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Acoustics 3 What is Music?

What is a musical note?

A musical note is determined by having repeating cycles of frequency (a).

Noise on the other hand is a complex amalgam of the ripples caused by the
disruption of air molecules (b).

Movement of Guitar Strings


Before a string is plucked it is in a stable state.

During plucking the string is stretched before it is let go, after which it tries to get
back to its previous state. However it is moving too fast to stop so stretches itself in
the other direction.

It tries again to get back to a straight line but again overshoots, and this continues
until it runs out of energy.

Energy is lost because it is pushing air out of the way. It is also passing vibrating
energy onto the body of the guitar.

! Simple enough But dont expect the strings to move

to and fro in a perfect curve

Get Plucky

If a string vibrated to a fro from a perfect curve we would hear its

fundamental frequency.

For this to happen it would have to start from a curve. When we pluck a
string, however, we are creating a kink in the string where two straight lines

So all parts of the string will race off with energy at the same time, but not
from the same starting place.

The string now starts to vibrate in several ways at the same time: imagine a
childs swing in action and the child wiggling the part of the chain he or she is
holding. The chain is now doing two things a) swinging slowly to and fro and
b) wiggling up and down to a fro.

A guitar string obeys multiple orders simultaneously, so long as each end is

attached to a guitar and cannot move.

A complex waveform is created

when there is a combination of
string patterns happening at the

No half measures

With the ends of the string stationary the movement pattern of the string
must divide into one part or two parts, or three in fact any whole
number of parts.

There would not be four and a half parts, for example, as this would
require one of the ends of the strings to waggle about which it cant. Its
attached to the guitar.

So the string does not move two and fro as one long string, it involves
complicated wiggling. The whole string movement of the guitar is
accompanied by some half string, third string, and quarter string
vibrations (and others).

Different harmonics depending on where

the guitar is plucked

The Fundamental frequency is also known as the first harmonic.

The next one half its size is the second harmonic and is twice its

strings vibrate in a complex


Short strings vibrate at higher frequencies than long strings (if they are the
same type of string under the same amount of tension).

If you halve a string it will double the frequency.

When a string is plucked we effectively hear shorter strings. The halves,

thirds and quarters etc will all vibrate in their own ways but will always
return to base at various intervals.

These overall pattern of these movements will repeat at the same rate as
the lowest frequency involved. This is the note we hear: the
fundamental (all the other frequencies we hear are kind of like backing
singers supporting this note, giving it richness and uniqueness).

! Drums and cymbals provide a

rhythmic drive to much of the

music made today. Why is it vital
that these instruments provide a
noise and not a note?

drummers are noisy

! If a drummer banged along with two notes all the time,

these notes would dominate the tune. (Unless you want

them to, like orchestral tympani).

! A thud or a tschhh will provide rhythmic information

without hijacking the music.

! Drums are columns so the only way to prevent musical notes

is to tune its two skins differently. This will mean the skins
of say a kick drum will not be mutually supportive of the
pattern of air pressure produced when struck. This lack of
mutual support between the skins also means the sound dies
away more rapidly if they vibrated in unison they would
ring on for longer.

Nearly everything we hear is a complex combination of multiple


Fletcher Munson Curves

Equal-loudness contours were
first measured
by Fletcher and Munson using
headphones (1933).
In their study, listeners were
presented with pure tones at
various frequencies and over 10
dB increments in stimulus
For each frequency and intensity,
the listener was also presented
with a reference tone at 1000 Hz.
The reference tone was adjusted
until it was perceived to be of the
same loudness as the test tone.

Loudness, being a psychological quantity, is difficult to measure, so Fletcher Munson averaged their results
over many test subjects to derive reasonable averages.
The lowest equal-loudness contour represents the quietest audible tone and is also known as the absolute
threshold of hearing. The highest contour is the threshold of pain.

Equalisation (EQ)
What is an equaliser?
A device, circuit or piece of software that lets us control the relative
amplitude of various frequencies within the audible bandwidth.
What does it allow us to do?
- Correct specific problems in a recorded sound (possibly to restore
a sound to its natural tone).
- Overcome deficiencies in the frequency response of a mic or in the
sound of an instrument.
- Allow contrasting sounds from several instruments or recorded tracks
to better blend together in a mix.
- Alter a sound purely for musical or creative reasons.

There are two main types of EQ: Bell (or Peak) EQ and Shelving EQ

Shelving EQ refers to a rise or drop in a frequency response at a selected

Frequency which tapers off to a preset level and continues at that level
until the end of the audio spectrum.

The Bell (Peak) EQ is the most common EQ. It is created by a peaking

filter and as its name implies a peak-shaped bell curve can either be
boosted or attenuated around a selected centre frequency.

A Semi Parametric EQ is a Bell (Peak) EQ without the Q (quality factor).

Therefore the bandwidth of the bell curve
will remain constant.

A Parametric EQ does have the ability to widen or narrow the selected


Using the Q to widen the quality factor.

Using the Q to narrow the bandwidth.