FS 9: The Science of Music -- Fall 2018


Course Description (Click it.)

6 units (2-0-4) P/F

Fall 2018
Instructor: David Politzer
office: 416 Downs
e-mail: politzer at theory.caltech
Caltech phone: 395-4252

Classes meet Mondays and Fridays at 1:00pm in 257 Lauritsen, beginning on Monday, October 1.


These are the computer generated sound files that I played in class of 300 Hz accompanied by all integer or only odd integer harmonics: all integer harmonics and odd integer harmonics. For comparison, here are the two solo sample clips from Peter and the Wolf played on real instruments: test 1 and test 2. (Testament to my computer incompetence, some browsers and settings will not open these files automatically; in any case, you should be able to download them. )


by 1:00pm, Friday, 10/26: your choice of a second book to read. Here is a description of the books on reserve in the Sherman Fairchild Library for FS 9. You might find something of interest there. Some might be useful in relation to your term project. In any case, you'll find more details about the assignment on that llinked page.

Send me an e-mail with the title of your choice and 50 to 100 words on why you chose it. A short book report will be due by Friday, 11/9 (-- details to follow).

The current SFL Reserve set-up limits how long you can have any book at a stretch. If only one student wants a particular book, I'll have them release it to you. If more than one student wants a particular book, we'll work something out...)

Reading schedule:

As you read, please make note (make actual, written notes somewhere) of anything that you do not understand, do not believe, or simply find amazing -- and bring it to class. You will be called on, and we will discuss it.

From "This Is Your Brain on Music" DUE Monday, 10/8: Intro and chapter 1; DUE Monday, 10/15: chapters 2, 3, and 4; DUE Monday, 10/22 chapters 5, 6, and 7; DUE Monday, 10/29 chapters 8 and 9 AND read the eight other students' essays on "Impact of Recorded Music" (see e-mail for link) and re-read your own.

Here is a list and description of some sound analysis freeware. Spectroid (linked here) is my latest addition to the list, a free app that gives a nice real-time spectrum of the sound coming in to your device.

There are zillions of "educational" sound-related pages on the Web, with demos, simulations, explanations, and derivations. Many of the ones I list explicitly are part of someone's much larger effort to present some science. So, if you use your browser to go back up their tree, you will likely come to a directory or a page with lots of related links.

Here are a few, in random order:

Visualizing molecule motion of sound in air -- a cartooney animation

whyyouhearwhatyouhear.com is a maintained and updated Web site that goes with the book of the same name (#18 on our SF Library reserve list). It's got great demos, resource links, and explanations.

At the University of New South Wales (Australia), they have a serious physics of music program with lots of stuff on-line. (Here is another portal to their site.)

An energetic science teacher worked up a course and put it into book form: The Physics of Music and Musical Instruments. Very readable and accessible and at an elementary level and only about 100 pages total, it might serve as a good reference for things mentioned in class.

A particle physics experimentalist has taught a sophisticated physics of music course at the University of Indiana. Its Web site from a couple of years ago (still posted [are there up-dates?]) has a lot of interesting stuff. Scroll down and click on "Teaching" and/or P105 - Basic Physics of Sound. (We should talk sometime about cochlear implants.)

A group at the University of Colorado produces wonderful interactive physics simulations. This is the one on waves on a string.

Hyperphysics, produced at Georgia State University, has a "Sound and Hearing" section with useful materials.

I can't figure out who Paul Falstad is, but he puts great physics applets on-line.

These days, Wolfram Enterprises is the home of much more than Mathematica. Three demonstrations on demonstrations.wolfram.com recently caught my eye: locating the hammer on a piano wire; string vibrations; and vibrations of simple systems. These demos are best with a free downloadable player. (Also note that Caltech has a Mathematica site license -- as well as lots of other stuff you can get for free from IMSS.)