Physis/Computers @ Marlboro  


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WhenTuesday/Friday 1:30-2:50pm
WhereSci 217
FacultyTravis Norsen ( and Jim Mahoney (
Credits 3 ( i.e. 9 hours/week including class )
Level Introductory
Prereq None
Textbook The Science of Sound, third edition, Rossing, Moore, and Wheeler

An introduction to the physics and digital technology of sound and music.

Topics will include waves, resonance, sampling, overtones, harmonic analysis, computer file formats, and editing as well as more specialized topics such as human hearing, electronic music, room acoustics, and signal processing, depending on students' backgrounds and interests.

Expect weekly textbook work, a number of hands-on activities, and at least one substantial project. Grading will be based on homework (40%), project(s) (40%) and class participation (20%).

Tentative Syllabus

        Tues/Fri   week   chapter/topic               calendar
  Sep   2,   3     1      
        7,  10     2      1       basic physics (T)
       14,  17     3      2       waves         (T)
       21,  24     4      3       vibrations    (T)
       28,   1     5      4       resonance     (T)
  Oct   5,   8     6      5-6     decibels      (?)   mid-term grades due
       12,  15     7      7       pitch         (?)
            22,    8      8       fourier       (?)   Hendrick's days
       26,  29     9      9       music, tuning (?)
   Nov  2,   5    10     18-19    E&M           (J)
        9,  12    11     20       speakers/mics (J)
       16,  19    12     21       digital music (J)
       23                22       recording     (J)   thanksgiving
       29,   3    13              student projects
  Dec   7         14              student projects

  1. for Friday September 3
    1. Send Jim ( an email telling me you're registering for this class.
    2. Browse through chapter 1 in the text.

  2. for Friday September 10
    1. Exercises 2, 5, and 8 in the text, on pages 19 and 20.
    2. You throw a ball straight up in the air. Draw graphs of its (a) height as a function of time, (b) its velocity as a function of time, (c) its acceleration as a function of time, (d) its kinetic energy as a function of time, and (e) its gravitational potential energy as a function of time. (Show the stretch of time between when you throw it and when it hits the ground. Include as many accurate details as you can.) Now draw the same set of graphs assuming that, on its way up, the ball runs into and bounces off the ceiling. (Again, include as much detail as you can, and mention any assumptions you are making.)
    3. Explain, referring to F=ma, why the pressure in a fluid has to decrease with height.

  3. for Friday September 17
    1. Exercises 1 and 3 (page 37 -- make sure you're looking at the Exercises and not the Questions or Experiments or...)
    2. Questions for Thought and Discussion, number 3: With the help of Figures 2.10 and 2.12, make a diagram of the four independent longitudinal modes of vibration for a four-mass vibrator.
    3. Play around with the oscillating-string java applet here: String Applet. Explain in as much detail as you can (and with reference to pages 30-35 of the book) what the string does and how it works.

  4. for Friday September 24
    1. Look at and be able to answer all of the Review Questions... but you don't need to turn in written answers.
    2. "Questions for Thought and Discussion" #3.
    3. "Questions for Thought and Discussion" #5.
    4. Exercises 2 and 3
    5. Exercise 4
    6. Exercise 6
    7. Exercise 9

  5. for Friday October 1
    1. Again, look at and be able to answer all of the Review Questions. You don't have to turn in written answers for them, but, if you can't answer them, that means you aren't reading the text... and
    2. reading the text is an important part of your homework each week!
    3. Create or find a damped oscillator. Play around with it. What is the resonant frequency? What happens if you try to drive it at a frequency below the resonance? Above? Are you driving it with a sinusoidal applied force, or an impulsive force? What is the phase relationship between the oscillation and the driving at, below, and above the resonance? What else do you observe that's interesting? Write about a 1-page summary of your findings. (Suggestion: there's a tire swing in front of Out Of The Way that would make for a nice oscillator.)
    4. Exercises 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 from Chapter 4.

  6. for Friday October 8
    1. Read chapters 5 and 6 in the text. In particular, make sure you have a reasonable idea of what a decibel (dB) is what a logarithm is, how they relate to sound power, intensity, pressure, and what all that has to do with how we perceive loudness. You should also be able to discuss how the ear works.
    2. As before, review the Review Questions to get some feeling for what was in the text.
    3. Do exercises 2, 5, and 8 from chapter 5.
    4. Do exercises 3,4,5, and 8 from chapter 6.

  7. for Friday October 15
    1. Read chapters 7, 8, and 9 in the text on pitch, music notation, and tempered tuning. We'll be finishing this material by the 22, but only have one class left. Make sure you understand how to find frequencies for the pitches in the modern equal temper system, e.g. n half-steps above A 400 is f=400*2**(n/12).
    2. As before, review the Review Questions to get some feeling for what was in the text.
    3. Do exercise 11 from chapter 7.
    4. Do exercises 4 and 5 from chapter 9.
    5. Jim talked about in class how a piano tuner would tune a piano by counting the "beats" between overtones after hitting two notes. Suppose A 440 Hz has been already been tuned, and the E above that is adjusted to its equal tempered tuning frequency. Which overtones of those two notes are nearly the same? How many beats per second should the tuner look for when these two keys are hit at the same time?
    6. Using the explanation of "Just" temperament in chapter 9, find the frequencies of a major just scale and an equal tempered scale, starting at C4=261.63 Hz. Which notes differ the most?
    7. Use the program "Audacity" (installed on all the lab computers; available for free online - search Google for Audacity) to generate notes for the two major scales in the previous problem, say, 1 second per note. (Simplest is to select part of a track, then use the "Generate/Tone" menu to fill it with a sine, square, or triange wave.) Can you hear the difference in the scales? Which do you like better, and why?
  8. for Friday October 22 (Hendrick's days)
    1. Finish reading the chapters 7,8,9 on pitch.
    2. Hand in a written proposal describing what you'd like to do for your term project.
  9. for Friday October 29
    1. Finish reading chapters 18, 19, and 20 on circuits, speakers, and mics
    2. Hand in written answers to Chapter 18 "Questions For Thought and Discussion" numbers 3, 5, and 6
    3. Give us an update on your project. Remember, you should probably be working on it about 5 hours a week for the rest of the semester. Let us know what you've accomplished in that 5 hours this week.
    4. See below for a link to the Fourier Series applet we played with in class, should you wish to play around with it some more.
  10. for Friday Nov 12
    1. Discuss and work on your project in class
  11. for Tues Nov 16
    1. Read chapter 21, on electronic music
    2. Browse the links in the notes Jim showed on Tues
    3. Explore at least one of the software applications mentioned in class; be ready to report on what you did.
  12. for Tues Nov 23
    1. Last weekly assignment!
    2. Browse chapter 29, on computer music
    3. Browse chapter 23, on room acoustics
    4. Browse chapter 15 (and possibly beyond), on human speech
    5. Choose at least 3 exercises from the end of the chapter of any of these, and come to class on Tuesday ready to discuss what the issues are, and what you got.

Lecture Notes


Jim Mahoney (
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