Sound and music are parts of our everyday sensory experience. Just as humans have eyes for the detection of light and color, so we are equipped with ears for the detection of sound. We seldom take the time to ponder the characteristics and behaviors of sound and the mechanisms by which sounds are produced, propagated, and detected. The basis for an understanding of sound, music and hearing is the physics of waves. Sound is a wave which is created by vibrating objects and propagated through a medium from one location to another. In this unit, we will investigate the nature, properties and behaviors of sound waves and apply basic wave principles towards an understanding of music.
As discussed in the previous unit of The Physics Classroom, a wave can be described as a disturbance that travels through a medium, transporting energy from one location to another location. The medium is simply the material through which the disturbance is moving; it can be thought of as a series of interacting particles. The example of a slinky wave is often used to illustrate the nature of a wave. A disturbance is typically created within the slinky by the back and forth movement of the first coil of the slinky. The first coil becomes disturbed and begins to push or pull on the second coil; this push or pull on the second coil will displace the second coil from its equilibrium position. As the second coil becomes displaced, it begins to push or pull on the third coil; the push or pull on the third coil displaces it from its equilibrium position. As the third coil becomes displaced, it begins to push or pull on the fourth coil. This process continues in consecutive fashion, each individual particle acting to displace the adjacent particle; subsequently the disturbance travels through the slinky. As the disturbance moves from coil to coil, the energy which was originally introduced into the first coil is transported along the medium from one location to another.
A sound wave is...
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