Vibrations of Structures

Module I: Vibrations of Strings and Bars

Lesson 1: Transverse Vibrations of Strings
Contents: 1. Introduction 2. Mathematical Model 3. Examples

Keywords: Transverse vibrations, Taut string, Hanging chain, equation of motion, non-homogeneous boundary condition

Transverse Vibrations of Strings
1 Introduction

A string is a one dimensional elastic continuum that does not transmit or resist bending moment. Elements that may be modeled as taut strings: • Strings in stringed musical instruments such as sitar, guitar or violin • Cables in a cable-stayed bridge or cable-car • High tension wires


Mathematical Model

Assumptions in modeling: • Motion is planar • Slope of the string is small • Longitudinal motion is negligible • Tension does not change with displacement of the string


T (x + dx, t) p(x, t)ds z w(x, t) α(x, t) x l (a) T (x, t) x (b) ds x + dx ρ, A, T n(x, t)ds α(x + dx, t)

Figure 1: (a) A taut string (b) An infinitesimal string element

Consider a string of density ρ, area of cross-section A(x), length l and under a tension T (x, t) subject to distributed forces (force per unit length) p(x, t) in the transverse direction, and n(x, t) in the axial direction . Let w(x, t) be the transverse displacement field variable.

Longitudinal dynamics: Balance of forces in the longitudinal direction of the sting element in Fig. 1(b) reads T (x + dx, t) cos[α(x + dx, t)] − T (x, t) cos[α(x, t)] + n(x, t)dx = 0 ⇒ [T (x, t)],x = −n(x, t) , where [·],x = ∂/∂x. Here, we have assumed ds ≈ dx and cos α ≈ 1. (1)


Transverse dynamics: Newton’s second law for the string element is given by ρAdxw,tt = T (x + dx, t) sin[α(x + dx, t)] − T (x, t) sin[α(x, t)] + p(x, t)dx ⇒ ρA(x)w,tt − [T (x, t)w,x],x = p(x, t) where sin α ≈ tan α = w,x . The linear partial differential equation (2), along with (1), represents the dynamics of a taut string. The complete description of the free vibration problem requires specification of two boundary conditions (w(0, t) and w(l, t)), and two initial conditions (w(x, 0) and w,t (x, 0)). (2)



Uniform taut string: For a uniform taut unforced string (see Fig. 1(a)), A(x) = A and n(x, t) = 0 (implying T,x = 0). The equation of motion simplifies to w,tt − c2 w,xx = 0 where c = (3)

T /ρA is a constant having the dimension of speed. Since there

is no transverse displacement at the boundaries, the appropriate boundary conditions are given by w(0, t) = 0 and w(l, t) = 0. A string with a free/sliding boundary condition is shown in Fig. 2. At the right boundary, the massless and frictionless roller cannot support any


z, w w(0, t) = 0 x l ρ, A, T

T w,x (l, t) = 0

Figure 2: Taut string with geometric and natural boundary conditions

transverse force (given by T sin α(l, t)). Therefore, the boundary condition at the roller is T w,x (l, t) = 0 (taking sin α ≈ tan α = w,x ). A condition on the geometry/kinematics at a boundary is know as a geometric/essential boundary condition (the left end boundary condition in Fig. 2). A condition on the force at a boundary is know as a dynamic/natural boundary condition (the right end boundary condition in Fig. 2). The hyperbolic partial differential equation (3) is known as the linear onedimensional wave equation, and c is known as the wave speed. In the case of a taut string, c is the speed of transverse waves on the string. This implies that a disturbance created at any point on the string propagates with a speed c. It should be clear that the wave speed c is distinct from the transverse material velocity (i.e., the velocity of the particles of the string) which is given by w,t (x, t).

Uniform hanging string/chain: For a hanging string (see Fig. 3), n(x, t) = ρAg. From (1), the expression of



w(x, t)

g ρ, A, l

Figure 3: Schematic representation of a hanging string

tension is given by T (x) = ρAg(l − x). Substituting this expression in (2) and taking p(x, t) = 0 gives w,tt − g[(l − x)w,x],x = 0 (4)

The boundary conditions are given by w(0, t) = 0 and w(l, t) < ∞. At the free end, the boundary condition is not the usual sliding boundary condition since the tension is tending to zero. This free end boundary condition will become clear when we carry out the modal analysis.

String with discrete elements: In Fig. 4, the internal force P (t) = mw,tt (a, t) + kw(a, t) between the string and the lumped mass can be considered to be a force distribution on the

z, w ρ, A, T x m k a l

z, w


P (t) P (t) m k (b)


Figure 4: (a) Taut string with lumped elements (b) The interaction force diagram

string of the form p(x, t) = −mw,tt (x, t)δ(x − a) − kw(x, t)δ(x − a) (5)

where δ(x−a) is known as the Dirac delta distribution (see below). Therefore, the equation of motion of the combined system can be written using (2) as [ρA(x) + mδ(x − a)]w,tt − T w,xx + kδ(x − a)w = 0. Dirac delta distribution: δ(x−a) = 0 for x = a, and where f (x) is any sufficiently smooth function.
l 0

δ(x−a)f (x)dx = f (a)

String with non-homogeneous boundary condition: Consider a sliding-fixed string with a specified motion at the left boundary, as shown in Fig. 5. The equation of motion and boundary conditions can be represented as ρAw,tt − T w,xx = 0, w(0, t) = h(t),


w(l, t) = 0, (6)

z, w

ρ, A, T x l


Figure 5: A string with a specified boundary motion

where h(t) is a given function of time.

This is a problem with a non-

homogeneous geometric boundary condition. One may convert such a problem with non-homogeneous boundary conditions to an equivalent problem with homogeneous boundary conditions and an appropriate forcing in the equation of motion to take care of the boundary non-homogeneity as follows. For the problem (6), let w(x, t) = u(x, t) + h(t)η(x), (7)

where u(x, t) and η(x) are unknown functions. Substituting this form in the boundary conditions in (6), we have w(0, t) = u(0, t)+h(t)η(0) = h(t), If we let u(0, t) = 0 and u(l, t) = 0, (8) and w(l, t) = u(l, t)+h(t)η(l) = 0.

then η(x) must be chosen such that η(0) = 1, and η(l) = 0. The simplest choice is then η(x) = 1 − x/l. Therefore, from (7), w(x, t) = u(x, t) + h(t) 1 −

x . l

Substituting this in (6), one can write the equation of motion of the string using the field variable u(x, t) as ρAu,tt − T u,xx = − 1 − x ¨ h(t), l

along with the homogeneous boundary conditions (8). If the string in Fig. 5 has a prescribed force (instead of prescribed motion) at the free boundary, we have a non-homogeneous dynamic boundary condition. The equation of motion and boundary conditions are ρAw,tt − T w,xx = 0, T w,x (0, t) = F (t), and w(l, t) = 0

where F (t) is a given force. This can be easily converted to a problem with homogeneous boundary condition as ρAw,tt − T w,xx = F (t)δ(x), T w,x (0, t) = 0, and w(l, t) = 0.


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