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Musical instruments and mechanics

  1. Jul 9, 2015 #1

    I have been curious about the relationship between the geometry of a musical instrument and the sound it produces. What should I read and learn to understand this?

    I know I will probably need to learn fluid mechanics, but what else? Surely fluid mechanics cannot be enough.

    I already have a bachelors degree in mathematics. So, I am quite certain I know the prerequisite mathematics (multivariable calculus and analysis). Also, I have taken courses in classical mechanics, electromagnetism, statistical mechanics and quantum physics.
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  3. Jul 9, 2015 #2
  4. Jul 9, 2015 #3
    Not everything but just about everything is moving towards electronics. Be this guitars, pianos, drums, etc.

    I've played guitar for decades and one soon becomes a mini electronics expert. Anyways, you will learn by tinkering. You can diagnose sound, etc. when you install a set of pick ups in an acoustic guitar. Perhaps then install the same pick ups in another acoustic with a different body shape, internal frame, type of wood, etc. Of course, this is self evident in electric guitars but they can be tinkered with like a hot rod engine.

    Other than as a hobby and curiosity, there is a real career opportunity in this. In my city, someone who can convert a piano to electronics, adjust the sound of an electric violin, find the buzz on the strings of a Fender guitar...is really in demand. It's all physics.

    Needless to say. If you don't have a background in music, learn some basic music theory. It is a necessity and it's fascinating stuff.
  5. Jul 9, 2015 #4
    Sure, but I also would like to know how acoustic instruments work; Mostly as a fun way to get into fluid mechanics by actually using it. Also, to make weird musical instruments.

    So, I am thinking mostly of the physics of woodwinds and brass instruments.
  6. Jul 9, 2015 #5
    The resonance of musical instruments is closer to quantum mechanics than fluid mechanics.
  7. Jul 9, 2015 #6


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    I don't know about that. I thought acoustic instruments were about getting mechanical vibrations to produce musical tones. You know, resonance, and all that jazz.

    All this discussion about QM or FM is nice, but there is already a special science which deals with these topics. It's called acoustics. That's where I would start.
  8. Jul 9, 2015 #7
    If you don't get into electronics you will never know. You will just be the violin maker with an ear for sound. Phenomenal artisan but not a scientist.

    You have to measure, experiment. I can tune an acoustic guitar and think 'that sounds about right'. But...what did I learn about the physics? If I want to learn about sound, I use an electronic tuner, watch the dials...read the specs on the pick ups on an electric guitar...tweak them...watch the dial. Feed it all it in. produce a graph...

    Again, it's the physics of sound. Brass, woodwind, the triangle, grand piano, whistle. You have to have a means to measure and adjust defined increments and remesure. I do this all the time on my guitars.

    There's a whole world of hundreds of guitar pedals making all types of sounds...visit a music store. Again, it's all physics.
  9. Jul 9, 2015 #8

    Andy Resnick

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    The secret is to find a text written by both a scientist and a professional player- I have a couple candidates in my office, I'll post them tomorrow.

    The reason it's important to have a player contribute to the text is that 'canonical' science discussions center on very simple physics- acoustic resonance in tubes, for example. The fact is that for the instrument classes you are interested in, the embouchure is *far* more critical, yet completely disregarded by most textbooks.
  10. Jul 9, 2015 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    The classic book on this is Tom Rossing's _The Physics of Musical Instruments_. However, it's not just at a mathematically advanced level, it requires some physical intuition: it's not enough to know what Bessel Functions are - you'll want to know where and how they arise.
  11. Jul 9, 2015 #10


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    Say which what?
  12. Jul 10, 2015 #11

    Andy Resnick

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    Yep- that's it. Another good one is Benade's 'Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics'.
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