Physics of Music-- Physics 341 -- Spring 2015/2016

Lecturer: W. Unruh. 311B Hennings bldg (East side of bldg inside Rm 311).
Tel: 822 3273 FAX: 822 5324

Teaching Assistant: Emil Ljungberg


Web Site:
(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,

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.

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 the mind.
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 you.

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 Academic misconduct.
Plagiarism and Citation described and
Discipline for Academic Misconduct and especially
Calendar entry on Academic Misconduct
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