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Air and structural modes of a harpsichord

William R. Savage
Department ofPhysics andAstronomy, TheUniversity oflowa,IowaCity,Iowa52242
Edward L. Kottick

School ofMusic,The University ofIowa,Iowa City,Iowa 52242

Thomas J. Hendrickson

Department ofPhysics, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 17325

Kenneth D. Marshall

TheUniroyal Goodrich TireCompany, Research andDevelopment Center, Brecksville, Ohio44141

(Received 17May 1991; accepted for publication 30 December 1991)

The acoustical behavior of a harpsichord modeled after 17th-century Flemish prototypes was studiedusingboth experimental and analyticaltechniques. The vibrationalmodes of its enclosed air volumeweremeasured andfoundto correspond closely to thosepredicted by the JoandJ0solutions to the Bessel equation for a wedge shaped space. A modalanalysis of the complete harpsichord revealed that thesoundboard has36 vibrational modes overa frequency rangeof 0 to 600 Hz, and that thereare numerous modes wherethe instrument's case hasa significant amplitude of motion. Additional information isreported showing thattheacoustic output of theharpsichord isreasonably fiat overa frequency range of 50-2000Hz. It is
concluded that the resonance behavior of both the soundboard and the enclosed air are

important to thetonequalityof theharpsichord, andthatitsgenerally uniform acoustic output results fromtheexcitation of a largenumber of woodandair modes by thestring partials.
PACS numbers:43.75.Mn, 43.75.Gh


eigenfunction (mode shapecoefficient),


c 2[


eigenfunction (modeshape coefficient), air

viscous damping factor velocity ofsound, m/s wavelength, m

circular frequency, radians

h L m

effective angle of theair cavity,20 deg heightof air cavity, 18 cm effective lengthof the air cavity, 170cm
number of radial nodal surfaces inside the air



turyFlemish examples. It was builtin 1976 by thesecond

author,fromparts andplans supplied byZuckermann Harpsichords (seeFig. 1). It hasonekeyboard with 52 keys,and oneseteach of 8' and4' strings andjacks.Its 8' range isfrom

The harpsichord is a plucked stringinstrument whose tone-producing mechanism isactivated fromoneor two keyboards.Harpsichords normally haveone,two, or threesets (sometimes calledchoirsor ranks) of strings: if one set,it will be at normal (8') pitch;if two, eitherboth will be at 8' pitch, or one will be at 8' pitch and the second an octave higher(4' pitch); if three,twowill beat 8' pitchandthethird at 4'. Someverylargeharpsichords may havea 16' choiras well. Eachsetof strings hasa setof jacks.Thesesit on the distalendsof the keys,and their plectra (traditionally bird quill,butnowusually Delrinplastic)plucktheappropriate strings whenthekeys aredepressed. The 8' strings transmit theirvibrations to thesoundboard through the8' bridge; a 4' setof strings, if present, requires a separate, shorter bridge. Harpsichord buildinggenerally followedeitherNorthem or SouthernEuropeanconstructional practices,although the productsof some regional schoolsshow influences of both.The instrument usedfor the investigations described in thisreportis Northern, modeled after 17th-cen2180 J. Acoust.Sec. Am. 91 (4), Pt. 1, April 1992

G t (49 Hz) toD6 ( 1176 Hz).2Depressing a keyraises both

setsof jacks;however, a setcan be turned"on" or "off' by moving itsregister slides in or out,causing theplectra either to engageor to miss the strings.The instrumentcan be played with the8' strings alone,the4' alone, or bothtogether. In normal useit sitson a standwith its lid proppedup approximately 45 deg.We call this instrument our "acoustics harpsichord."We have marked it, photographed it, recordedit, wired it, shakenit, hammeredit, drilled it, blasted it with sound,filled it with sand,and dismantledit. We have evenplayedit. Developed some 500years ago,the harpsichord wasin continualusethroughthe end of the 18th century;but its rigidlevels &loud andsoftsounds did not suitthe requirements of theclassical periodfor flexibility.By the endof the 18thcenturyit wassuperseded by themoreexpressive piano. It hasenjoyed a revivalin thiscentury,andis nowaccepted
1992 AcousticalSociety of America 2180





4' 81RIDGE ....







Previous studies on theacoustics of harpsichords canbe found in papers by Kellner (1976), Fletcher (1977), Spencer( 1981), and Kottick ( 1985); and of its relative,the clavichord, by Thwaites( 1981) and Thwaitesand Fletcher ( 1981). Theseare valuable articles, but they are limitedeither to a few aspects of the acoustical behavior of harpsichords,or to purelytheoretical considerations without experimental verification. Therefore, since1976,the first two authorsof this paper,with considerable assistance from the second two, haveattempted to betterunderstand the mysteriesof this instrument.We have gatheredexperimentaldata on soundboard and air resonances and their interactionby meansof response curvesand Chladni patterns.We have testedour acoustics harpsichordwith and without strings,
with and without the bottom, and with the soundboardboth


in and out of the case. The properties of the air cavityhave

beenmeasuredwith the soundboard renderedimmobile, and

with the bellyrailslotboth openand closed. Our understanding of the harpsichord's behaviorwas



FIG. 1. Schematic viewof the Flemish (acoustics)harpsichord.

enhanced by fieldwork performed in 1980,whenresponse curvesand Chladni patternswere obtainedfor 39 harpsichords, bothnewand antique(Kottick, 1985). Until 1986, the informationwe gatheredon the vibrationalbehaviorof the instrument waslimitedto the studyof the forceand motion at one location at a time. Since then, the use of modal

as the appropriate instrument for keyboard musicwritten beforeca. 1750.The harpsichord seems destined to remain with usaslongaswecontinue to enjoythesounds of "acoustic" instruments.

Because of itsshape theharpischord wouldseem to have muchin common with thepiano,particularly since theearliestexamples of the latterwereessentially harpsichords with actions that struck,ratherthanpluckedthe strings. But the resemblance is specious. The modern piano has a thick
soundboard,massivesides,no bottom, and doesnot enclose

analysis techniques to studythe harpsichord as an input/ outputsystem hasresulted in a moreglobaldescription, and a greaterunderstanding of its dynamicbehavior. The work described in thispaper,therefore, represents a blending of the experimental and mathematical processes necessary to study the generalacoustical behaviorof the harpsichord. Assuch, it suggests a framework for thefuture studyof otherharpsichords, andfor instruments with similar physical properties such asthevirginal, thebentside spinet and the early piano.

a volumeof air, while the harpsichord has a thin soundboard, somewhatflexible sidesand bottom, and an enclosed

air mass. In these ways,the harpsichord moreclosely resembles theguitarthanthepiano--aninstrument with whichit evenseems to share the presence of "sound holes."Like the relationship between the harpsichord and the piano,however,these apparent similarities areoutweighed by sharpdifferences. The guitaris symmetrical in shape, but the harpsichord is decidedly asymmetrical,both in shape and in barring(ribbing). While the guitarisinternallyunobstructed, the interior of the harpsichord is heavilybraced.The
ratio of the area of the rose hole to the enclosed volume of air

Our understanding of the air cavity'sresonances and their contribution to our acoustics harpsichord's properties wasincreased by boththeoretical andexperimental studies. An approximate mathematical model provided uswithvaluable cluesto the interpretation of the experimental results
obtained for the instrument itself. The tests on the acoustics

is far largerin the guitarthan in the harpsichord. Furthermore,Northernharpischords usuallyhavea sizable opening just behindthe keyboard(the bellyrail slot) whosearea is muchgreaterthan that of its rosehole.The guitar is a compact instrument, and its vibrationalmodescan be excited overa widerangeof frequencies throughits relativelysmall bridge. This cannot happen with a harpsichord,whose bridgemay be from 1.5-2.0 m in length.Finally, the sheer sizeof the harpsichord hasdiscouraged experimental study of its vibrationalbehavior.It is not an easyinstrumentto suspend, mount,shake, blastwith sound, or subject to holographicinterferometry.
2181 J. Acoust. Soc. Am.,VoL91, No. 4, Pt. 1, April1992

harpsichord werecarriedout at the University of Iowa, eitherin the"soundroom"--a resonant roomwith a relatively flatresponse--in theacoustics laboratory in theDepartment of Physicsand Astronomy,or in the anechoicchamber housed in the Departmentof Speech and Hearing. The air cavityof the acoustics harpsichord is bounded on top by a flexible soundboard about2.5 mm thick,andon the bottomandsides by boards about12mm thickto which areglued several braces (these andsubsequent relationships aremadeclearby Fig. 1). The wallsof thiscavityconsist of a spineabout 152cm long,a cheekabout57 cm long,a bentsideapproximately parabolic in shape, an angled tail about
27 cm long, and upper (12 mm thick) and lower (15 mm

thick) bellyrails about77 cm long.The depthof the inside,

from bottom to soundboard,is 18 cm. At the keyboardend

of this asymmetrical boxis a horizontalopening, the bellySavageeta/.: Airand structural modesof a harpsichord 2181

rail slot, resulting from the offsetbetween the upperand lowerbellyrails. The slot,spanning the distance from spine to cheek,is 4.3 cm wide. The two rowsof jacks are located directlybehindit. To allow accesss to the instrument's interior we cut four portholesin the spineand providedthem with coverplates. The acoustics harpsichord's shape in plan view led usto speculate that the propertiesof its air cavity might be approximated by a wedge-shaped space--likea piecesliced from a roundof cheese. We foundthat a 20-degwedgecut froma circularcylinder18cmin heightand 170cmin radius doesindeedexhibitsimilarproperties, and the waveequation in cylindrical coordinates canbesolved exactly for this

keyboard endof theacoustics harpsichord. The frequencies of the air modes maybecalculated from
f= (c/2rrL )x, (7)

whereL is the effective lengthof the cylindricalair cavity. Valuesofx are chosen to satisfy the boundary conditions at the keyboard, r = L; values of x>0 for whichJo(x) = 0 if the slot is open,valuesofx > 0 for whichJo(x) is a maxima
or a minima if the slot is dosed, or intermediate values of
x > 0 for a slot with an end correction.

Air modes withbothr and&dependence obey thedifferentialequation,

rS{rSR(r)/cr}/r t-kr 2+ 92(I)()/962 - 0. (8)

These air modes have one or more radial nodal surfaces

I2 2p(r,t) V2p(r,t) =c
dentpart of the waveequation is


Harmonic solutionsof the wave equationcan be found by the methodof separation of variables. The space-depen-

inside theair cavity. Ther-dependent and-dependent equations canbeseparated by theintroduction of a constant n2. The resulting differential equations are

I/ro{rcTR(r)/cTr}/cTr l/r a 2( .aS)/&62 t

R(r) (qb)

- -!+n()=0





ra{raa (

c7r ] -I[kZr2--n2lR(r) :0, (10)

where k = o/c = 2rr/A.

where n isa constant whose value depends ontheangle of the

wedge, ,,andthe numberof internalradial nodalsurfaces, in. The requirement that q)() be a maximumon the sides of the wedgeleadsto the equationfor n,

Air cavity modes with only z dependence (modes

formed in the vertical direction between the soundboard and

the casebottom) obeythe differentialequation


t- k2Z(z) = 0.


n = m(180/,,).


For rn = 1 and , = 20 deg,n = 9, and the solution of

Solutions with maximum pressure at z = 0 andz = h, whereh is the heightof the air cavity,are givenby
Z = .4 cos(2rrz//D, (4)

Eq. (8) istheBessel function J9.Here,Joiszeroat theapex of thewedge, r = 0 andincreases slowly untilr isquitelarge.

Onceagain,the frequencies of the air modes will be determinedby the boundary condition at the keyboard r = L. with A = 2h/n and n = 1,2,3..... The frequencies of the The boundary condition at the keyboard isnot obvious. modes are For zeropressure to occurhere,a pressure wavemustbeable to escape from the air cavity--not an easytask.At the slot f, = (c/2h)n. (5) jacks, touchrail,and other If weassign a valueofh = 18cm,thefrequency of thelowest the upperand lower bellyrails, components present a substantial inertlyeimpedance, thus standing waveis 945 Hz, and the highermodefrequencies makingtheslotappear to benearlyclosed. We wouldthereare integer multiples. The bracing inside the air cavitymay foreexpect to findmodes thatcorrespond to values OfJoand change the frequencies somewhat by alteringthe verticaldisJ9 with maximum pressure at the keyboard. Figure 2 shows tances of travelin the cavity,so945 Hz should be considered some representative Jo and J9 air cavity modes for a closeda lower bound for the modes. closedair cavity. Air cavitymodes with only r dependence obeythe difBy spreading more than 70 pounds of sandover its surferential equation face,weimmobilized thesoundboard sowecouldstudy the modes of theair cavitywithoutmajorinterference from the

(1 a{rcR(r)/0r) rr .l+k2R(r) =0.


surroundingstructure. However, while the wood vibrations

The solutionof this equationis the Bessel functionJo-

[ Equation (6) maybeconverted to a standard formbymaking the substitution x = kr, wherek = 2rr/A andf= c/.. ] In thisapproximation, themodefrequencies depend onlyon the lengthof the air cavity and the boundaryconditions at the ends.The air pressure at the apex of the wedge,r = 0, which corresponds to the tail of the acoustics harpsichord, will alwaysbe a maximum.Therefore,the modefrequencies will be determined by the boundary condition at r = L, the
2182 d. Acoust.Soc. Am., Vol. 91, No. 4, Pt. 1, April 1992

were substantially suppressed by the sand,they were not completely eliminated and contributed slightlyto someof theair mode peaks. Theair modes were found byexciting the cavitywitha loudspeaker mounted eitherat thetail or in the spine.Sweeping a frequency range from 30-1000 Hz, we recorded the internal pressure patternswith six miniature probemicrophones whose outputs wentto a chartrecorder. Then,with theBessel function modelasa guide, thepressure patternswere usedto classify the air modesas members of
Savage ota/.: Air and structuralmodes of a harpsichord 2182

Jo(2)- 122Ha


JO(3) = 224 H!

showsthe calculated frequencies for the Jo and J9 Bessel functionmodeland the measured frequencies for the immobilized soundboard. There is good agreement betweenthe predicted results and the measured data. Because the acousticsharpsichord is not shaped like a true wedge its effective lengthcouldnot beeasily determined. The testdatashowed that thefirstmodeof theJofamilywith highpressure at both tail and keyboardoccurredat around 122 Bz. The calculationswereperformed using an effective lengthof the air cavity that matched the required lengthfor that mode(L = 170

J9 (I }- 341 H

Js( 2}-48? Ht


FIG. 2. Representative Joand J, air modes predicted from the cylindrical wedge model for a closed bellyrail gap.The dotted linesshow locations of
the nodal surfaces.

We alsolookedat the acoustics harpsichord in its normal state,with thesoundboard unencumbered by sand.Takingintoaccount theexpected lowering of thefrequencies due to the reduced boundaryrigidity of the soundboard, thereis reasonable agreement betweenthe measured data and the predictions from the Bessel functionmodel.
The test results also showed evidence for the existence of

a fairly weak mode near 76 Hz with a well-developed insidethe air cavityand nearzeropreseither the Joor the J9 family, and to assign the appropriate quarter-wavelength of the developmode numbers.Additional criteria for these assignments sureat the bellyrailslot. This is indicative

werethat a plot of frequency versus modenumber for both theJoandJ9familyshould beapproximately linearanduniformlydistributed overthe frequency range[seeEq. (7) ]. As expected, thedominant modes hadpressure maxima at the bellyrailslotwhichbehaved like a closed end.Table I

ment ofa Helmholtz mode, but sincethe effectivearea of the

slotisrelatively largethefrequency of themode isstillrather high. If the sizeof the opening weregraduallyreduced the frequency of this modewould progressively tiecrease. For a smallopening, the pressure in the cavitywouldeventually
become uniform and a "classic" Helmholtz mode would be

We have been able to show that the Bessel function modTABLE I. Mode frequencies of theacoustics harpsichord predicted by the Bessel functionmodeland measured experimentally. In the "blocked"and "free" columns notethat frequencies associated with doublepeakswere observed for certainmodes. The Bessel frequencies werecalculated for an air cavitylength ofL= 170cm. Measured dataisfor theacoustics harpsichord with an immobilized soundboard (blocked) and for a free sound-

board(free). The 62-Hz modefor the freesoundboard isprobably a soundboard mode. Acoustics

el, whichapproximates the shapeof the air cavityof the acoustics harpsichord by a cylindrical wedge, successfully predicts theexistence of twofamilies of modes related to the Bessel functions J,)andJ9 and predicts their frequencies as well. The closeagreement between the calculated and observed frequencies strongly supports thevalidityof boththe modeland its usefulness in interpreting the data.

Mode no. calculation

blocked free





Weconducted a modalanalysis 3to determine thevibrational behavior of the acoustics harpsichord. The unstrung
instrument sat on its stand in the normal manner. The







soundboard wasmarkedoff in a 5-cmgrid, with the lines running parallel andperpendicular to thegrain of thesoundboard. Measurements were taken at the intersections of the


323 330

286 296

two sets of lines,and alsoon the sides and bottomof the case,

thewrestplank, andonthelid. In all,605measurement locations were identified.


407 442

To examine the motion of the acoustics harpsichord,



503 547 645

two miniature accelerometers were attached to the underside of the soundboard with a thin film of accelerometer







mountingwax. One wasplacednear the tail, directlybeneaththe 8' bridge,and the other was mounted near the cutoffbar (seeFig. 1). The vibrational modes wereexcited by tapping the acoustics harpsichord 4 to 8 timesat each
location, at intervals of severalseconds,with a small impact



549 556

hammer equipped witha force cell.Thedatasignals fromthe accelerometers andthehammer weretaperecorded (thefrequencyresponse of the tape recorderlimitedthe analysis
Savageat a/.: Airand structural modesof a harpsichord 2183


J. Acoust. Sec. Am.,Vol. 91, No. 4, Pt. 1, April1992

rangeto 0-600 Hz) andthenprocessed by a minicomputer- thewith-grain direction andalignthemselves with the stiffbased vibrationanalyzer.The analyzerlow-pass filteredthe eningelements. analog data and convertedthem to digital format, deterThe soundboard's outeredgeis taperedalongthe sides mined the frequency response functionsfor the acoustics for approximately 10cm, andis gluedbetween the liner and harpsichord--the output/input response foreach pairoftest molding,and to the top of the upperbelly rail. To a first location--and calculatedthe frequency,dampingfactor, approximation, therefore, the soundboard canbe regarded plate.Sincethe soundboard andcaseare inteand relative motionof all locations on the acoustics harpsi- asa clamped chord foreach mode of vibration.4 TableII presents a brief grally connected, they will vibrateas a combined system, description of the first ten modeshapes and compares the Hence, althoughrigid when comparedto the soundboard, relative motion of the case to that of the soundboard. The the case mustbeexpected to demonstrate some motion,and most of the modes of vibration should exhibit a nodal line modal properties data are available from the authorsupon request. somedistance inward from the edgeof the soundboard. An understanding of the constructional features of the The stiffness of the soundboard wasdeterminedby statisoundboard,and how they might be expectedto affect its cally deflecting it at variouslocations and recording the apvibrationalbehavior,will help clarify the modal analysis. pliedforceandresulting displacement. The results shown in The soundboard is a thin orthotropic spruce plate,approxi- Fig. 3 indicatethat the soundboard possesses areasof both matelytriangular,with the grainrunningin the longdirechighandlow stiffness. The portions of unbraced soundboard tion. The with-grainelasticmodulus is 10to 16timesthat of are leaststiff;those regions stiflened by thebridges are more the cross-grain direction,resulting in a with-grainwaveveso;and the areasaroundthe 4' hitchpinrail and the cutoff locity 3 to 4 timesgreaterthan that of the cross grain. If the barand ribsare the stiffest. Onemighttherefore expect nodsoundboard werefreeandunbraced, we wouldexpectto find al linesto pass throughor nearthe4' hitchpinrail and/or the certainmodalpatterns that describe ellipses with the long cutoffbar, and alsopossibly the bridges. The latter is less axis being 3 to 4 timesthat of the short axis. The spatial likely, however, sincethe bridges musttransmitthe vibraorientation would be generally parallel to the spine of the tional energyof the stringsto the soundboard with some case. ease,and a bridgehavinga largenumberof nodallocations In real life the soundboard is neither free nor unbraced. wouldnotbeableto perform its taskefficiently. The 8' and4' bridges aregluedto itstop,andthe4' hitchpin The unstiffened portionsof the soundboard nearthe 4' rail, cutoffbarandribsto its underside (seeFig. 1). Eachof and 8' bridges would be expected to exhibitconsiderable vithese components contributes mass andstiffness; in particu- brationalmotion.This shouldresultin the development of lar, they increase the cross-grain stiffness, causing the modal half-wavelength ellipses adjacent to the bridges. At higher ellipsesto "round-out" somewhatand to rotate away from frequencies theellipses should occurmoreor less uniformly

TABLE II. Descriptions of the soundboard and case mode shapes IP = in-phle
+ 100.

motion; OP = out-of-phase motion.Maximum soundboard motionis

Mode Frequency Motion D



of case
- 20.0


27. I

"Drumhead"motion of soundboard, OP withrigidbodymotion of thecase


- 35.0

Lengthwise dipole. Nodallinecrosses fromspine tobentside nearmidpoint ofboard. Maximum motion at tailof 8' bridge andOP withremainder of 8' and4' bridge. Case
pitches aboutan axisbetween the front and rear stands.


-- 68.0

Similar tomode 2 except thenodallinefollows the4' hitchpin rail.Case motion likemode.


-- ! 1.0

Againsimilar, butthenodal linefollows the4' bridge. 8' bridge moves asa unitandOP with thecutofftriangle. First twisting motionof thecase.


-- 1.0

"Tripole" mode. Maximum motion attipofS'bridge IP with 4' bridge. Center orS' bridge
OP. Bothbridges, 4' hitchpin railandcutoff barall move withconsiderable freedom. Case
movesvery little.



-- 17.0

Tripole, slightlyshiftedfrom mode5. Casemotion not distinct.

Tripole.Threeregions withverystrong, nearly equal amplitudes of motion. Firstvertical

bendingof the case.



Dipole at thetail,tripole at upper partofboard. Bridges, ribs, cutoff barand4' hitchpin railall vibrate withconsiderable strength. Wrestplank bends vertically.
Strong dipole at tailendof 8' bridge. Twoweaker dipoles along spine andbentside. Maximummotionbetween 8' and4' bridges. Combined bending andtwisting of case. Similar to mode 8, butorientation isdifferent. Firstlateral bending of case.


-- 8.0



-- 14.0


J. Acoust. Sec.Am.,VoL91, No.4, Pt. 1, April1992

Savageeta/.: Airandstructural modesof a harpsichord



(10 4 newtons/meier)

on eithersideof the 8' bridge,a transverse dipoleacross the 4' hitchpinrail, anda monopole in the upperleft-hand cornerof theboard.The higher frequency modes illustrate more complex situations, with a varietyof monopoles, dipoles, tripoles,and higher-order combinations. Mode 14 shows a dipolebetween the 8' bridgeand the casee, another dipole between the 8' bridge andthe4' hitchpin rail, a third dipole along the8' bridge nearthebentside, anda tripole associated with the4' bridgeandthe left-handcorner.Modes 18and 25 demonstrate even morecomplicated situations, andin mode 34 practicallyall the vibration energyis concentrated between the 8' bridgeand the case,a regionof low stiffness.
Other modes can be found where maximum motion occurs



nearthe 4' bridge. As expected, the thinner, nonstiffened regionsof the soundboard exhibitedthe largestamplitudes of motion for the higherfrequency modes. The location of maximummotion neveroccurred precisely on the 8' or 4' bridge.From a musicalpoint of view this is desirable. If the vibratingportionof a string terminated at anexceptionally flexible areaof a bridge,the waveimpedance of the stringand the soundboard would approacheach other and the energyof the stringwouldbe transferred to the soundboard too readily. The result wouldbea quicklydamped note--a ratherunmusical "thunk." Therefore, a certain amount of stiffnessis re-

FIG. 3. Static stiffness at various locations on the soundboard of the acous-


quiredat the bridges. They mustmove,but not too much. An importantresultof the modal studies of the acousticsharpsichord is the realizationthat the soundboard possesses a large number of vibrational modes;36 modesbetween0 and 600 Hz. This amountsto an average modal densityof onemodeper 16.8Hz. The importance of a high modal densityto the tonequality of the acoustics harpsichord will be discussed later.

along thelength of thebridges, andadjacent ellipses should

occurwith alternate phase formingmultipoles. III. OUTPUT RESPONSE OF THE ACOUSTICS From this description of the acoustics harpsichord's HARPSICHORD constructional features itsexpected behavior canbesummed The musicalworld insiststhat the treble,tenor, and bass up as follows:(1) the soundboard is a thin, orthotropic, stiflened, clamped plate,and the modalpatterns shouldderegistersof the harpsichordmaintain some individuality, scribe elliptically shaped regions either aligned withthelong and it prefers thatevery harpsichord have something unique
axis of the soundboard or inclined in the direction of the
about its tonal character. Both characteristics are heard as

stiffeners, (2) nodallines should generally followthestiffen- part of theoutputresponse of the instrument. Since the soft, ing elements, (3) modalellipses should develop in the recompliantnatureof the soundboard woodassures a multigions of thesoundboard adjacent to thebridges, and(4) the tude of resonances, it will respond in someway to virtually case should participate in many,if notmost, of thevibration- any frequency. But since every soundboardis different, al modes, and nodallinesshould appear nearthe clamped harpsichords vary in their outputresponse. The varietyin edges of the soundboard. the peaksin response curves(seeKottick, 1985), undoubtThe test results shownin Fig. 4, representative of the edly indicates individualqualities. complete family of 36 vibrationalmodesmeasured from 0We would like to perceive a fairly consistent loudness 600 Hz, correspond well to the expected behavior. Mode 1 levelovertheentireplaying range of a harpsichord, sothat describes a "monopole" typeof motionwherethecomplete treble, tenor, and bassregisters balanceeach other. Thus soundboard moves asa unit. For theflow-frequency modes, evena merelydecent harpsichord mustnotonlyrespond to a large regions ofthesoundboard nearthebridge formellipti- broadrangeof frequencies, it mustdo so with an acoustic calareas, andthe nodallinestendto followthe4' hitchpin outputof greater amplitude at lowerfrequencies, whereour rail andcutoffbar. Accordingly, mode3 is a lengthwise diearsarenot veryefficient, andwith less amplitude at higher polewitha nodallinenearthe4' hitchpin rail, and,ascanbe frequencies, where we hearmuchmoreacutely. Although seen in Fig. 5, thecase moves in a pitching motionaboutthe we do havesomedata that demonstrate the consistency of location of the front and back legs of the stand. Mode 5 the loudness levelof oneparticular instrument, s oneneed includes a lengthwise dipole alongthe8' bridge anda mono- only listento any well-constructed, well-regulated harpsipolenearthe 4' bridge.Mode 8 describes a dipoleat the tail chordto havethepointdrivenhome(seeFig. 6).
2185 J. Acoust. Soc.Am.,Vol.91, No. 4, Pt. t, April1992 Savageeta/: Airandstructural modes of a harpsichord 2185




I -27.1


MODE 5-102.4


I '

MODE 8 - 149.4 H

FIG. 4. Vibrational modes of the acoustics

harpsichord soundboard. Contour lines are

for 25, 50, 75, and95 unitsof relativemotion

( + is upwardmotion, -

is downward

motion). Numericalnotations designate positions of local maximum or minimum. - - are the nodal lines.


MODE 14- 253.1Hz


' -/T


- 59

MODE 25-449.7







We mustnow ask if there is a sufficiently large number of air and/or soundboard resonances excitedby playingthe

acoustics harpsichord to produce a reasonably uniformbut monotonically decreasing acoustic outputoveritsfrequency range.We mightalsoaskif the air and soundboard modes interact, or couple, in a physical sense. To assist in thisdiscussion, we haveconstructed the followinglogicpath. (1) The pluckedstringprovides energy to the sound-


FIG. 5. Motionof acoustics harpsichord case for modes 3 and7. -- -- -- is theundeformed shape, - - - is themaximum positive deformed shape.
2186 d. Acoust. Soc. Am., Vol. 91, No. 4, Pt. 1, April 1992

FIG. 6. Acousticoutputof a Hyman FrenchDoubleharpsichord. Notes playedon theback8' strings, oneat a time.

Savageet aL: Airand structural modesof a harpsichord


board at near harmonic partials. There areat least 20significantpartials pernote in thebass register, fewer in themiddle,
and only a few at the trebleend (Kottick, 1987).









49 HtI 98

(2) Since thestring does notcommunicate directlywith the enclosed air, the only way it can excitean air modeis throughthe motionof the soundboard. The motionof the soundboard mightexcitean air resonance by forcedexcitation even in the absence of a soundboard resonance.

55 iio



0---- &




C 130






(3) With the possible exceptionof the "Helmholtz"

mode around 76 Hz, the test results found little evidence that

O 7 , D) 148


the air modesradiate soundout the bellyrail slot. However, the air modesmight affectthe overallradiatedsoundby in-

E 83 E 166
F, 88


fluencing the motionof the soundboard throughmass loading,by actingasan internalspring, or through physical interaetion(coupling).
(4) Since there are numerous air and soundboard reson-




F# 9 F# 186


Gs 16
G 208
As 220




ances, any stringpartial will excitea numberof resonances

to at least some extent. But are there cases where a resonance


8' 8'

will bestrongly excited; thatis,instances where a string partial provides a greaterthan average amountof energyto a
soundboard and/or air resonances? This will occur if two





o Kk3 2O0 300 4O0

5OO 600


criteriaare satisfied. First, the frequency of a stringpartial shouldfall within the half-powerbandwidthof the soundboard or air resonance:


( Ha )




8 9


6 7

Second, the locationon the bridgewherethe stringterminates should not occur at near a node for the soundboard

111II IIili III1 II111111111 IIIII

l 4. 5 5 6

or air resonance. The excitationforce shouldbe applied withinthehalf-amplitude portionof themodeshape; that is, thebridge pinshould lie at or above the50% contour linefor
the soundboard or air mode (Fig. 3). (5) If both an air and a soundboard resonance are excit-

II 14 16 I1 202,5 5 26 9 :51 35 I0 12 15 17 19 21 Z4 27 50 Z 5G 15 22 Z8 35

FIG. 7. Ability of stringpartialsto exciteair (Jo) and soundboard resonances: --A--, no effect; --O--, soundboard mode excited; --&--, air


bothair andsoundboard modes excited.Locationand

ed by the samestringpartial,a physical interaction, or coupling,of the modes may occur.Couplingcan existif the mode-overlap integraldoesnot vanish.

numbers of the air and soundboard modes shown on the bot-

tom scale. Pairsofazrowsfor theJ. air modes indicate thenearbyfrequenciesfoundfor the acoustic harpsichord (seeFig. 2 andTable I}.

MO -f ,, dS.

samestring partial (solid dots). In thesecases there is the possibility for an air-wood interaction or coupling. As stated above,for couplingto existthe mode-overlap integralmust not vanish.This calculationwas performedfor all possible air-soundboard interactions (both the Jo and J9 air modes
were considered), and the results are shown in Table IIl.

Usingthislogicpathweexamined thepartialsbetween 0 and 600 Hz for the lowest8' and 4' stringson the acoustics harpsichord. The results,presented in Fig. 7, showthat a significant numberof air and soundboard resonances will be stronglyexcitedby mostof the strings.For example,the 8' A, string, with a fundamentalfrequencyof 55 Hz, excites soundboard resonances by partials 1, 2, 3, 5, and 11; an air mode by partial 9; and both air and soundboardmodesby partials4, 6, and 8. Only partials7 and 10 fail to excitea resonance. The other stringsare not generallyas activeas

The strengthof the air-soundboard couplingis givenas a percentof a "perfect"match;that is, if the modeshapes for the air andthe soundboard wereprecisely the same thecoupling-coefficient wouldequal 100. thisexample, butih every case at least oneair or soundboard Interpretingtheseresults is difficult.There are several resonance is strongly excited. Although this analysiswas instances wherethecoupling coefficient appears to berather restricted to 600 Hz, it may be assumed that at higherfresizable;for example,the "Helmholtz" mode at 76 Hz and quencies the stringpartialswill strongly excitea similarly the fourth soundboard modeat 78.5 Hz seemto befairly well largenumberof air and soundboard resonances. Therefore, coupled.The question. however,is how high mustthe coufroma qualitative pointof view,weconclude thatthegener- pling coefficient be beforewe can reliablyclaim that it is ally uniformacoustic outputof the acoustics harpsichord is musicallysignificant? At the present time, we do not know,
the direct resultof the excitationof a large number of air and soundboard resonances by the string partials.
since we have not performed any experimentsto investigate

Figure7 alsoshows that therearea number of situations whereboth an air and a soundboard modeare excitedby the
2187 d. Acoust.Soc. Am., Vol. 91, No. 4, Pt. 1, April 1992

these matters. The data are certainly suggestive, but we choose to withhold judgment on the importance of coupling
to some future time.

Savage ota/.: Air and structuralmodes of a harpsichord


TABLE Iii. Calculation ofthe air-soundboard modal coupling forthe

acoustics harpsichord. Perfectcoupling--identical air and soundboard modeshapes--would resultin a coupling coefficient of 100. Air mode Soundboard mode(s) Coupling coefficient

m above the soundboardto record the acoustics harpsichord'soutputresponse (seeKottick, 1985).

Helmholtz--76 1-122


4- 78.5 Hz 6-109.6

28.9 16.1


11-207.7 12-213.1 13-215.0 14-253.4 17-295.1 18-335.8 19-349.4

1.3 0.2
2.7 12.6



15.0 8.3
2.5 19.6


24-433.6 25-449.7

Removingthe bottom prevents the formationof air modeswith only a minimal effecton the structuralvibrationsof the soundboard. Figure8 shows a graphof the logarithm of the ratio of the responses of the acoustics harpsichordversus frequency, both with and without its bottom. Peaks in thisgraphat 88, 110,196,310,and466 Hz lie close to frequencies for whichlargeair-soundboard modalcouplings areshown in TableIII at air modes frequencies of 76, 122,224, 324,424, and487 Hz. When playedin thisconfigurationthemusician reported that the acoustics harpsichord withoutitsbottom"wasstill playable, but is sounds tinny." Theseanecdotal casestudies and limited quantitative dataillustrate that the air cavitymodes areunquestionably importantto the tonequality of the acoustics harpsichord.


28-493.9 29-511.6 30-527.0

35-587.5 36-605.1

9.1 10.0 6.8

8.7 12.5





19-349.4 20-365.0

2.8 1.3 29.9 22.8 3.2 9.7 16.3 16.2


26-470.9 27-483.8 28-493.9 29-511.6


34-573.9 35-587.5

This studyhasrevealed that theair cavityof theacousticsharpsichord canbeapproximated asa wedge-shaped cylindrical volumeand analyzedby conventional wave equation methods. Here Jo and J9 Bessel solutions accurately predict themodes of theenclosed air. TheJoair modes with pressure maxima at boththetail andkeyboard of theacousticsharpsichord weredominant, buttherewasa weakHelmholtz-likemodeat 76 Hz with low pressure at the keyboard. The air modesdo not contributegreatlyto the soundof the instrument by radiated energy out thebellyrailslot,but they do influence the soundby affecting the motionof the soundboard.While it wasnot possible to predictthe air modefrequencies with complete accuracy, we havenevertheless arrived at someunderstanding of how the air behaves. The modalanalysis of the complete instrument uncovered a wealth of information. The soundboard has an aver-

agemodaldensityof onemodeper 16.8Hz overthe rangeof 0-600 Hz. At lower frequencies, the modal patternsare tyifledby ellipses that encompassed largeareasof the soundThe couplingissue notwithstanding, there is other evidenceto suggest that the air modesare important. We examined the influenceof the air cavity resonances on the tonal qualitiesof the acoustics harpsichord through two experiments. In the first, the bellyrail slot was completely,then

partiallyclosed, in orderto alter the boundary conditions at the keyboardend, and, therefore,the ability of the air cavity to communicate with thesurrounding environment. Playing the acoustics harpsichord with the bellyrail slot completely closed, the musician reported that the low F at 88 Hz "had lost its guts," and the low C at 65 Hz became"very strong and resonant."When the slot was openedby 1/8 in., "the
low C was still strong, the low F was still weak, and the low E

(at 83 Hz) was alsoweak." When it was openedfurther, to 3/8 in., "the C wasstill strong,the E and F werestill weak,
and the G was also weak."

In a somewhat morequantitative experiment, we investigatedthe response of our acoustics harpsichord with and without its bottom.A piezoelectric vibratorwas usedto excite the 8' bridge.Placedon thebridgepin for eachstringin turn,it applied a sinusoidal excitation with a frequency equal to thefundamental of the string.A microphone wasplaced3
2188 d. Acoust.Soc. Am., Vol. 91, No. 4, Pt. 1, April 1992

-150 1(30 150 2OO250 300 350 400 450 500


FIG. 8. Logarithmof the ratio of the outputresponses of theacoustics harpsichord with and without the bottom attached.

Savage otal.: Air and structuralmodes of a harpsichord


board,with nodallinesthat generally follow the stifferelementssuchasthe4' hitchpinrail and thecutoffbar and ribs. At higherfrequencies the modal patternsbecome increasinglycomplex anddescribe compact ellipses thatoccurmore or less uniformly along the unreinforcedregionsof the
soundboard. We also found that the case of the acoustics

ysisequipment. The cooperation of all theseorganizations madethis work possible.

Since Northern andSouthern European styles ofharpsichord building varied considerably, any inferences drawn from this studycan referto only Northerninstruments, andevenhereonlyin a general sense. Southern instruments maybeexpected to behave somewhat differently.
This instrument has a so-called "short octave" in the bass.Rather than

harpsichord exhibits a significant degree of motionat many sound theirnormallyexpected pitches, the Bi key produces the noteG, frequencies. Whilethisactivity maynotbeof musical importheC2produces thenote A, andtheD2 produces thenoteB (or B). tance,it is probably significant to the "feel" of the acoustics Thus, practicallyall the bottomoctaveis diatonicrather than chromatic. Theactual pitches canbeseen in Fig.7. It should benoted thatshort octave harpsichord to theplayer. keyboards werethenormonearlyharpsichords, andonoccasion couldstill It wasfurtherdiscovered thatthestringpartials strong- befoundwellintothe 18thcentury. The lackof a chromatic bass wasrarely ly excited manyair andwoodresonances. It wasconcluded seenas a drawback; composers avoidedthosenotes,builders usedfewer maintained its slendershape.For that the acoustics harpsichord's generally uniformacoustic stringsandjacks, and the instrument further information see Kottick, 1987. outputresulted from the activation of manyof these reso- 'he term"modal analysis refers to theprocess of describing thedynamic nances. Informationwasalsopresented showing that in cerresponse of a structure through a setof mathematical relationships known tain cases thereis couplingbetween the air and soundboard asthemodalproperties: theresonant frequency, damping factor(ratioof theviscous damping value to thecriticaldamping value),andtherelative modes, but the musical importance of the fact remains unclear.However, anecdotalobservations and somelimited ex-

perimental results indicate that air modes are of morethan passing importance to thetonequalityof theacoustics harpsicord.

motionof the structure at .selected locations. The modalproperties canbe established eitheranalytically, usingfiniteelement techniques, or experimentally,as wasdone here.Additionalinformationon the mathematical foundations of modalanalysis, testing techniques, data analysis methods, andtheproper application of modalproperty datacanbefoundin Ewins
( 1986} and Marshall ( 1985, 1986).

Althoughthe information reported in thispaperrepre- 4Themathematical algorithm used to calculate the frequency response sents the culminationof more than 13 yearsof studyingthe functions is somewhat morecomplicated than indicated here,but the deacoustics harpsichord, a complete understanding of the inscription captures theessence of theprocess. See thereferences mentioned in footnote 3 for additional details. strument would entail the ability to calculate its radiated SFigure 6 shows whatmight betermed the"loudness curve" fora William sound from firstprinciples. For at leastonetypeof harpsi- HymanFrenchdouble-manual harpsichord. A sound-pressure levelmeter chord,this paperrepresents a smallstepin that direction. wasmounted 3 m above the instrument, andeachnotewasplayed fromthe keyboard on a single 8' stringby therear-most setofjacks.The presumpAlthoughwe havelearneda greatdeal aboutthe waysin air which the dynamicbehaviorof the acoustics harpsichord tion wasthat for eachnotethe vibratingstringwouldexcitewhatever and soundboard modeswere availableto it. The figureshowsthat the relatesto its tonequalities, much remainsto be understood, acoustic outputisgreatest at thelowerfrequencies and,witha fewnotable particularly in regardto the interplayof the air and sound- exceptions, decreases asthefrequency increases. The average rateof deoutputs approximately 2 dB/oct. This decrease in boardresonances. Othermissing ingredients are an absolute cline in the acoustic level seems trivial; so much so, that we might expectthe measure of the strengths of the stringpartials,the string- sound-pressure bass to beoverwhelmed by thetreblein perceived loudness. However,the bridge-soundboard termination impedances at all stringlobass notes of a goodharpsichord are richin partials andmakea strongly cations, complete modaldatafor the air resonances and,for distinctive sound, whilethe treblenotes, with fewpartials, areless colored andmore sinusoidal. Thisdecrease inopulence ofsound frombass to treble correlation purposes, an accurate measure of thesoundradimustaccount for at leastsome of the perception of loudness. Thesedata ated by the acoustic harpsichord. Further studies are weremadein 1980,at the shopof Zuckermann Harpsichords, while the plannedto address theseissues. second authorwason a fieldassignment to measure the response curves of Modern science hasmade possible modestadvances in newandantique harpsichords. It should benoted that theworkwasdone underfieldconditions, with little concern for roommodes or radiation patour understanding of the acoustics harpsichord, but it has terns. To facilitate theexperimental measurements, thelid, whichnormalnotgivenusmuchinsight intothemethods themaster buildly reflects a greatdealof sound out towardthelistener, wassetat 90 degto ersof the pastusedto design andimprovetheir instruments. theinstrument, ratherthanat themoreusual 45 deg.The Frenchharpsichord mentioned is identified asHyman KI0 in Kottick (1985). Their magnificent harpsichords, andthefinemodern instrumentsinspiredby them, challenge scientists and builders Ewins,D. J. (1986). Modal Testing: Theory and Practice (Research Studalike to uncover more of the secrets of their rich tradition.

ies,Letchworth, Hertfordshire, England). Fletcher,N. H. (1977). "Analysis of theDesign andPerformance of Harpsichords,"AcousticaXXXVII, 139-147.



Kellner, H. A. (1976). "TheoreticalPhysics, The Harpsichord, and Its Construction: A Physicists's Annotations,"Das Musikinstrument XXV,

The authorsherebyacknowledge the many contributionsof our recentlydeceased colleague, Dr. William R. Savage,without whosededication and leadership this research would not havebeenaccomplished. We dedicatethis paper to his memory.We also express our appreciation to the GraduateCollege,the Departmentof Physics and Astronomy, and the Schoolof Music at The University of Iowa for research assignments, equipment,financialsupport,and encouragement; to Gettysburg College for sabbatical leaveand research grants;and to the Uniroyal GoodrichTire Companyfor the useof their computers andelectronic data anal2189 J. Acoust. Soc. Am.,Vol. 91, No. 4, Pt. 1, April1992

Kottick, E. L. (1985). "The Acoustics of the Harpsichord: Response Curvesand Modesof Vibration,"CiaipinSoc.J. XXXVIII, 55-77. Kottick, E. L. (1987). TheHarpsichord OwnersGuide(The University of North Carolina,Chapel1till, NC). Marshall,K. D. (1985), "Modal Analysis of a Violin," J. Acoust.Soc.Am.
77, 695-709.

Marshall, K. D. (1986). "Modal Analysis:A Primer on Theory and Practice," Catgut Acoust.SOc. 46, 7-17.

Spencer, M. (1981). "Harpsichord Physics," GalpinSoc. J. XXXIV, 2-20. Thwaites,S. (1981}. "SomeAcoustics of a Clavichord,"Catgut Acoust.
SOc.38, 29-33. Thwaites, S., and Fletcher, N.H. ( 1981}. "Some Notes on the Clavichord," J. Acoust. SOc.Am. 69, 1476-1483.

Savageotal.: Airaridstructural modesof a harpsichord