formed of physics from high school,
understanding the world like a physicist does does not necessarily
mean understanding it mathematically ( there will not be many equations
in this course at all), but does mean the ability to use simple physical
models and ideas to understand the qualitative physical
nature of acoustical processes. One year a student asked me "Do you want us
to answer this questions the physics way or by common sense?" Non-plussed I
asked what the difference was. "Well, physics way means finding some
appropriate equation and plugging in the numbers." That is not physics.
My lectures will use a lot of demonstrations of acoustical and musical
phenomenon. I hope that anyone who plays a (portable) musical instrument
will be willing to bring their instruments in to play briefly for the
class at the appropriate time-- not as a concert but to demonstrate to the rest
of the class the nature of the instrument. I will myself be "playing" a
variety of "instruments" throughout the course of the term. (One of the things
which makes the course fun for me is that I get the chance to make many
weird noises using unconventional instruments.)
Demonstrations are always dangerous in that it has been shown that often
students will see(hear) their preconceptions in the demonstration. I.e., the
lecturer thinks that the demonstration is clearly showing A, in contradiction
to B, while the student sees the demonstration as support for their
preconceived notion B. If you have
any doubt what you were supposed to have learned from a demonstration, please
ask. If the demonstration confirms you in what you thought all along,
please ask me to explain what the point of the demonstration was again.
It is quite possible that the demonstration was then a failure for
The mathematical level of the course will be no higher than Grade 10
mathematics with almost no "algebra". It will often use graphs to convey
essential mathematical information. A knowledge of very rudimentary music theory
(intervals, notation, scales, note names) is a help, but if you do not have
that knowledge, all of the essential ideas I use will
be covered in class.
Copying, Plagiarism, etc
As you should know by now, copying and plagiarism are frowned up very
strongly by the university. I also get upset. I am perfectly fine with you working
together on the assignment but everyone should make sure that they write
up the solutions separately. Simply copying your friends assignment can
land you in very hot water-- i.e., do not do it. Working together on the
exams (Mid Term or final) is not acceptable.
Similarly, plagiarism is also
not to be done. This includes using an essay you have already used for
another course, copying other people's essays, buying essays
off the web or elsewhere, having someone else write your essay for you,
using material from the web or elsewhere without properly
referencing it, etc.
The Calendar has an extensive section on
Plagiarism and Citation described and
Discipline for Academic Misconduct and especially
Calendar entry on Academic
Please read them. Violation of these rules can lead to
disciplinary actions, ranging from a mark of 0 on the assignment/essay, failure of
the course, or expulsion from the university.
I do not pass essays through TurnItIn because I feel that their appropriation of your work
to further they own commercial interests without permission or compensation
makes my using it hypocritical. I do however have a fair knowledge of the
material on the web and in books, and have often been able to identify when people have
simply copied something. If I am very suspicious of a paragraph or so from
your essay, I might submit it on its own to TurnItIn without any reference to
you or the context of the larger essay.
Copyright William Unruh 2015