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Wolfenden Article 15/09/17 09:22

The Physics of Waves and Oscillation

by Peter Wolfenden

This article is an elementary treatment of the physics of sound. It requires no background
in physics, but the reader is assumed to have studied calculus, trigonometry, and linear
algebra. An appendix is provided for those readers who are unfamiliar with differential
equations and/or who need to review their trigonometry identities.

The text is broken into 5 sections, which are summarized below:

The first section defines sound and gives a qualitative description of its properties.
Doppler shifting and sonic booms are explained, and the concept of linearity is introduced.

The second section is an introduction to harmonic oscillators and differential equations.

Linearity is more fully explained on mathematical terms, and non-linear systems are
dismissed as too horrible to include within the scope of this article. ((A somewhat complex
explanation of resonance in harmonic oscillators concludes the section.

The third section describes how the simple systems analyzed in the second section may be
extended into the continuum. The mathematics associated with such an extension are
quite laborious, and the reader is given an instructive taste of tedium.

The fourth section uses the ideal string model to derive the one-dimensional homogeneous
wave equation. This equation is then applied to the hypothetical propagation of sound
through air in a one-dimensional universe. Higher dimensions are extrapolated from the
one-dimensional case with some hand-waving, and an argument using energy
conservation is given to explain why sound loses intensity with increasing distance from
its source in 2 and 3 dimensions, but not in 1 dimension.

(not yet implemented)

The fifth section is an introduction to Fourier analysis, an important signal processing tool.

Section I
In the most general sense, sound is the propagation of density waves through some
medium. The medium most commonly encountered by most human beings is air, but
sound also travels through water, rubber, steel, and tofu. In fact, most homogeneous
substances conduct sound. The density waves are typically created by the vibration of
some object immersed in the medium, such as a string, membrane, or chamber. The waves
propagate outwards from their point of origin, and set up sympathetic vibrations in other Pgina 1 de 28
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nearby objects immersed in the medium, such as eardrums, wineglasses, and

microphones. The speed at which density waves travel through a given medium depends
entirely on the physical properties of the medium, and is independent of the manner in
which the waves are produced.

This last property is remarkable, and should not strike the reader as obvious unless he or
she has studied wave phenomena. After all, we know from everyday experience that
velocities are additive. Imagine, for example, that while driving down I-95 at 60kph, a
strange and arguably homicidal individual pitches a baseball forwards at 60kph with
respect to her/his windshield. At the instant of release (before air resistance reduces the
ball's speed), the ball is moving forwards at120kph with respect to the road, and 180kph
with respect to the windshield of a vehicle coming towards her/him at 60kph in the other
lane. (fig 1)

Naturally, if the ball were pitched backwards instead of forwards at 60kph with respect to
the car, it would move with zero horizontal velocity respect to the road. So it would fall
straight down, bounce, and come to rest (provided that the road is perfectly flat and level,
and the ball has no spin).

But waves, and sound in particular, behave differently. The noise produced by a car's
engine, which takes the form of density waves travelling through air, does not travel
forwards from the front bumper any faster than it travels backwards from the rear bumper.
In air of homogeneous sea-level density, sound travels at about 1,210 kilometers per hour
regardless of the velocity of its source. But a moving vehicle chases the sound leaving its
nose and runs away from the sound leaving its tail. This causes the sound waves to pile up
ahead of the vehicle and stretch out behind. (fig 2)

This is the commonly observed Doppler effect, which to a stationary pedestrian causes an
observed drop in the pitch of a blaring car horn as it zooms by. The faster the car moves, Pgina 2 de 28
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the more the sound moving forwards is squeezed and the more the sound moving
backwards is stretched, and the greater the observed drop in pitch.

(What is pitch? Explain.)

But how do we know that the rise in pitch is not due to additive velocities, as in the case of
the baseball? If sound wave velocities were additive, the sound waves leaving the front
bumper would be moving faster than those leaving the rear, and an observer on the
ground would sense them going by faster, and notice a rise in pitch.

But there are two experiments you can perform to convince yourself that the speed of
sound is constant. Unfortunately both require rather specialized equipment, so most
people rely on published results. First, you can set up a long, flat racetrack somewhere out
in the Midwest, and arrange to have a microphone at one end record the instant at which it
hears a pistol shot fired by the driver of a fast car. If the driver and microphone have their
watches synchronized, and they try the experiment at various speeds, they should find
that the time lapse between the shot being fired and the shot being heard depends only on
the distance between the car and microphone at the moment when the shot is fired, and
not on the speed at which the car is travelling.

The second experiment involves moving (flying, usually) at the speed of sound, which is
about 1210 kph at sea level on a windless day. If a vehicle moves at the speed of sound, the
noise produced by its engine is added to itself repeatedly at the front bumper, creating an
extremely loud noise called a sonic boom. The many relatively small waves of sound
produced by the humming (or roaring, or singing, or whatever) of the engine are squeezed
together into one big shock wave which builds in intensity as the vehicle cruises along at
1210 kph while making noise. This is why aircraft try to make the transition from subsonic
to supersonic speed or vice versa as quickly and as far away from population centers and
avalanche areas as possible.

But sound waves within the limits of reasonable pitch and volume (unlike sonic booms)
have some nice properties that make the mathematical analysis of sound particularly
rewarding. One of the most important of these properties is linearity, which may
described as follows: The effect on an eardrum or microphone when the first note of a
symphony is played is the same as the sum of the individual effects of each instrument on
the eardrum or microphone. This means that two separate recordings of two separate parts
"added" together in a mixer give the same result as a single recording of the two parts
played together.

Similarly, a differential equation is linear if any number of solutions to the equation may
be added together to form another solution to the equation. This may not seem relevant to
the reader unless she has studied physics, but the next section is an attempt to make it so.
We shall see how some basic physical systems may be described by a simple set of
mathematical equations, and how the solutions to those equations describe the ways in
which the system may behave. In particular, we shall see that solutions to the equations for
systems that obey Hookes Law are linear.

The simplicity with which linear "mixing" may be described mathematically has made it
relatively easy to build machines, which manipulate sound electronically. But had nature
made sound non-linear, it would be quite difficult to build speakers, and it would
probably have been necessary to invent quite powerful computers before building
anything like a recording studio.

Section II Pgina 3 de 28
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The next few pages will be an introduction to the nature of (idealized) physical vibration.
This section, though perhaps not obviously relevant to music, should provide a good
foundation for the derivation of the wave equation in section 4. We begin with Hooke's
law and a one-dimensional simple harmonic oscillator.

Let our simple harmonic oscillator system consist of a spring of length L attached at one
end to an object of mass M and at the other end to an immovable object (see fig 1).

At this point we will make some simplifying assumptions about our system, namely:

1) The object with mass M is perfectly rigid (so it won't wobble or shake).

2) The mass moves without friction or air resistance back and forth in a perfectly straight
line, as though it were sliding along a track aligned with the axis of the spring. This makes
it possible to express the position of the moving mass in terms of a single coordinate, x.

3) The spring itself has no mass.

4) External forces (gravity, for example) may be ignored.

The above assumptions are made with the technical equivalent of artistic license. Since
they greatly simply the system while preserving much of the essential nature of physical
oscillation, they are useful for purposes of explanation, and introductory physics texts
almost invariably use them. Real behavior may be more precisely simulated using more
complicated models, but the associated differential equations are more difficult to solve.
Since the objective of this section is to cover only the basic concepts of harmonic
oscillation, we will consider only the simplest scenario.

If the system is at rest and there are no unbalanced forces, then the system will remain at
rest indefinitely, and is said to be at equilibrium. This happens only when the spring is at
its favorite, or equilibrium length and the mobile mass happens to have zero velocity. The
mass is then at a certain position along the x-axis which we will label x0.

(fig 2)

If we displace the mass by pulling or pushing it to the right or left, the spring is distorted,
and like most stable physical objects it seeks to regain its original shape (provided we
didn't crush, break, fold, spindle, mutilate or otherwise permanently affect the spring). The
spring's resistance to distortion creates a restoring force in the direction opposite to the

For an ideal spring, the restoring force is given by the following linear relationship, called
Hooke's Law:

F = -k * (x - x0) Pgina 4 de 28
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Note: on the x-axis, positive values of x lie to the right of x0 and negative values of x lie to
the left.

This means that the force with which the spring resists being distorted is directly
proportional and opposite in sign to the displacement of the spring from its equilibrium
position. The constant of proportionality "k" is called the spring constant, and it tells us
how "stiff" our ideal spring is (the larger k is, the larger the restoring force for a given

The spring in our simple harmonic oscillator is an ideal spring with spring constant k. So if
at equilibrium our mobile mass is located at x0 on the x-axis, then the displacement from
equilibrium is (x - x0), and by Hooke's Law we know that the restoring force exerted by
the spring is the following function of x : F(x) = -k * (x - x0).

What happens to this restoring force? A stretched ideal spring pulls both ends inwards
with equal force, and a squashed ideal spring pushes both ends outwards with equal force.
The immovable object is unaffected by any and all forces, so there is no motion at that end
of the spring. The mobile mass, however, experiences an acceleration given by Newton's
equation Force = Mass*acceleration, or F = ma. Before we actually solve the differential
equation of motion for this harmonic oscillator, let's take a look at the potential and
kinetic energy associated with a given displacement of the mass from equilibrium.

Work = Force*dx, which (neglecting friction) for the spring = (k*x)dx = kx2/2. This is the
work required to draw the mass a distance x away from equilibrium. Do not be disturbed
by the fact that the work has a positive sign regardless of the sign of x. The spring resists
equally in both positive and negative displacements from equilibrium, and work is a scalar
quantity, so it is reasonable to expect positive work done in moving a distance -x when
the mass is displaced to the left of x0. This work is stored in the spring and becomes
potential energy, since it can be used again to perform work. The spring does an amount
of work equal to kx2/2 in moving the mass back from a displacement x to equilibrium. In
the absence of outside forces, this work goes into the kinetic energy of the mass. The
kinetic energy of an object with mass m is mv2/2. So if we draw the mass away from
equilibrium by x, thereby putting kx2/2 into the potential energy of the spring, and then
release the mass, the potential energy in the spring is transferred to the kinetic energy of
the object as the mass is pulled back towards equilibrium. The velocity of the mass when it
reaches equilibrium should then be x(k/m)1/2, in the direction opposite to the original
displacement x. The momentum of the mass then carries it beyond equilibrium, and the
spring does an amount of work = kx2/2 to bring it to rest again at -x. This cycle repeats Pgina 5 de 28
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itself over and over, as the energy is transferred from the spring to the mass and back
again, until friction dissipates the energy and the mass comes to rest.

We expect the mass to move back and forth, but how will it move back and forth? Or, as
physicists say, how does the system evolve in time? We can determine this precisely by
looking at the equations that gave us the energy diagram. Acceleration is simply the
second derivative with respect to time of position. So if we take the displacement of the
mass from equilibrium to be some unknown function of time x(t), and equate the force
exerted by the spring with Ma, we get the following differential equation for x(t):

velocity of M = x' = dx(t)/dt,

acceleration of M = x'' = d( dx(t)/dt )/dt

Mx'' = -k(x-x0)

If we introduce a new quantity X = (x - x0), then X(t) = (x(t)-x0), and we can rewrite the
above differential equation : as:

MX'' = -kX

or X'' + (k/M)X = 0

If we introduce another new quantity w = (k/M)1/2, we can again rewrite the equation :

X'' + w2X = 0 (the harmonic oscillator differential equation)

It is easy to verify that X(t) = Acos(wt) is a solution to the last equation (where A is an
arbitrary constant), and likewise X(t) = Asin(wt). Physically this means that the mass
moves back and forth (oscillates) sinusoidally with an amplitude which is arbitrary but
does not change in time. The period of this oscillatory motion, or the amount of time
required for the mass to complete one cycle is 2/w (throughout this tutorial we will use
radians rather than degrees- appendix), and the frequency of the oscillation, or the
number of cycles per second, is w/2. Note that the motion is isochronous, which is
simply to say that the frequency does not depend on the amplitude. This makes harmonic
oscillators useful as timekeepers, since they don't (in theory) slow down as they lose
energy. Of course, no perfect harmonic oscillators exist, but some crystals (like those in
many chronometers) vibrate very nearly perfectly.

Now we will make use of the definition of linearity to get more solutions to our Pgina 6 de 28
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differential equation. If an equation is linear, any linear combination of solutions is also a

solution. A linear combination of mathematical objects, such as vectors or functions, is a
sum, where each term is multiplied by a constant. For example, if v1, v2, and v3 are
functions of t, then all linear combinations may be written in the form A*v1 + B*v2 + C*v3,
and a specific linear combination might be v1 + 2*v1 + (.1)*v3 (where A=1, B=2, C=.1), or
just v2 (where A=0, B=1, C=0), or even 0, where all coefficients are zero.

It is easy to verify that our harmonic oscillator equation is linear:

Let's say that X1 and X2 are two arbitrary solutions. In other words:

X1'' + w2X1 = 0 and X2'' + w2X2 = 0, so obviously A*X1 and A*X2, where A and B are
arbitrary constants, are also solutions (derivatives, being linear operators, don't affect
coefficients). Is (AX1+BX2) also a solution?

(AX1 + BX2)'' = AX1'' + BX2'', and w2(AX1 + BX2) = w2AX1 + w2BX2, therefore

(AX1 + BX2)'' + w2(AX1 + BX2) = AX1'' + BX2'' + w2AX1 + w2BX2 =

[AX1'' + w2AX1] + [BX2'' + w2BX2] = 0 + 0 = 0

So (AX1 + BX2) is a solution. It follows that any linear combination of solutions to our
differential equation is a solution.

So how does this help us? We know two solutions, X1 = Acos(wt), and X2 = Bsin(wt). We
can therefore write a solution of the form : X = Acos(wt) + Bsin(wt). It turns out that this
new X is a general solution to our differential equation, which means all solutions can be
written in this form. This is because the sine and cosine functions are linearly
independent, which should sound familiar if the reader has studied linear algebra. Two
vectors, v1 and v2, are linearly independent if the only way to make the linear
combination Av1 + Bv2 = 0 is to make A = B = 0. Similarly, two functions of a single
variable x, f1(x) and f2(x), are linearly independent if the only way to make Af1 + Bf2 = 0
for all x is to make A and B zero. So, in fact, two functions are linearly dependent (ie not
linearly independent) only if one is a constant multiple of the other. This is also true for
vectors. Obviously, sine and cosine are linearly independent, since their zeros don't

To show that Acos(wt) + Bsin(wt) is a general solution requires some facts taken from the
study of ordinary differential equations. First, a differential equation (in one variable, say
x) of order n has at most n linearly independent solutions. Given n linearly independent
solutions to our nth order diff. eq., all solutions may then be written as some linear
combination of these n linearly independent solutions. The n linearly independent
solutions span the solution space of the equation, in much the same way as a set of basis
vectors span geometric space. (If these assertions strike the reader as particularly offensive
or interesting, a book on ODEs might be worthwhile) Sine and cosine are linearly
independent, and our harmonic oscillator differential equation is of order 2, therefore X =
Acos(wt) + Bsin(wt) is a general solution. Of course, there are infinitely many general
solutions. Why? Because cos(wt + p1) and cos(wt + p2) are both solutions, and are linearly
independent as long as p1 and p2 do not differ by an amount = n*(/2), where n = (0, 1, 2,
...). This means we have an infinite number of linearly independent pairs of solutions to
our differential equation, and each pair corresponds to a general solution of the form :

X = Acos(wt + p1) + Bcos(wt + p2). Pgina 7 de 28
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sin(wt) and cos(wt) are a special case where p1 = 0 and p2 = -/4.

Our general solution can be rewritten once more (using trig identities from the appendix)
as :

X = Dcos(wt + ),

where D = (A2 + B2)1/2 = amplitude, and = tan-1(B/A) = phase.

In general, when we solve a second order differential equation, we expect two arbitrary
constants. The first form of our general solution had A and B, which were perfectly
legitimate, but amplitude and phase are more geometrically intuitive to most people.

The initial conditions (abbreviated as IC), or the position and velocity of the mass at t=0,
determine the amplitude and phase of oscillation. If our system has a mobile mass with
mass = (1 kg) and a spring with spring constant = (1kg/sec2), then w = (1/sec), and the
period = 2sec. Our general solution is X = Dcos(t + ), where D and remain to be

If, for example, we hold the mobile mass stationary at a distance of 3 meters to the right of
the equilibrium position and then release it at t=0, we can specify both constants in the
following manner:

X'(t) = -Dsin (t + ), and X'(0) = 0, because the mass is stationary at t=0, therefore -Dsin()
= 0, and we conclude that either D=0 or =0 or both.

X(t) = Dcos(t + ), and X(0) = 3 meters, so D cannot be zero, and must therefore be zero.
So X(0) = Dcos(0) = D = 3 meters, and we have specified both constants. Amplitude = 3
meters, and phase = 0. The frequency is 1 Hz, so we may predict the behavior of the
system for all t>0. The mass will come to rest at t = 0, , 2, ... and x = 3m, -3m, 3m, ... and
will have velocity equal to -3m/sec, 3m/sec, -3m/sec at t = /2, 3/2, 5/2, ....

(picture here) Pgina 8 de 28
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If, on the other hand, we hold the mass at a distance of 1 meter to the left of the
equilibrium position and give it a leftward velocity of 2 meters per second at t=0, the mass
will oscillate with amplitude=... (is this second example really necessary?).

It is also sometimes useful to abstract the notion of force to mean the first derivative
(minus sign) with respect to distance of energy. In our system, distance is simply
displacement from equilibrium, and energy is simply the potential energy stored in the
spring when it is stretched or squashed. So if we define a potential function U(x) = -
(F(x))dx to represent the energy stored in the spring for a given displacement of the mass,
then F(x) = -d(U(x))/dx. And for our system we know F(x) = -k(x), so U(x) = k(x) dx =
k(x)2 + C. The arbitrary constant C coming from the integration is the energy of the
system at equilibrium, which is zero since we defined our potential as energy stored in the
spring. So U(x) = k(x)2.

We are now in a position to verify that our oscillator is a conservative system. The kinetic
energy of our system is given by T = (1/2)mv2, and is also a function of x. So the total
energy of the system as a function of position is T + U = (1/2)m(X')2 + (1/2)k(X)2 , and we
can substitute our solution in for X : X = Dcos(wt + ), X' = -Dwsin(wt + ), to get :

total energy = (1/2)mD2w2sin2(wt + ) + (1/2)kD2cos2(wt + )

= (1/2)mD2(k/m)sin2(wt + ) + (1/2)kD2cos2(wt + )

= (1/2)kD2(sin2(wt + ) + cos2(wt + ))

= (1/2)kD2

which is constant with respect to time.

Of course, a harmonic oscillator need not consist of a spring and mass of the sort
illustrated in our diagrams up to this point. The only things required for an oscillator are a
mass of some kind and a linear restoring force of some kind. For example, the spring could
apply a torque (rotational force) to a moment of inertia (rotational mass) rotating about a
fixed point. If the magnitude of the torque increases linearly with respect to the magnitude
of the angular displacement, the rotation will be harmonic, and we expect a plot of theta vs
time to be a sinusoid. This is precisely the case in an old fashioned speedometer, as
illustrated: (fig 6) Pgina 9 de 28
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(put in an arrow pointing to the needle)

For this situation we have a differential equation of the form :

q'' + (k/I)q = 0, and a general solution of the form:

q = Acos(wt) + Bsin(wt), or
q = Csin(wt+), where w = (k/I)1/2
Our look at the 1-D harmonic oscillator section ends with a brief look at resonance.
Resonance is a dramatic increase in the vibrational amplitude of a harmonic oscillator
which occurs when a periodic driving force with similar frequency is applied to the

Mathematically, we can express this new situation in terms of a new differential equation
(let's assume for the moment that the driving force is sinusoidal):

Driving force = G*cos(yt+z), G = amplitude, y = frequency, z = phase,

Total force on mobile mass = k*x + G*cos(yt+z), so

ma = -(k*x + G*cos(yt+z)), and our differential equation is:

x'' + (k/m)x = -(G/m)*cos(yt+z) = (G/m)*cos(yt+Z), where Z = z+.

This is an inhomogeneous differential equation. A theorem from the study of differential

equations lets us write the general solution to an inhomogeneous differential equation as a
linear combination of two independent pieces. One piece is the solution to the
corresponding homogeneous equation, and the other is any particular solution to the
inhomogeneous equation. The hardest part of solving an inhomogeneous equation is
generally finding a particular solution.

We have already solved the homogeneous case:

x'' + (k/m)x = 0, x(t) = C*cos(wt+)

So all that remains to be done is the hard part.

Try: x = D*cos(ht+p), Pgina 10 de 28
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x'' = -D*h*h*cos(ht+p), (k/m)x = (k*D/m)*cos(ht+p)

x'' + (k/m)x = ((k*D/m)-D*h*h)*cos(ht+p)

So, to make x'' + (k/m)x = (G/m)*cos(yt+Z), we have :

G = (k*D - h*h*m*D), h = y, p = Z.

D = G/(k - y*y*m), and we have a particular solution of the form:

x = (G/(k - y*y*m))*cos(yt+Z)

Note that k = w*w*m, so if y=w, which happens when the driving force and the oscillator
have equal frequencies, (k-y*y*m) = 0, and (G/(k-y*y*m)) becomes infinite.

Our general solution is of the form :

x(t) = C*cos(wt+) + (G/(k - y*y*m))*cos(yt+Z)

For y close to w, (G/(k-y*y*m)) is large, because the two cosine terms have periods which
are nearly equal, their sum "beats" as the two waves slide in and out of phase. The closer y
gets to w, the slower and louder the beats become.

For the moment we have no way of proving that this resonance effect should also be
observed for non-sinusoidal periodic driving forces, but the following physical argument
should make sense. The sum of kinetic and potential energy for an undriven simple
harmonic oscillator remains constant if there is no dissipation due to friction. When the
driving force pushes the oscillator in the direction it is already moving, the speed of the
mass increases and kinetic energy is added to the oscillator. Likewise, when the driving
force opposes the motion of the oscillator, the oscillator loses energy.

If the periodic driving force has a frequency unequal to that of the oscillator, the phase of
the driving force with respect to the oscillator will itself change in time, and have a
frequency equal to the difference between the driving and oscillating frequencies. The
actual numerical value associated with relative phase depends on the choice of origin, but
we know the beat frequency and therefore the period of the relative phase.

The phase regions in which energy is added and taken from the oscillator also depend on
the nature of the driving force, but the sum over a whole phase period must be zero. If, for
example, the energy of the oscillator increases while the phase is between 0 and , then the
energy must correspondingly decrease while the phase is between and 2. But if the
driving frequency is made to approach the oscillator frequency, the phase frequency
approaches zero, and the oscillator gains and loses increasing amounts of energy over
increasing lengths of time. If the driving frequency matches the oscillation frequency, three
things may happen. If the relative phase of the oscillator and driver (which is now fixed
since the phase frequency is zero) is such that the energy of the oscillator is increasing, the
oscillator will go on gaining energy until it explodes or its spring loses its linearity. If the
relative phase is such that the energy is decreasing, then the oscillator will slow down,
reverse direction, and gain energy steadily until the oscillator breaks down. Finally, if the
relative phase is sitting on a boundary between the phase regions where the driver adds
and subtracts energy, there is no energy change at all, and the oscillator goes chugging
along forever without traumatizing the spring. There are two such boundaries. One
corresponds to the oscillator and driver moving in perfect tandem, so the spring does no
work at all. At the other boundary, the center of the spring remains fixed while the mass Pgina 11 de 28
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and the driving force push and pull symmetrically on the ends.

(picture here)

When a driving frequency happens to match the frequency of an oscillator, the chances of
the relative phase being on one of the magic boundaries is essentially zero. So eventually
the oscillator begins to vibrate with an increasing amplitude. If the oscillator is nonlinear,
its energy will generally peak somewhere and bounce around unpredictably (this is
currently a "hot" topic in engineering). If the oscillator has some damping mechanism to
drain away energy it may just hum to itself, like the floor when a downstairs neighbor hits
a certain note on her bass. But in some cases, such as the infamous crystal wine glass, the
oscillator will reach a critical vibrational amplitude and self-destruct.

So why are harmonic oscillators important? Our spring/mass scenario seems pretty
contrived, but harmonic oscillator behavior is observed in a wide variety of physical
phenomena. This is simply because in every stable physical configuration (a solar system,
a molecule, or a piece of tofu) there is a restoring force of some kind tending to pull the
system back to equilibrium. If we can describe the system in terms of one coordinate
(radial displacement or squashedness), the motion of the system following a disturbance
which displaces the system from equilibrium is oscillatory. If the restoring force is a
complicated function of displacement, the oscillations will in general NOT be harmonic.
But for small displacements, we can often approximate the restoring force using Hooke's
Law (should I be explicit here and work through a simple example, like a pendulum
with a rigid arm?). So for most simple systems, small amplitude vibrations are harmonic.

Unfortunately, in general things are not usually so simple. Most interesting physical
systems behave not like single oscillators but like many coupled oscillators. In fact, the
physical systems which will be of greatest interest to us as musicians behave this way. So
to study the (ideal) vibrating string, membrane, and air column, we will need some more

Section III
Before we look at continuous systems, it may be instructive to take a quick look at the
nature of coupled oscillations.

Let's imagine a system consisting of two of the ideal spring-mass oscillators discussed in
section 1 connected by a third ideal spring. For simplicity, let's make the system one-
dimensional, and establish a good set of coordinates.

A good set of coordinates describes all possible states of the system with maximum
efficiency. A state of the system is simply a certain position or configuration with a certain
velocity or motion. For example, if we wanted to establish a general set of coordinates for a
system consisting of three particles moving in a plane, we could use three-dimensional
Cartesian coordinates to describe the position and velocity of each particle in space. We
would have x-position, y-position, z-position, x-velocity, y-velocity, and z-velocity as
functions of time for all three particles. It would, however, be more efficient simply to
consider the plane to which the particles are confined, and use two-dimensional
coordinates. If we also know that the motion of each particle is confined to the perimeter of
a circle with radius R in the plane, then we can use a polar coordinate system with its
center at the midpoint of the circle to describe the state of the system yet more efficiently. Pgina 12 de 28
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(illustration) With the coordinates of a particle given by (R,q), and R being fixed, the
position of each particle may be completely specified in terms of the single coordinate q.
The velocity of the particle may be expressed as R* q', where q'= v is the angular
velocity of the particle. The coordinates q1 q2 q3 are the most efficient way of
describing the state of our three particle system, and therefore comprise a good coordinate
system. The minimum number of coordinates needed to describe all the allowable states of
a system is also known as the number of degrees of freedom of the system. A good
coordinate system has exactly as many coordinates as the physical system it describes has
degrees of freedom. The three-particle system just described has three degrees of freedom,
and a completely free particle in 3 dimensions can only be described in terms of a
coordinate system with at least three coordinates, so it, too, has three degrees of freedom.

For our two-mass, three-spring system, we have two moving parts. Since both masses are
confined to move in one-dimension, the system has two degrees of freedom, and our good
coordinate system therefore has two coordinates. Let x1 be the position of m1 and x2 be
the position of m2 (illustration). The system has an equilibrium position that may be
found by balancing all forces. If we assume for simplicity that all three springs are at
equilibrium length when the system is at rest, it is convenient to measure x1 and x2 as
displacements from equilibrium. We may then calculate all forces acting on the masses in
terms of their displacements using Hooke's law. Finally, we can write a system of
differential equations by equating force with acceleration.

In the case of the harmonic oscillator there is only one differential equation, because that
physical system has only one degree of freedom. With two degrees of freedom we shall
find two differential equations, and with n degrees of freedom we would find n
differential equations. The two which we will find for our coupled oscillator system cannot
be solved independently, so they constitute a system of equations. The systems of
equations which represent oscillating systems of reasonable complexity are seldom
actually solvable. But harmonic oscillators are a special case, and systems of such
oscillators can almost always be solved using techniques from linear algebra. We expect,
given n degrees of freedom, to find 2*n linearly independent solutions (since the equations
are second order). These are arranged in pairs which may be combined to give n linearly
independent solutions, each with a phase factor. (recall how the single oscillator had two
independent solutions which were combined to form a single solution with a phase factor)
These independent solutions are called normal modes, and each one has a characteristic

Without further ado, let's actually set up and solve the system for our coupled oscillators.

(here we go)

F1 = force on mass 1 = -(x1)k1 + (x2 - x1)k12 Pgina 13 de 28
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F2 = force on mass 2 = -(x2)k2 + (x1 - x2)k12

(using F=ma:)

m1(x1'') = -x1(k1) + (x2 - x1)k12

m2(x2'') = -x2(k2) + (x1 - x2)k12

x1'' = -x1(k1/m1) + (x2 - x1)(k12/m1)

x2'' = -x2(k2/m2) + (x1 - x2)(k12/m2)

We can now rewrite the system in matrix form:

We are particularly interested in the eigenvectors of the above matrix. The eigenvectors
turn out to correspond to the normal modes of the system, and the associated eigenvalues
correspond to the frequencies of the normal modes. The eigenvalue equation for our
matrix may be written in the following form:

which is equivalent to:

And the two equations: ax + by = lx , cx + dy = ly may be rewritten as (l - a)x/b = y

and y = cx/(l - d). Setting the y terms equal gives the following quadratic in l : (l - a)
(l - d) = cb, or l2- (a+d) l + (ad-cb) = 0

The roots of this equation are:

.... (work this out)

The normal modes of the system are:

.... (plug lambdas into equation to get eigenvectors, normal modes)

(illustration) of normal modes.. Pgina 14 de 28
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So for this system we have two frequencies () corresponding to two normal modes (). So
we can write a general solution to the system in the following manner: ()

In general we expect the number of normal modes to get larger and larger as the number
of degrees of freedom of the system increases, and for the motion of the system to get more
and more complicated. For a system with n degrees of freedom we must solve an nth
degree polynomial in order to get the eigenvalues of the characteristic matrix. For n larger
than two this can be difficult, and for n larger than four it can be impossible without the
use of numerical techniques like Euler's method.

So, though we could build a crude model of a vibrating string using springs and masses,
and take a look at the limiting behavior of the system as the masses get smaller and
smaller and there are more and more of them in a given interval on the x axis, it would
probably be easier to start afresh.

Section IV
The last three sections of this article have been devoted to the treatment of oscillation in
systems with a finite number of degrees of freedom. Such systems are said to be "discrete".
In this section, we will extend our analysis of oscillation to "continuous" systems, in which
oscillations and waves are one and the same. And, at last, we can hope for some insight
into the nature of sound.

First we will derive the wave equation in one dimension using an idealized elastic string
model. Then we will look at solutions to the wave equation.

It is easy to become confused by the many ways in which the idealized string model seems
familiar, and the rather unfamiliar ways in which it is used. When confronted with the
notion of a string, most people think of a violin (or guitar) string, which is fixed at both
ends and which produces different notes (or harmonics) depending on how its length is
shortened (by fingers or kaepas) and its vibrations are driven (by plucking or bowing). The
wave equation will, in fact, give us a picture of such behavior when we clamp the ends,
and we will see where the harmonic series comes from. But equally important is the notion
of an infinite string, which has at most one end clamped (but still keeps tension somehow),
and has no harmonics, properly speaking. This seemingly absurd notion is actually quite
valuable in that it gives us a model for elastic media, and we shall see that "wave packets"
propagate along the infinite string in a manner analogous to the way bursts of noise travel
through air. Fortunately, both models use the same equation, which will now derive.

For the derivation we will use a simple one-dimensional model, consisting of a perfectly
elastic string suspended in space. It is possible to extend the derivation to higher
dimensions, and find an equation describing the behavior of a vibrating membrane, or
even a solid. But such a derivation is extremely involved, and is beyond the scope of this

We will, at this point, make a number of assumptions about the string and its behavior
which reduce the complexity of the problem considerably. Though these assumptions are
not generally valid in the real world, they preserve the essential features of harmonic
vibration and make theoretical life much more pleasant than it would be otherwise :

1) The string has perfect and uniform elasticity. "Perfect elasticity" means that a segment of Pgina 15 de 28
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the string will obey Hooke's law if stretched, and "uniform elasticity" means that the
"spring constant" of a given segment is the same for any other segment of equal length,
regardless of its location. Note that if a segment of length s has spring constant k, a
segment of length b*s will have spring constant k/b. If this seems non-obvious, try playing
with a rubber band. It is harder to stretch a short piece than a long piece. To see why this is
so, imagine two identical pieces of length s and spring constant k placed end to end,
forming a segment of length 2s. Displacing one end of the long segment by a given
distance x stretches both constituent pieces x/2, so the restoring force is the same as
for a single piece stretched by x/2. So a double-length segment has a spring constant
half that of its constituent pieces. The same argument can be extended to show a segment
of length b*s has a spring constant of k/b.

2) The string has uniform density p(x).

3) The equilibrium position for the string is a straight line, which for convenience we will
call the x axis, and all displacements from equilibrium are transverse (perpendicular to the
string's length). So if we were to make a mark at some point along the string's length and
set the string vibrating, the mark would be confined to move in the plane perpendicular to
the string's equilibrium position at that point. We can, of course, imagine stretching the
string longitudinally (that's how we test its stretchiness, after all), and we could even set it
vibrating longitudinally. In fact, we could derive the wave equation with this sort of
vibration, and ignore transverse motion entirely. The point is that we want to isolate one
dimension of the vibration, so as to be able to write a simple function describing the state
of the string.

To make things as simple as they can possibly be, we assume that all displacements are all
confined to a single 2-dimensional plane, and any motion of the string is likewise
constrained. So a mark on the string actually moves back and forth in a straight line
perpendicular to the string's equilibrium position at that point.

This purely transverse motion makes it possible to express the displacement of the string
as a function of one variable. We will represent our string by the formula y = f(x), where y
is the displacement of the string from equilibrium at x. (figure 1)

4) The string is unaffected by all external forces, such as gravity and viscous drag, and has
no internal forces save its own stretchiness (described by Hooke's law below). The string
therefore has no internal friction or internal source of mechanical energy. Note that rubber
bands do NOT behave this way. When you stretch them, they warm up and lose tension.

5) The slope of the string at any point along its length is never large.

It is of no concern to us at this point if the ends are fixed or if the string is infinitely long.
For now we will confine our attention to a small segment of the string, sitting between x
and (x + x) along the equilibrium axis of the string. It does not matter what x and x
are, since this segment is supposed to be completely general (Joe segment). If we can work
out what the string looks like at an arbitrary value of x and x, then we have described Pgina 16 de 28
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the behavior of the string everywhere, which is our goal.

The slope of the string segment is described by two angles, one for each endpoint. q1 is
the angle between the positive equilibrium axis of the string and a vector (with a leftward
horizontal component) tangent to the string at the left endpoint. q2 is the angle between
the positive equilibrium axis of the string and a vector (with a rightward horizontal
component) tangent to the string at the right endpoint.

(figure 2 - (fix this, need x and x + x))

So, looking at our arbitrary string segment, we know:

1) Since the displacement of the string is transverse, all velocities and accelerations must
therefore also be transverse. So the net horizontal force on the string segment must be zero.

2) There must be a constant horizontal tension all along the string, because the horizontal
forces at each end of an arbitrary string segment must be balanced. If, for example, the
horizontal tension were greater at point A than at point B, the horizontal forces on the
string segment connecting A and B would be unbalanced, and the segment would be
drawn towards point A. This contradicts the requirement that an arbitrary string segment
have balanced horizontal forces, so the string tension at A and B must be equal. Let's call
this uniform horizontal tension T'.

3) Given the slope of the string at each endpoint of our arbitrary segment, we can break the
string tension T into horizontal and vertical components at each end, as shown in (figure

At x, the left endpoint, we have a horizontal force given by Tcos(q1) and a vertical force
given by Tsin (q1). Likewise at (x+x), the right endpoint, we have a horizontal force Pgina 17 de 28
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component Tcos (q2) and a vertical component Tsin (q2). The horizontal forces are
assumed to be opposite (since presumably q1 is between /2 and 3/2, while q2 is
between -/2 and /2).

Setting the horizontal components of the two forces to sum to zero gives:

(1) - F1cos(q1) = F2cos(q2) = T'.

This equation reflects the requirement that there be not longitudinal motion.

The net vertical force on the string segment is the sum of the endpoints:

(2) Fupwards = F2sin(q2) + F1sin(q1).

[Keep in mind that sin(q1) < 0]

Using Newton's law of motion : F = ma, we get :

F = Mass*acceleration

= (density*length)*(second derivative of displacement w.r.t time)

= (r(s))*((y/t)/t),

where r = mass/unit length, s=the actual length of the string segment, (which for large
angles q1and q2could be considerably more than x) and ((y/t)/t) is the
transverse acceleration of the segment.

So, using our expression for Fupwards, we have :

(3) F2sin(q2) + F1sin(q1) = (r(s))*((y/t)/t)

Dividing both sides by T' and using (1) gives :

(4) tan(q2) + tan(q1) = (r(s))*((y/t)/t)/T'

Geometrically, -tan(q1) is equivalent to the slope of the string at x, and tan(q2) is the
slope at (x+x), so we can write:

(5) y(x+x,t)/x - y(x,t)/x = (r(s))*((y/t)/t)/T'

Note that we are using partials (/x) instead of derivatives (d/dx) because y is a function
of two variables : x and t. The slope of the string at (x,t) is y(x,t)/x, and the velocity at
(x,t) is y(x,t)/t.

If the slope of the string is small, we may use x to approximate s. So substituting x

for s, and dividing through by x, we get: Pgina 18 de 28
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(6) ( y(x+x,t)/x - y(x,t)/x )/x = (r/T')*((y/t)/t)

As x goes to zero, the left size approaches the derivative of y/x with respect to x
(which is really the second partial of y with respect to x) Taking the limit of the above
equation as x goes to zero gives us:

(7) ((y/x)/x) = (r/T')*((y/t)/t)

which is usually written (reversed) in physics books as:

(8) ytt = c2yxx

[where c2 = T'/ r, and y(x,t) is sometimes written as u(x,t)]


This, as advertised, is the homogeneous wave equation. It is second order and linear, so we
can actually solve it (convince yourself that the equation is linear by taking two arbitrary
solutions y1(x,t) and y2(x,t) and showing that a linear combination is also a solution). If,
after solving the homogeneous wave equation, we find ourselves at a loss for fun things to
do, we can add a driving force to the string and solve the resulting nonhomogeneous form
of the wave equation. But for now let's concentrate on solving the homogeneous form.

In the case of the infinitely long string, the homogeneous solution will give us some
insight into how waves propagate through elastic media, and in the case of the string fixed
at two points we will be able to derive the harmonic series.

Section IV.5

The general solution to the partial differential equation utt = c2uxx may be found by using
a change of variables. Our goal is to find u as a function of x and t. To do this we find the
characteristic coordinates of the pde in terms of x and t, and substitute them for x and t.
Our pde will then be in its simplest form, and hopefully solvable. The characteristic
coordinates of a pde are solutions to the associated characteristic equation, which is
generally of an order less than the pde itself.

Note: at this point I am assuming the reader understands the difference between partial
differentiation with respect to a variable and regular differentiation. Also, the chain rule is
assumed known : d(F(u,v))/dx = (F/u)(du/dx) + (F/v)(dv/dx). See the appendix for
further explanation.

Fortunately, in the case of second order two-variable pdes, there exists a simple formula
(found in all introductory pde textbooks) for the characteristic equation. First we rewrite
our partial differential equation utt = c2uxx in the general form for pdes of this type:

A* utt + B*utx + C*uxx =0, and the characteristic equation is :

(let's put in an (illustration) with the square root done properly, here) Pgina 19 de 28
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dx/dt = sqrt(B*B-4*A*C)/2*A, which is simply the quadratic formula.

The two roots (c in the case of our pde) correspond to two differential equations which
may be solved to get two characteristic coordinates.

1) dx = cdt

Integrate both sides to get x = ct + , or ( = x - ct)

2) dx = -cdt,

which becomes x = -ct + , or ( = x + ct)

The arbitrary constants introduced in the integration are the characteristic coordinates, =
x - ct and = x + ct.

Now we want to rewrite the wave equation in terms of and .

ux = u(/x) + u(/x) = u + u

uxx = u(/x) + u(/x) + u(/x) + u(/x)

= u + u + u + u = (u + 2u + u)

ut = u(/t) + u(/t) = -cu + cu

utt = -cu(/t) - cu(/t) + cu(/t) + cu(/x)

= c2u - c2u - c2u + c2u = c2(u - 2u + u)

plugging everything in :

utt - c2uxx = c2(u - 2u + u) - c2(u + 2u + u)

= -4c2u

utt - c2uxx = 0, by wave equation, so -4c2u = 0

We assume that waves actually propagate, so c 0, therefore u = 0

Integrate u with respect to to get u = y(), an arbitrary function of . Any function

with no dependence on will be zero if differentiated with respect to f. Since the variables
and are independent, any function of the variable only will be zero if differentiated
by . Therefore y() = 0, and u = 0 as required.

Integrate u with respect to to get u = y()d + F(), where F, the arbitrary

constant introduced in the integration, is an arbitrary function of . F() = 0, so u =
y() as required.
If we let Y() = y()d, then we get u(,) = Y() + F(). Pgina 20 de 28
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Substitute = x - ct and = x + ct x into u(,) to get:

(9) u(x,t) = Y(x-ct) + F(x+ct)

So the general solution to the wave equation consists of two arbitrary functions of x
moving (or propagating) at speed c in opposite directions along the x axis.

Note that the second derivatives with respect to x and t of both arbitrary functions must be
well defined, so Y and F must be continuously differentiable in x and t. A solution
picked at random might not be continuous, so we must be careful. A random solution also
might not satisfy the physical constraints which allowed us to derive the equation in the
first place. The only real danger here, provided that Y and F are continuously
differentiable, is that the solution might not have small slopes. For the moment, let's not
worry about the magnitude of the slopes associated with solutions. If we find that a certain
solution has dangerously large slopes, we can simply multiply it by a scaling factor to
bring all the slope magnitudes into line without changing the nature of the solution. In
fact, the illustrations in this section will exaggerate slopes so as to make the shape of the
string more clear.

We may now construct any and all solutions to the wave equation on an infinite string out
of arbitrary functions. At this point, a few examples may be as helpful.

(give an illustration here)

(Do some examples with packets and (illustration)s of waves)

But how to deduce the shape of the string given initial conditions?

If, at some t which for convenience we will call 0, we know f(x) to be the transverse
displacement of the string from equilibrium, and g(x) to be the transverse velocity of the
string, then we have:

u(x,t) = Y(x-ct) + F(x+ct) Pgina 21 de 28
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u(x,0) = Y(x) + F(x) = f(x) (1)

ut(x,t) = (-c)Y'(x-ct) + (c)F'(x+ct)

ut(x,0) = (-c)Y'(x) + (c)F'(x) = g(x) (2)

Now, integrate with respect to x along a segment of string from x1 to x2:


Combining this last expression with equations 1 and 2 gives us, for 1:

And for 2:

Combining these equations to get a single expression for u(x,t) : Pgina 22 de 28
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Which is our general formula for the position of the string at time t given its position and
velocity at t=0. Note that to obtain velocity of the string we need only to differentiate the
above expression with respect to t (do this). And if the functions f(x) and g(x) are given for
t10, simply replace t with t-t1 in the equations.

Boundary Conditions

What happens if we fix the position of one end of the string, say by attaching it to an
immovable object? (illustration) Imagine a string extending out to infinity on the left, and
fixed to an infinitely massive and rigid (and non-gravitating) mass on the right. At the
boundary between the string and the mass (which we may for convenience place at x=0)
the position and velocity of the string are fixed at zero, but the slope may vary. The only
way to fix the slope at the boundary is by introducing some stiffness into the string, which
would violate our elasticity assumption. If a wave packet Y(x-ct) is incident from the left
on the boundary at x=0, every force (transverse) which the packet exerts on the boundary
is exactly matched by the inertia of the infinite mass, which opposes motion. We could
simulate this effect by extending the string to infinity on the right, and having another
wave packet F(x+ct) which is Y(x-ct) flipped backwards and upside down and
incident from the right on x=0. (illustration) As the two wave packets pass through each
other, they exert exactly equal and opposite transverse forces on the point x=0, and the
point remains fixed just as though the infinite mass had been there. The wave packets then
continue onwards, Y(x-ct) moving off towards x=+ and F(x+ct) towards x=-. So it is
as though the incident packet is reflected and inverted by the point x=0.

Another type of boundary permits an end of the string to slide transversely without
friction on a track (picture). When an incident wave packet hits this type of boundary, it
finds no resistance since the force which normally must be exerted to get the string to
move from its equilibrium position is gone (there being no more string). The slope of the
string at this type of boundary is always zero, (though near the boundary the string may
have nonzero slope), but the transverse position of the end may vary. (the only way to get
a nonzero slope at the boundary is to have some friction) We may simulate this type of
boundary by extending the string to infinity on the right as we did before, and introducing
another wave packet which is simply the mirror image of the original. (picture) The two
packets meet at x=0, and preserve zero slope at x=0 as they pass through each other. This is
because as mirror images they exert transverse force in the same direction. After crossing
x=0, the two packets continue to propagate in their respective directions, so it is as though
the incident packet has been reflected. (illustration) Pgina 23 de 28
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Now for the case of the string fixed at both ends, we can look at the problem in two ways.
First, we can think of any displacement along the length of the string as a moving wave,
which will be reflected back and forth between the fixed boundaries. This makes sense if,
as in the previous examples, the displacement is a clearly localized "wave packet" over the
time interval of interest. If, however, the displacement involves a large portion of the
whole string at once (a plucked cello string, for example), then this approach becomes
confusing. If the string just vibrates back and forth, no moving wave packets are clearly
visible. But as it turns out, if two periodic waves with the same period are moving in
opposite directions towards each other, a standing wave is created wherever they cross.

For example, let's take two sine waves with period=2. Let Y(x-ct) be sin(x-ct) and let
F(x+ct) be sin(x+ct). So u(x,t) = Y(x-ct) + F(x+ct) = sin(x-ct) + sin(x+ct). We could at
this point plot u(x,t) on a computer and get some pictures (possible illustration). But let's
do things mathematically first.

Recall the addition formulas for sine and cosine:

sin(a+b) = sin(a)cos(b) + cos(a)sin(b)

cos(a+b) = cos(a)cos(b) - sin(a)sin(b)

Also sin(-a) = -sin(a) and cos(-a) = cos(a), so

sin(x-ct) = sin(x)cos(ct) - cos(x)sin(ct), sin(x+ct) = sin(x)cos(ct) + cos(x)sin(ct), therefore

u(x,t) = 2sin(x)cos(ct)

This is not quite a solution to utt = c2uxx , but we can make it one by adding a phase factor
of -/2 to cos(ct) to get cos(ct-/2), or sin(ct). This means setting the clock back /2c
seconds, which shouldn't cause any problems. u(x,t) = 2sin(x)sin(ct) is a solution to the
wave equation, but it doesn't propagate to the right or left. The time dependence is
expressed in the sin(ct) factor, which simply causes the amplitude of the sine wave to
oscillate from -2 to 2 and back again every 2/c seconds. The period of the x dependent
term is 2, so the sine wave crosses zero at 0,,2,3,... regardless of t. These points where
u(x,t) is always zero are known as nodes. If we hold a standing wave fixed at two of its
nodes, the vibration should not be affected, and we have a solution to the case of a
vibrating string fixed at both ends.

Or instead we can go back to the wave equation and use linearity to construct a general
solution for the fixed string. This is analogous to the procedure we used to find a general
solution for the simple harmonic oscillator.

Let's take the case of a string of length L fixed at both ends. Let the leftmost end be located
at x=0 and the rightmost end at x=L. It is easy to show that u(x,t) = Asin(w1t)sin(2x/L) is
a solution to utt = c2uxx , where A is an arbitrary constant and w1 = c(2/L) is the
frequency (in radians per second in time) of the sin(w1t) term. Looking at the sin((2x/L)
term, we see that period in x is 2, sin(0)=0 and sin(2)=0. So u(0,t)= 0 and u(L,t)=0 for all t,
and the ends remain fixed as required.


Notice that we can get a similar solution simply by halving the period of the sin(2x/L)
term, or doubling its frequency (in radians per unit length) to get sin(4x/L). This also Pgina 24 de 28
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keeps the ends fixed, since sin(4)=0. But we have to double the frequency of the sin(w1t)
term to satisfy

utt = c2uxx.

So u(x,t) = Asin(2*w1t)sin((2*2/L)x) works as a solution, where 2*w1=c(4/L), or 2*


In fact, any function of the form:

u(x,t) = Asin((n*c2/L)t)sin((n*2/L)x) will work, where n =1,2,3,... This gives us an infinite

number of solutions, each with a different frequency.


For a given n, the nodes are spaced L/n apart on the x axis, and the frequency of the
vibration is 2L/cn cycles per second, or Hz. So notice that the solutions associated with
negative values of n (-1,-2,-3,...) correspond to the positive n value solutions after t = L/cn
(half a period in time) has passed.

We may easily demonstrate that these solutions are linearly independent. And since the
wave equation is linear, any linear combination of solutions of the form
Asin((c2n/L)t)sin((2n/L)x) will also be a solution.

In fact, these linearly independent solutions are the nomal modes of the vibrating string.
The frequency (in time) of the normal mode associated with n=1 is called the fundamental
frequency, and the frequency of the nth normal mode where n>1 is known as the nth
harmonic. (harmonic series)

(Show that these may be constructed using two moving waves, added to make a standing
wave - use pictures from the plot program)

Now talk about media, energy conservation as we increase dimensionality and how that
accounts for the drop in volume as distance from sound source increases.

Derive the wave equation in 2 and 3 dimensions, making no attempt to describe the
solutions, but hinting that they also obey the general criteria for linearity and are therefore
fourierizable in some way.


This appendix contains a section devoted to elementary trigonometry identities, and a

section on differential equations which includes some basic calculus review.

Trigonometry Review:

First, the definition of sine and cosine :

(picture of unit circle) Pgina 25 de 28
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(graphs of sin, cos, tan)

(identities, s + c = 1, plus angle addition formulas, half angle ...)

Differential Equations:

Functions and variables:

In calculus textbooks, functions of a single variable are commonly written as letters

followed by a variable name in parentheses : f(x), g(y), or u(z), for example. The variable
names themselves are, of course, not important. They are significant only insofar as they
are associated with the definition of the function. If, for example, we know that f(x) = -
sin(x), then we know then f(6321.02) = -sin(6321.02), and f(y) = -sin(y). So if we made a plot
of f(x) against the x-axis, it would look exactly the same as a plot of f(w) against the w-axis.

Functions of several variables are written similarly, but with a list of variables separated by
commas inside the parentheses : v(x,y,z), u(t,s), f(l,m,n,o,p). It is important that the
variables be distinguishable from one another, and that they be in a well defined order. But
otherwise, the names are arbitrary. For example, if u(x,y,z) = sin(x)*cos(y) + z, we know
that u(a,b,c) = sin(a)*cos(b) + c, and u(z,x,b) = sin(z)*cos(x) + b. Obviously, u(a,b,x) is not,
in general, the same as u(x,b,a) (but setting u(a,b,x) equal to u(x,b,a) and solving for a,b,
and x might well produce an interesting locus of points).

Domain and Range:

The domain of a function is the set of all values which may be "plugged in" to the function
to produce a legal value.

For example :

1) the domain of sin(x) is the set of real numbers

2) the domain of tan(x) is the set of real numbers minus the set of zeros of cos(x) :
(numbers of the form /2 + n*, where n is an integer). The function tan(x) is undefined for
values of x which corresponds to zeros of cos(x), so these points are not included in the
domain of tan(x).

3) the domain of sqrt(x) is the set of real numbers => 0

The range of a function is the set of all values which may be produced by plugging values
into the function. Pgina 26 de 28
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For example :

1) the range of sin(x) is the closed interval [-1,1]

2) the range of tan(x) is the real numbers

3) the range of sqrt(x) is the positive real numbers

A function is sometimes referred to as a "mapping". A function maps its domain to its




A function g is continuous if:

given any two points p1 and p2 in the domain of g, the value of g at p1 differs from the
value of g at p2 by no more than epsilon*d, where epsilon is some fixed number over the
whole range of g, and d is the distance between the points p1 and p2.

Single variable differentiation:

Differentiation is an operation defined for a function of a single variable. For example, the
derivative of f(x) is d(f(x))/dx, or f'(x), and the third derivative of f(x) is
d(d(d(f(x))/dx)/dx)/dx, or d3f(x)/(dx)3, or f'''(x). Higher derivatives than third are often
written with a parenthesized number in the exponent : f(4)(x) = f''''(x). But since f is a
function of one variable, it doesn't really matter what name we give it. In fact, the (x) is
sometimes omitted entirely. In this case, f' and f'' and f(8) are understood to mean
differentiation with respect to the single variable which is used in defining f.

The chain rule for simple differentiation:

Partial differentiation:

When differentiating a function of several variables, it is necessary to specify which

variable is relevant to the differentiation. For example, if g is a function of a, b, and c, the
expression g' is ambiguous. g' could refer to differentiation with respect to a, b, c or some
linear combination of a, b and c.

Consider a continuous function u of two variables, and imagine a surface in 3-space (with
coordinate axes x, y, and z) by assigning the value u(x,y) to the z coordinate above each
point (x,y) in the xy plane. The continuity of u guarantees that the surface will be
unbroken, and will not shoot off to infinity anywhere.


We can imagine taking derivatives in any number of ways, for example:

1) Define a straight line in the xy plane somewhere, and call it the k axis. If the line is
described by y = mx + b, we can parameterize the line in terms of variable k this way:

x(k) = k Pgina 27 de 28
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y(k) = b + mk

z(k) = 0

So each real number k corresponds to a point on the k axis with x, y, and z coordinates
given by the above parametric equations.

This k axis in the xy plane corresponds to a curve on the surface u, which is the projection
of the k axis up or down along the z axis onto the surface u(x,y).


If k is a number describing a point somewhere along the k axis, we may then take the
values of x and y generated by the parametric equations and plug them into u :
u(x(k),y(k)). And since the curve on the surface of u is now expressed entirely in terms of
k, we may write the curve as u(k).

The chain rule for partial differentiation: Pgina 28 de 28