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Inquiry-Based Labs in Musical Acoustics. M. S. Pettersen Washington & Jefferson College. “Good Vibrations:” a course in musical acoustics for non-majors. Goal: bring active learning into a class for non-science majors

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Inquiry based labs in musical acoustics l.jpg

Inquiry-Based Labs in Musical Acoustics

M. S. Pettersen

Washington & Jefferson College


Good vibrations a course in musical acoustics for non majors l.jpg
“Good Vibrations:” a course in musical acoustics for non-majors

Goal: bring active learning into a class for non-science majors

  • Studies show active learning methods are more effective (Laws; McDermott; Redish and Steinberg; Birk and Foster; etc.).

    • Students see and hear phenomena for themselves.

  • The best way to learn about science is to practice it

    • It’s fun, too!


Which implies that the course should l.jpg
… which implies that the course should: non-majors

  • Include the old-fashioned kind of experiments that students can see, hear, feel

  • Alternate bench-top experiments with measurements of real instruments, acoustics of campus auditoriums, etc.

    • Using Vernier Software’s Logger Pro

    • Using free software from the internet

  • Incorporate music listening


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Old-fashioned experiments non-majors

Siren disc Monochord (sonometer)

Melde’s apparatus Chladni plates


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New-fangled experiments using Logger Pro non-majors

  • Overtones

  • Inharmonicity in the piano

  • Percussion instruments and virtual pitch

  • Differences among the woodwinds

  • Sound envelope

  • Echoes

  • Auditorium acoustics



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Percussion instruments; virtual pitch non-majors

Timpani Bass drum


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Differences among the woodwinds non-majors

  • Clarinet: odd overtones only (one end open, one end closed)

  • Saxophone: particularly strong second harmonic

  • Flute: almost pure fundamental


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Auditorium acoustics non-majors

Reverberation time is about 1 s


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New-fangled experiments using software; Electronic music non-majors

  • Fourier synthesizer Java applet

  • Spectrogram software

  • Software synthesizer (electronic instruments)

  • .mp3 compression with MediaMonkey

  • Signal processing and sound editing with Audacity


Fourier synthesizer java applet l.jpg
Fourier synthesizer Java applet non-majors

http://www.phy.ntnu.edu.tw/ntnujava/viewtopic.php?t=33


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Spectrogram software non-majors

  • Aaaaaaaaaaa!

  • FFFFF

    Note formants, overtones


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Signal processing and sound editing with Audacity non-majors

Row, row, row your boat….


Listening l.jpg
Listening non-majors

  • Bach Brandenburg #2: overtones on the Baroque (valveless) trumpet

  • Berlioz Requiem – Dies Irae (Tuba Mirum) – speed of sound


Sources l.jpg
Sources non-majors

  • Fourier synthesizer Java applet:

  • http://www.phy.ntnu.edu.tw/ntnujava/viewtopic.php?t=33

  • Spectrogram software:

  • http://www.visualizationsoftware.com/gram.html

  • Media Monkey audio format converter and .mp3 ripper:

  • http://www.mediamonkey.com/download.htm

  • Audacity sound editing and processing software:

  • http://audacity.sourceforge.net

  • Auditory Demonstrations CD:

  • http://asa.aip.org/discs.html

  • Evolution eKeys Keyboards:

  • http://www.zzounds.com