Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 24

Sound Waves and Music - Lesson 1

The Nature of a Sound Wave


Sound is a Mechanical Wave | Sound is a Longitudinal Wave | Sound is a Pressure Wave

Sound is a Mechanical Wave


Sound and music are parts of our everyday sensory experience. Just as humans have eyes for the detection of light and color, so we are equipped with ears for the detection of sound. We seldom take the time to ponder the characteristics and behaviors of sound and the mechanisms by which sounds are produced, propagated, and detected. The basis for an understanding of sound, music and hearing is the physics of waves. Sound is a wave that is created by vibrating objects and propagated through a medium from one location to another. In this unit, we will investigate the nature, properties and behaviors of sound waves and apply basic wave principles towards an understanding of music. As discussed in the previous unit of The Physics Classroom Tutorial, a wave can be described as a disturbance that travels through a medium, transporting energy from one location to another location. The medium is simply the material through which the disturbance is moving; it can be thought of as a series of interacting particles. The example of a slinky wave is often used to illustrate the nature of a wave. A disturbance is typically created within the slinky by the back and forth movement of the first coil of the slinky. The first coil becomes disturbed and begins to push or pull on the second coil. This push or pull on the second coil will displace the second coil from its equilibrium position. As the second coil becomes displaced, it begins to push or pull on the third coil; the push or pull on the third coil displaces it from its equilibrium position. As the third coil becomes displaced, it begins to push or pull on the fourth coil. This process continues in consecutive fashion, with each individual particle acting to displace the adjacent particle. Subsequently the disturbance travels through the slinky. As the disturbance moves from coil to coil, the energy that was originally introduced into the first coil is transported along the medium from one location to another. A sound wave is similar in nature to a slinky wave for a variety of reasons. First, there is a medium that carries the disturbance from one location to another. Typically, this medium is air, though it could be any material such as water or steel. The medium is simply a series of interconnected and interacting particles. Second, there is an original source of the wave, some vibrating object capable of disturbing the first particle of the medium. The disturbance could be created by the vibrating vocal cords of a person, the vibrating string and soundboard of a guitar or violin, the vibrating tines of a tuning fork, or the vibrating diaphragm of a radio speaker. Third, the sound wave is transported from one location to another by means of particle-toparticle interaction. If the sound wave is moving through air, then as one air particle is displaced from its equilibrium position, it exerts a push or pull on its nearest neighbors, causing them to be displaced from their equilibrium position. This particle interaction continues throughout the entire medium, with each particle interacting and causing a disturbance of its nearest neighbors. Since a sound wave is a disturbance that is transported through a medium via the mechanism of particle-to-particle interaction, a sound wave is characterized as a mechanical wave. The creation and propagation of sound waves are often demonstrated in class through the use of a tuning fork. A tuning fork is a metal object consisting of two tines capable of vibrating if struck by a rubber hammer or mallet. As the tines of the tuning forks vibrate back and forth, they begin to disturb surrounding air molecules. These disturbances are passed on to adjacent air molecules by the mechanism of particle interaction. The motion of the disturbance, originating at the tines of the tuning fork and traveling through the medium (in this case, air) is what is referred to as a sound wave. The generation and propagation of a sound wave is demonstrated in the animation below.

Many Physics demonstration tuning forks are mounted on a sound box. In such instances, the vibrating tuning fork, being connected to the sound box, sets the sound box into vibrational motion. In turn, the sound box, being connected to the air inside of it, sets the air inside of the sound box into vibrational motion. As the tines of the tuning fork, the structure of the sound box, and the air inside of the sound box begin vibrating at the same frequency, a louder sound is produced. In fact, the more particles that can be made to vibrate, the louder or more amplified the sound. This concept is often demonstrated by the placement of a vibrating tuning fork against the glass panel of an overhead projector or on the wooden door of a cabinet. The vibrating tuning fork sets the glass panel or wood door into vibrational motion and results in an amplified sound. We know that a tuning fork is vibrating because we hear the sound that is produced by its vibration. Nonetheless, we do not actually visibly detect any vibrations of the tines. This is because the tines are vibrating at a very high frequency. If the tuning fork that is being used corresponds to middle C on the piano keyboard, then the tines are vibrating at a frequency of 256 Hertz; that is, 256 vibrations per second. We are unable to visibly detect vibrations of such high frequency. A common physics demonstration involves slowing down the vibrations by through the use of a strobe light. If the strobe light puts out a flash of light at a frequency of 512 Hz (two times the frequency of the tuning fork), then the tuning fork can be observed to be moving in a back and forth motion. With the room darkened, the strobe would allow us to view the position of the tines two times during their vibrational cycle. Thus we would see the tines when they are displaced far to the left and again when they are displaced far to the right. This would be convincing proof that the tines of the tuning fork are indeed vibrating to produce sound. In a previous unit of The Physics Classroom Tutorial, a distinction was made between two categories of waves: mechanical waves and electromagnetic waves. Electromagnetic waves are waves that have an electric and magnetic nature and are capable of traveling through a vacuum. Electromagnetic waves do not require a medium in order to transport their energy. Mechanical waves are waves that require a medium in order to transport their energy from one location to another. Because mechanical waves rely on particle interaction in order to transport their energy, they cannot travel through regions of space that are void of particles. That is, mechanical waves cannot travel through a vacuum. This feature of mechanical waves is often demonstrated in a Physics class. A ringing bell is placed in a jar and air inside the jar is evacuated. Once air is removed from the jar, the sound of the ringing bell can no longer be heard. The clapper is seen striking the bell; but the sound that it produces cannot be heard because there are no particles inside of the jar to transport the disturbance through the vacuum. Sound is a mechanical wave and cannot travel through a vacuum.

Check Your Understanding


1. A sound wave is different than a light wave in that a sound wave is a. produced by an oscillating object and a light wave is not. b. not capable of traveling through a vacuum. c. not capable of diffracting and a light wave is. d. capable of existing with a variety of frequencies and a light wave has a single frequency.

Answer: B, because sound is a mechanical wave and cannot travel through a vacuum. Light is an
electromagnetic wave and can travel through the vacuum of outer space.

Sound as a Longitudinal Wave


In the first part of Lesson 1, it was mentioned that sound is a mechanical wave that is created by a vibrating object. The vibrations of the object set particles in the surrounding medium in vibrational motion, thus transporting energy through the medium. For a sound wave traveling through air, the vibrations of the particles are best described as longitudinal. Longitudinal waves are waves in which the motion of the individual particles of the medium is in a direction that is parallel to the direction of energy transport. A longitudinal wave can be created in a slinky if the slinky is stretched out in a horizontal direction and the first coils of the slinky are vibrated horizontally. In such a case, each individual coil of the medium is set into vibrational motion in directions parallel to the direction that the energy is transported.

Sound waves in air (and any fluid medium) are longitudinal waves because particles of the medium through which the sound is transported vibrate parallel to the direction that the sound wave moves. A vibrating string can create longitudinal waves as depicted in the animation below. As the vibrating string moves in the forward direction, it begins to push upon surrounding air molecules, moving them to the right towards their nearest neighbor. This causes the air molecules to the right of the string to be compressed into a small region of space. As the vibrating string moves in the reverse direction (leftward), it lowers the pressure of the air immediately to its right, thus causing air molecules to move back leftward. The lower pressure to the right of the string causes air molecules in that region immediately to the right of the string to expand into a large region of space. The back and forth vibration of the string causes individual air molecules (or a layer of air molecules) in the region immediately to the right of the string to continually vibrate back and forth horizontally. The molecules move rightward as the string moves rightward and then leftward as the string moves leftward. These back and forth vibrations are imparted to adjacent neighbors by particle-to-particle interaction. Other surrounding particles begin to move rightward and leftward, thus sending a wave to the right. Since air molecules (the particles of the medium) are moving in a direction that is parallel to the direction that the wave moves, the sound wave is referred to as a longitudinal wave. The result of such longitudinal vibrations is the creation of compressions and rarefactions within the air.

Regardless of the source of the sound wave - whether it is a vibrating string or the vibrating tines of a tuning fork - sound waves traveling through air are longitudinal waves. And the essential characteristic of a longitudinal wave that distinguishes it from other types of waves is that the particles of the medium move in a direction parallel to the direction of energy transport.

Sound is a Pressure Wave


Sound is a mechanical wave that results from the back and forth vibration of the particles of the medium through which the sound wave is moving. If a sound wave is moving from left to right through air, then particles of air will be displaced both rightward and leftward as the energy of the sound wave passes through it. The motion of the particles is parallel (and anti-parallel) to the direction of the energy transport. This is what characterizes sound waves in air as longitudinal waves. A vibrating tuning fork is capable of creating such a longitudinal wave. As the tines of the fork vibrate back and forth, they push on neighboring air particles. The forward motion of a tine pushes air molecules horizontally to the right and the backward retraction of the tine creates a low-pressure area allowing the air particles to move back to the left.

Because of the longitudinal motion of the air particles, there are regions in the air where the air particles are compressed together and other regions where the air particles are spread apart. These regions are known as compressions and rarefactions respectively. The compressions are regions of high air pressure while the rarefactions are regions of low air pressure. The diagram below depicts a sound wave created by a tuning fork and propagated through the air in an open tube. The compressions and rarefactions are labeled.

The wavelength of a wave is merely the distance that a disturbance travels along the medium in one complete wave cycle. Since a wave repeats its pattern once every wave cycle, the wavelength is sometimes referred to as the length of the repeating patterns - the length of one complete wave. For a transverse wave, this length is commonly measured from one wave crest to the next adjacent wave crest or from one wave trough to the next adjacent wave trough. Since a longitudinal wave does not contain crests and troughs, its wavelength must be measured differently. A longitudinal wave consists of a repeating pattern of compressions and rarefactions. Thus, the wavelength is commonly measured as the distance from one compression to the next adjacent compression or the distance from one rarefaction to the next adjacent rarefaction. Since a sound wave consists of a repeating pattern of high-pressure and low-pressure regions moving through a medium, it is sometimes referred to as a pressure wave. If a detector, whether it is the human ear or a man-made instrument, were used to detect a sound wave, it would detect fluctuations in pressure as the sound wave impinges upon the detecting device. At one instant in time, the detector would detect a high pressure; this would correspond to the arrival of a compression at the detector site. At the next instant in time, the detector might detect normal pressure. And then finally a low pressure would be detected, corresponding to the arrival of a rarefaction at the detector site. The fluctuations in pressure as detected by the detector occur at periodic and regular time intervals. In fact, a plot of pressure versus time would appear as a sine curve. The peak points of the sine curve correspond to compressions; the low points correspond to rarefactions; and the "zero points" correspond to the pressure that the air would have if there were no disturbance moving through it. The diagram below depicts the correspondence between the longitudinal nature of a sound wave in air and the pressure-time fluctuations that it creates at a fixed detector location.

The above diagram can be somewhat misleading if you are not careful. The representation of sound by a sine wave is merely an attempt to illustrate the sinusoidal nature of the pressure-time fluctuations. Do not conclude that sound is a transverse wave that has crests and troughs. Sound waves traveling through air are indeed longitudinal waves with compressions and rarefactions. As sound passes through air (or any fluid medium), the particles of air do not vibrate in a transverse manner. Do not be misled - sound waves traveling through air are longitudinal waves.

Check Your Understanding


1. A sound wave is a pressure wave; regions of high (compressions) and low pressure (rarefactions) are established as the result of the vibrations of the sound source. These compressions and rarefactions result because sound a. is more dense than air and thus has more inertia, causing the bunching up of sound. b. waves have a speed that is dependent only upon the properties of the medium. c. is like all waves; it is able to bend into the regions of space behind obstacles. d. is able to reflect off fixed ends and interfere with incident waves e. vibrates longitudinally; the longitudinal movement of air produces pressure fluctuations.

Sound Waves and Music - Lesson 2

Sound Properties and Their Perception


Pitch and Frequency | Intensity and the Decibel Scale | The Speed of Sound | The Human Ear

Pitch and Frequency


A sound wave, like any other wave, is introduced into a medium by a vibrating object. The vibrating object is the source of the disturbance that moves through the medium. The vibrating object that creates the disturbance could be the vocal cords of a person, the vibrating string and sound board of a guitar or violin, the vibrating tines of a tuning fork, or the vibrating diaphragm of a radio speaker. Regardless of what vibrating object is creating the sound wave, the particles of the medium through which the sound moves is vibrating in a back and forth motion at a given frequency. The frequency of a wave refers to how often the particles of the medium vibrate when a wave passes through the medium. The frequency of a wave is measured as the number of complete back-and-forth vibrations of a particle of the medium per unit of time. If a particle of air undergoes 1000 longitudinal vibrations in 2 seconds, then the frequency of the wave would be 500 vibrations per second. A commonly used unit for frequency is the Hertz (abbreviated Hz), where 1 Hertz = 1 vibration/second As a sound wave moves through a medium, each particle of the medium vibrates at the same frequency. This is sensible since each particle vibrates due to the motion of its nearest neighbor. The first particle of the medium begins vibrating, at say 500 Hz, and begins to set the second particle into vibrational motion at the same frequency of 500 Hz. The second particle begins vibrating at 500 Hz and thus sets the third particle of the medium into vibrational motion at 500 Hz. The process continues throughout the medium; each particle vibrates at the same frequency. And of course the frequency at which each particle vibrates is the same as the frequency of the original source of the sound wave. Subsequently, a guitar string vibrating at 500 Hz will set the air particles in the room vibrating at the same frequency of 500 Hz, which carries a sound signal to the ear of a listener, which is detected as a 500 Hz sound wave. The back-and-forth vibrational motion of the particles of the medium would not be the only observable phenomenon occurring at a given frequency. Since a sound wave is a pressure wave, a detector could be used to detect oscillations in pressure from a high pressure to a low pressure and back to a high pressure. As the compressions (high pressure) and rarefactions (low pressure) move through the medium, they would reach the detector at a given frequency. For example, a compression would reach the detector 500 times per second if the frequency of the wave were 500 Hz. Similarly, a rarefaction would reach the detector 500 times per second if the frequency of the wave were 500 Hz. The frequency of a sound wave not only refers to the number of back-and-forth vibrations of the particles per unit of time, but also refers to the number of compressions or rarefactions that pass a given point per unit of time. A detector could be used to detect the frequency of these pressure oscillations over a given period of time. The typical output provided by such a detector is a pressure-time plot as shown below.

Since a pressure-time plot shows the fluctuations in pressure over time, the period of the sound wave can be found by measuring the time between successive high pressure points (corresponding to the compressions) or the time between successive low pressure points (corresponding to the rarefactions). As discussed in an earlier unit, the frequency is simply the reciprocal of the period. For this reason, a sound wave with a high frequency would correspond to a pressure time plot with a small period - that is, a plot corresponding to a

small amount of time between successive high pressure points. Conversely, a sound wave with a low frequency would correspond to a pressure time plot with a large period - that is, a plot corresponding to a large amount of time between successive high pressure points. The diagram below shows two pressure-time plots, one corresponding to a high frequency and the other to a low frequency.

The ears of a human (and other animals) are sensitive detectors capable of detecting the fluctuations in air pressure that impinge upon the eardrum. The mechanics of the ear's detection ability will be discussed later in this lesson. For now, it is sufficient to say that the human ear is capable of detecting sound waves with a wide range of frequencies, ranging between approximately 20 Hz to 20 000 Hz. Any sound with a frequency below the audible range of hearing (i.e., less than 20 Hz) is known as an infrasound and any sound with a frequency above the audible range of hearing (i.e., more than 20 000 Hz) is known as an ultrasound. Humans are not alone in their ability to detect a wide range of frequencies. Dogs can detect frequencies as low as approximately 50 Hz and as high as 45 000 Hz. Cats can detect frequencies as low as approximately 45 Hz and as high as 85 000 Hz. Bats, being nocturnal creature, must rely on sound echolocation for navigation and hunting. Bats can detect frequencies as high as 120 000 Hz. Dolphins can detect frequencies as high as 200 000 Hz. While dogs, cats, bats, and dolphins have an unusual ability to detect ultrasound, an elephant possesses the unusual ability to detect infrasound, having an audible range from approximately 5 Hz to approximately 10 000 Hz. The sensation of a frequency is commonly referred to as the pitch of a sound. A high pitch sound corresponds to a high frequency sound wave and a low pitch sound corresponds to a low frequency sound wave. Amazingly, many people, especially those who have been musically trained, are capable of detecting a difference in frequency between two separate sounds that is as little as 2 Hz. When two sounds with a frequency difference of greater than 7 Hz are played simultaneously, most people are capable of detecting the presence of a complex wave pattern resulting from the interference and superposition of the two sound waves. Certain sound waves when played (and heard) simultaneously will produce a particularly pleasant sensation when heard, are said to be consonant. Such sound waves form the basis of intervals in music. For example, any two sounds whose frequencies make a 2:1 ratio are said to be separated by an octave and result in a particularly pleasing sensation when heard. That is, two sound waves sound good when played together if one sound has twice the frequency of the other. Similarly two sounds with a frequency ratio of 5:4 are said to be separated by an interval of a third; such sound waves also sound good when played together. Examples of other sound wave intervals and their respective frequency ratios are listed in the table below. Interval Octave Third Fourth Fifth Frequency Ratio 2:1 5:4 4:3 3:2 Examples Hz and 256 Hz and 256 Hz and 256 Hz and 256

512 320 342 384

Hz Hz Hz Hz

The ability of humans to perceive pitch is associated with the frequency of the sound wave that impinges upon the ear. Because sound waves traveling through air are longitudinal waves that produce high- and lowpressure disturbances of the particles of the air at a given frequency, the ear has an ability to detect such frequencies and associate them with the pitch of the sound. But pitch is not the only property of a sound wave detectable by the human ear. In the next part of Lesson 2, we will investigate the ability of the ear to perceive the intensity of a sound wave.

Intensity and the Decibel Scale


Sound waves are introduced into a medium by the vibration of an object. For example, a vibrating guitar string forces surrounding air molecules to be compressed and expanded, creating a pressure disturbance consisting of an alternating pattern of compressions and rarefactions. The disturbance then travels from particle to particle through the medium, transporting energy as it moves. The energy that is carried by the disturbance was originally imparted to the medium by the vibrating string. The amount of energy that is transferred to the medium is dependent upon the amplitude of vibrations of the guitar string. If more energy is put into the plucking of the string (that is, more work is done to displace the string a greater amount from its rest position), then the string vibrates with a greater amplitude. The greater amplitude of vibration of the guitar string thus imparts more energy to the medium, causing air particles to be displaced a greater distance from their rest position. Subsequently, the amplitude of vibration of the particles of the medium is increased, corresponding to an increased amount of energy being carried by the particles. This relationship between energy and amplitude was discussed in more detail in a previous unit. The amount of energy that is transported past a given area of the medium per unit of time is known as the intensity of the sound wave. The greater the amplitude of vibrations of the particles of the medium, the greater the rate at which energy is transported through it, and the more intense that the sound wave is. Intensity is the energy/time/area; and since the energy/time ratio is equivalent to the quantity power, intensity is simply the power/area.

Typical units for expressing the intensity of a sound wave are Watts/meter2. As a sound wave carries its energy through a two-dimensional or three-dimensional medium, the intensity of the sound wave decreases with increasing distance from the source. The decrease in intensity with increasing distance is explained by the fact that the wave is spreading out over a circular (2 dimensions) or spherical (3 dimensions) surface and thus the energy of the sound wave is being distributed over a greater surface area. The diagram at the right shows that the sound wave in a 2-dimensional medium is spreading out in space over a circular pattern. Since energy is conserved and the area through which this energy is transported is increasing, the power (being a quantity that is measured on a per area basis) must decrease. The mathematical relationship between intensity and distance is sometimes referred to as an inverse square relationship. The intensity varies inversely with the square of the distance from the source. So if the distance from the source is doubled (increased by a factor of 2), then the intensity is quartered (decreased by a factor of 4). Similarly, if the distance from the source is quadrupled, then the intensity is decreased by a factor of 16. Applied to the diagram at the right, the intensity at point B is one-fourth the intensity as point A and the intensity at point C is one-sixteenth the intensity at point A. Since the intensity-distance relationship is an inverse relationship, an increase in one quantity corresponds to a decrease in the other quantity. And since the intensity-distance relationship is an inverse square relationship, whatever factor by which the distance is increased, the intensity is decreased by a factor equal to the square of the distance change factor. The sample data in the table below illustrate the inverse square relationship between power and distance.

Distance
1 2 3 4 m m m m

Intensity
160 units 40 units 17.8 units 10 units

Humans are equipped with very sensitive ears capable of detecting sound waves of extremely low intensity. The faintest sound that the typical human ear can detect has an intensity of 1*10-12 W/m2. This intensity corresponds to a pressure wave in which a compression of the particles of the medium increases the air pressure in that compressional region by a mere 0.3 billionth of an atmosphere. A sound with an intensity of 1*10-12 W/m2 corresponds to a sound that will displace particles of air by a mere one-billionth of a centimeter. The human ear can detect such a sound. WOW! This faintest sound that a human ear can detect is known as the threshold of hearing. The most intense sound that the ear can safely detect without suffering any physical damage is more than one billion times more intense than the threshold of hearing. Since the range of intensities that the human ear can detect is so large, the scale that is frequently used by physicists to measure intensity is a scale based on multiples of 10. This type of scale is sometimes referred to as a logarithmic scale. The scale for measuring intensity is the decibel scale. The threshold of hearing is assigned a sound level of 0 decibels (abbreviated 0 dB); this sound corresponds to an intensity of 1*10-12 W/m2. A sound that is 10 times more intense ( 1*10-11 W/m2) is assigned a sound level of 10 dB. A sound that is 10*10 or 100 times more intense (1*10-10 W/m2) is assigned a sound level of 20 db. A sound that is 10*10*10 or 1000 times more intense (1*10-9 W/m2) is assigned a sound level of 30 db. A sound that is 10*10*10*10 or 10000 times more intense (1*10-8 W/m2) is assigned a sound level of 40 db. Observe that this scale is based on powers or multiples of 10. If one sound is 10x times more intense than another sound, then it has a sound level that is 10*x more decibels than the less intense sound. The table below lists some common sounds with an estimate of their intensity and decibel level. Source Intensity Intensity Level 0 dB 10 dB 20 dB 60 dB 70 dB 80 dB 98 dB 100 dB 110 dB 130 dB 140 dB 160 dB # of Times Greater Than TOH 100 101 102 106 107 108 109.8 1010 1011 1013 1014 1016

Threshold of Hearing (TOH) Rustling Leaves Whisper Normal Conversation Busy Street Traffic Vacuum Cleaner Large Orchestra Walkman at Maximum Level Front Rows of Rock Concert Threshold of Pain Military Jet Takeoff Instant Perforation of Eardrum

1*10-12 W/m2 1*10-11 W/m2 1*10-10 W/m2 1*10-6 W/m2 1*10-5 W/m2 1*10-4 W/m2 6.3*10-3 W/m2 1*10-2 W/m2 1*10-1 W/m2 1*101 W/m2 1*102 W/m2 1*104 W/m2

The Speed of Sound


A sound wave is a pressure disturbance that travels through a medium by means of particle-to-particle interaction. As one particle becomes disturbed, it exerts a force on the next adjacent particle, thus disturbing that particle from rest and transporting the energy through the medium. Like any wave, the speed of a sound wave refers to how fast the disturbance is passed from particle to particle. While frequency refers to the number of vibrations that an individual particle makes per unit of time, speed refers to the distance that the disturbance travels per unit of time. Always be cautious to distinguish between the two often-confused quantities of speed (how fast...) and frequency (how

often...). Since the speed of a wave is defined as the distance that a point on a wave (such as a compression or a rarefaction) travels per unit of time, it is often expressed in units of meters/second (abbreviated m/s). In equation form, this is

speed = distance/time
The faster a sound wave travels, the more distance it will cover in the same period of time. If a sound wave were observed to travel a distance of 700 meters in 2 seconds, then the speed of the wave would be 350 m/s. A slower wave would cover less distance - perhaps 660 meters - in the same time period of 2 seconds and thus have a speed of 330 m/s. Faster waves cover more distance in the same period of time.

Factors Affecting Wave Speed The speed of any wave depends upon the properties of the medium through which the wave is traveling. Typically there are two essential types of properties that effect wave speed - inertial properties and elastic properties. Elastic properties are those properties related to the tendency of a material to maintain its shape and not deform whenever a force or stress is applied to it. A material such as steel will experience a very small deformation of shape (and dimension) when a stress is applied to it. Steel is a rigid material with a high elasticity. On the other hand, a material such as a rubber band is highly flexible; when a force is applied to stretch the rubber band, it deforms or changes its shape readily. A small stress on the rubber band causes a large deformation. Steel is considered to be a stiff or rigid material, whereas a rubber band is considered a flexible material. At the particle level, a stiff or rigid material is characterized by atoms and/or molecules with strong attractions for each other. When a force is applied in an attempt to stretch or deform the material, its strong particle interactions prevent this deformation and help the material maintain its shape. Rigid materials such as steel are considered to have a high elasticity. (Elastic modulus is the technical term). The phase of matter has a tremendous impact upon the elastic properties of the medium. In general, solids have the strongest interactions between particles, followed by liquids and then gases. For this reason, longitudinal sound waves travel faster in solids than they do in liquids than they do in gases. Even though the inertial factor may favor gases, the elastic factor has a greater influence on the speed (v) of a wave, thus yielding this general pattern: vsolids > vliquids > vgases Inertial properties are those properties related to the material's tendency to be sluggish to changes in its state of motion. The density of a medium is an example of an inertial property. The greater the inertia (i.e., mass density) of individual particles of the medium, the less responsive they will be to the interactions between neighboring particles and the slower that the wave will be. As stated above, sound waves travel faster in solids than they do in liquids than they do in gases. However, within a single phase of matter, the inertial property of density tends to be the property that has a greatest impact upon the speed of sound. A sound wave will travel faster in a less dense material than a more dense material. Thus, a sound wave will travel nearly three times faster in Helium than it will in air. This is mostly due to the lower mass of Helium particles as compared to air particles. The speed of a sound wave in air depends upon the properties of the air, mostly the temperature, and to a lesser degree, the humidity. Humidity is the result of water vapor being present in air. Like any liquid, water has a tendency to evaporate. As it does, particles of gaseous water become mixed in the air. This additional matter will affect the mass density of the air (an inertial property). The temperature will affect the strength of the particle interactions (an elastic property). At normal atmospheric pressure, the temperature dependence of the speed of a sound wave through dry air is approximated by the following equation:

v = 331 m/s + (0.6 m/s/C)T


where T is the temperature of the air in degrees Celsius. Using this equation to determine the speed of a sound wave in air at a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius yields the following solution. v = 331 m/s + (0.6 m/s/C)T

v = 331 m/s + (0.6 m/s/C)(20 C) v = 331 m/s + 12 m/s v = 343 m/s (The above equation relating the speed of a sound wave in air to the temperature provides reasonably accurate speed values for temperatures between 0 and 100 Celsius. The equation itself does not have any theoretical basis; it is simply the result of inspecting temperature-speed data for this temperature range. Other equations do exist that are based upon theoretical reasoning and provide accurate data for all temperatures. Nonetheless, the equation above will be sufficient for our use as introductory Physics students.)

The Human Ear


Understanding how humans hear is a complex subject involving the fields of physiology, psychology and acoustics. In this part of Lesson 2, we will focus on the acoustics (the branch of physics pertaining to sound) of hearing. We will attempt to understand how the human ear serves as an astounding transducer, converting sound energy to mechanical energy to a nerve impulse that is transmitted to the brain. The ear's ability to do this allows us to perceive the pitch of sounds by detection of the wave's frequencies, the loudness of sound by detection of the wave's amplitude and the timbre of the sound by the detection of the various frequencies that make up a complex sound wave. The ear consists of three basic parts - the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Each part of the ear serves a specific purpose in the task of detecting and interpreting sound. The outer ear serves to collect and channel sound to the middle ear. The middle ear serves to transform the energy of a sound wave into the internal vibrations of the bone structure of the middle ear and ultimately transform these vibrations into a compressional wave in the inner ear. The inner ear serves to transform the energy of a compressional wave within the inner ear fluid into nerve impulses that can be transmitted to the brain. The three parts of the ear are shown below.

The outer ear consists of an earflap and an approximately 2-cm long ear canal. The earflap provides protection for the middle ear in order to prevent damage to the eardrum. The outer ear also channels sound waves that reach the ear through the ear canal to the eardrum of the middle ear. Because of the length of the ear canal, it is capable of amplifying sounds with frequencies of approximately 3000 Hz. As sound travels through the outer ear, the sound is still in the form of a pressure wave, with an alternating pattern of high and low pressure regions. It is not until the sound reaches the eardrum at the interface of the outer and the middle ear that the energy of the mechanical wave becomes converted into vibrations of the inner bone structure of the ear.

The middle ear is an air-filled cavity that consists of an eardrum and three tiny, interconnected bones - the hammer, anvil, and stirrup. The eardrum is a very durable and tightly stretched membrane that vibrates as the incoming pressure waves reach it. As shown below, a compression forces the eardrum inward and a rarefaction forces the eardrum outward, thus vibrating the eardrum at the same frequency of the sound wave.

Being connected to the hammer, the movements of the eardrum will set the hammer, anvil, and stirrup into motion at the same frequency of the sound wave. The stirrup is connected to the inner ear; and thus the vibrations of the stirrup are transmitted to the fluid of the inner ear and create a compression wave within the fluid. The three tiny bones of the middle ear act as levers to amplify the vibrations of the sound wave. Due to a mechanical advantage, the displacements of the stirrup are greater than that of the hammer. Furthermore, since the pressure wave striking the large area of the eardrum is concentrated into the smaller area of the stirrup, the force of the vibrating stirrup is nearly 15 times larger than that of the eardrum. This feature enhances our ability of hear the faintest of sounds. The middle ear is an air-filled cavity that is connected by the Eustachian tube to the mouth. This connection allows for the equalization of pressure within the air-filled cavities of the ear. When this tube becomes clogged during a cold, the ear cavity is unable to equalize its pressure; this will often lead to earaches and other pains. The inner ear consists of a cochlea, the semicircular canals, and the auditory nerve. The cochlea and the semicircular canals are filled with a water-like fluid. The fluid and nerve cells of the semicircular canals provide no role in the task of hearing; they merely serve as accelerometers for detecting accelerated movements and assisting in the task of maintaining balance. The cochlea is a snail-shaped organ that would stretch to approximately 3 cm. In addition to being filled with fluid, the inner surface of the cochlea is lined with over 20 000 hair-like nerve cells that perform one of the most critical roles in our ability to hear. These nerve cells differ in length by minuscule amounts; they also have different degrees of resiliency to the fluid that passes over them. As a compressional wave moves from the interface between the hammer of the middle ear and the oval window of the inner ear through the cochlea, the small hair-like nerve cells will be set in motion. Each hair cell has a natural sensitivity to a particular frequency of vibration. When the frequency of the compressional wave matches the natural frequency of the nerve cell, that nerve cell will resonate with a larger amplitude of vibration. This increased vibrational amplitude induces the cell to release an electrical impulse that passes along the auditory nerve towards the brain. In a process that is not clearly understood, the brain is capable of interpreting the qualities of the sound upon reception of these electric nerve impulses.

Sound Waves and Music - Lesson 3

Behavior of Sound Waves


Interference and Beats | The Doppler Effect and Shock Waves Boundary Behavior | Reflection, Refraction, and Diffraction

Interference and Beats


Wave interference is the phenomenon that occurs when two waves meet while traveling along the same medium. The interference of waves causes the medium to take on a shape that results from the net effect of the two individual waves upon the particles of the medium. As mentioned in a previous unit of The Physics Classroom Tutorial, if two upward displaced pulses having the same shape meet up with one another while traveling in opposite directions along a medium, the medium will take on the shape of an upward displaced pulse with twice the amplitude of the two interfering pulses. This type of interference is known as constructive interference. If an upward displaced pulse and a downward displaced pulse having the same shape meet up with one another while traveling in opposite directions along a medium, the two pulses will cancel each other's effect upon the displacement of the medium and the medium will assume the equilibrium position. This type of interference is known as destructive interference. The diagrams below show two

waves - one is blue and the other is red - interfering in such a way to produce a resultant shape in a medium; the resultant is shown in green. In two cases (on the left and in the middle), constructive interference occurs and in the third case (on the far right, destructive interference occurs.

But how can sound waves that do not possess upward and downward displacements interfere constructively and destructively? Sound is a pressure wave that consists of compressions and rarefactions. As a compression passes through a section of a medium, it tends to pull particles together into a small region of space, thus creating a high-pressure region. And as a rarefaction passes through a section of a medium, it tends to push particles apart, thus creating a low-pressure region. The interference of sound waves causes the particles of the medium to behave in a manner that reflects the net effect of the two individual waves upon the particles. For example, if a compression (high pressure) of one wave meets up with a compression (high pressure) of a second wave at the same location in the medium, then the net effect is that that particular location will experience an even greater pressure. This is a form of constructive interference. If two rarefactions (two low-pressure disturbances) from two different sound waves meet up at the same location, then the net effect is that that particular location will experience an even lower pressure. This is also an example of constructive interference. Now if a particular location along the medium repeatedly experiences the interference of two compressions followed up by the interference of two rarefactions, then the two sound waves will continually reinforce each other and produce a very loud sound. The loudness of the sound is the result of the particles at that location of the medium undergoing oscillations from very high to very low pressures. As mentioned in a previous unit, locations along the medium where constructive interference continually occurs are known as anti-nodes. The animation below shows two sound waves interfering constructively in order to produce very large oscillations in pressure at a variety of anti-nodal locations. Note that compressions are labeled with a C and rarefactions are labeled with an R.

Now if two sound waves interfere at a given location in such a way that the compression of one wave meets up with the rarefaction of a second wave, destructive interference results. The net effect of a compression (which pushes particles together) and a rarefaction (which pulls particles apart) upon the particles in a given region of the medium is to not even cause a displacement of the particles. The tendency of the compression to push particles together is canceled by the tendency of the rarefactions to pull particles apart; the particles would remain at their rest position as though there wasn't even a disturbance passing through them. This is a form of destructive interference. Now if a particular location along the medium repeatedly experiences the interference of a compression and rarefaction followed up by the interference of a rarefaction and a compression, then the two sound waves will continually cancel each other and no sound is heard. The absence of sound is the result of the particles remaining at rest and behaving as though there were no disturbance passing through it. Amazingly, in a situation such as this, two sound waves would combine to produce no sound. As mentioned in a previous unit, locations along the medium where destructive interference continually occurs are known as nodes.

Two Source Sound Interference A popular Physics demonstration involves the interference of two sound waves from two speakers. The speakers are set approximately 1-meter apart and produced identical tones. The two sound waves traveled through the air in front of the speakers, spreading our through the room in spherical fashion. A snapshot in

time of the appearance of these waves is shown in the diagram below. In the diagram, the compressions of a wavefront are represented by a thick line and the rarefactions are represented by thin lines. These two waves interfere in such a manner as to produce locations of some loud sounds and other locations of no sound. Of course the loud sounds are heard at locations where compressions meet compressions or rarefactions meet rarefactions and the "no sound" locations appear wherever the compressions of one of the waves meet the rarefactions of the other wave. If you were to plug one ear and turn the other ear towards the place of the speakers and then slowly walk across the room parallel to the plane of the speakers, then you would encounter an amazing phenomenon. You would alternatively hear loud sounds as you approached anti-nodal locations and virtually no sound as you approached nodal locations. (As would commonly be observed, the nodal locations are not true nodal locations due to reflections of sound waves off the walls. These reflections tend to fill the entire room with reflected sound. Even though the sound waves that reach the nodal locations directly from the speakers destructively interfere, other waves reflecting off the walls tend to reach that same location to produce a pressure disturbance.)

Destructive interference of sound waves becomes an important issue in the design of concert halls and auditoriums. The rooms must be designed in such as way as to reduce the amount of destructive interference. Interference can occur as the result of sound from two speakers meeting at the same location as well as the result of sound from a speaker meeting with sound reflected off the walls and ceilings. If the sound arrives at a given location such that compressions meet rarefactions, then destructive interference will occur resulting in a reduction in the loudness of the sound at that location. One means of reducing the severity of destructive interference is by the design of walls, ceilings, and baffles that serve to absorb sound rather than reflect it. This will be discussed in more detail later in Lesson 3. The destructive interference of sound waves can also be used advantageously in noise reduction systems. Earphones have been produced that can be used by factory and construction workers to reduce the noise levels on their jobs. Such earphones capture sound from the environment and use computer technology to produce a second sound wave that one-half cycle out of phase. The combination of these two sound waves within the headset will result in destructive interference and thus reduce a worker's exposure to loud noise.

Musical Beats and Intervals Interference of sound waves has widespread applications in the world of music. Music seldom consists of sound waves of a single frequency played continuously. Few music enthusiasts would be impressed by an orchestra that played music consisting of the note with a pure tone played by all instruments in the orchestra. Hearing a sound wave of 256 Hz (middle C) would become rather monotonous (both literally and figuratively). Rather, instruments are known to produce overtones when played resulting in a sound that consists of a multiple of frequencies. Such instruments are described as being rich in tone color. And even the best choirs will earn their money when two singers sing two notes (i.e., produce two sound waves) that are an octave apart. Music is a mixture of sound waves that typically have whole number ratios between the frequencies associated with their notes. In fact, the major distinction between music and noise is that noise consists of a mixture of frequencies whose mathematical relationship to one another is not readily discernible. On the other hand, music consists of a mixture of frequencies that have a clear mathematical relationship between them. While it may be true that "one person's music is another person's noise" (e.g.,

your music might be thought of by your parents as being noise), a physical analysis of musical sounds reveals a mixture of sound waves that are mathematically related. To demonstrate this nature of music, let's consider one of the simplest mixtures of two different sound waves - two sound waves with a 2:1 frequency ratio. This combination of waves is known as an octave. A simple sinusoidal plot of the wave pattern for two such waves is shown below. Note that the red wave has two times the frequency of the blue wave. Also observe that the interference of these two waves produces a resultant (in green) that has a periodic and repeating pattern. One might say that two sound waves that have a clear whole number ratio between their frequencies interfere to produce a wave with a regular and repeating pattern. The result is music.

Another simple example of two sound waves with a clear mathematical relationship between frequencies is shown below. Note that the red wave has three-halves the frequency of the blue wave. In the music world, such waves are said to be a fifth apart and represent a popular musical interval. Observe once more that the interference of these two waves produces a resultant (in green) that has a periodic and repeating pattern. It should be said again: two sound waves that have a clear whole number ratio between their frequencies interfere to produce a wave with a regular and repeating pattern; the result is music.

Finally, the diagram below illustrates the wave pattern produced by two dissonant or displeasing sounds. The diagram shows two waves interfering, but this time there is no simple mathematical relationship between their frequencies (in computer terms, one has a wavelength of 37 and the other has a wavelength 20 pixels). Observe (look carefully) that the pattern of the resultant is neither periodic nor repeating (at least not in the short sample of time that is shown). The message is clear: if two sound waves that have no simple mathematical relationship between their frequencies interfere to produce a wave, the result will be an irregular and non-repeating pattern. This tends to be displeasing to the ear.

The Doppler Effect and Shock Waves

The Doppler effect is a phenomenon observed whenever the source of waves is moving with respect to an observer. The Doppler effect can be described as the effect produced by a moving source of waves in which there is an apparent upward shift in frequency for the observer and the source are approaching and an apparent downward shift in frequency when the observer and the source is receding. The Doppler effect can be observed to occur with all types of waves - most notably water waves, sound waves, and light waves. The application of this phenomenon to water waves was discussed in detail in Unit 10 of The Physics Classroom Tutorial. In this unit, we will focus on the application of the Doppler effect to sound. We are most familiar with the Doppler effect because of our experiences with sound waves. Perhaps you recall an instance in which a police car or emergency vehicle was traveling towards you on the highway. As the car approached with its siren blasting, the pitch of the siren sound (a measure of the siren's frequency) was high; and then suddenly after the car passed by, the pitch of the siren sound was low. That was the Doppler effect - a shift in the apparent frequency for a sound wave produced by a moving source.

Another common experience is the shift in apparent frequency of the sound of a train horn. As the train approaches, the sound of its horn is heard at a high pitch and as the train moved away, the sound of its horn is heard at a low pitch. This is the Doppler effect. A common Physics demonstration the use of a large Nerf ball equipped with a buzzer that produces a sound with a constant frequency. The Nerf ball is then through around the room. As the ball approaches you, you observe a higher pitch than when the ball is at rest. And when the ball is thrown away from you, you observe a lower pitch than when the ball is at rest. This is the Doppler effect.

Explaining the Doppler Effect The Doppler effect is observed because the distance between the source of sound and the observer is changing. If the source and the observer are approaching, then the distance is decreasing and if the source and the observer are receding, then the distance is increasing. The source of sound always emits the same frequency. Therefore, for the same period of time, the same number of waves must fit between the source and the observer. if the distance is large, then the waves can be spread apart; but if the distance is small, the waves must be compressed into the smaller distance. For these reasons, if the source is moving towards the observer, the observer perceives sound waves reaching him or her at a more frequent rate (high pitch). And if the source is moving away from the observer, the observer perceives sound waves reaching him or her at a less frequent rate (low pitch). It is important to note that the effect does not result because of an actual change in the frequency of the source. The source puts out the same frequency; the observer only perceives a different frequency because of the relative motion between them. The Doppler effect is a shift in the apparent or observed frequency and not a shift in the actual frequency at which the source vibrates.

Shock Waves and Sonic Booms The Doppler effect is observed whenever the speed of the source is moving slower than the speed of the waves. But if the source actually moves at the same speed as or faster than the wave itself can move, a different phenomenon is observed. If a moving source of sound moves at the same speed as sound, then the source will always be at the leading edge of the waves that it produces. The diagram at the right depicts snapshots in time of a variety of wavefronts produced by an aircraft that is moving at the same speed as sound. The circular lines represent compressional wavefronts of the sound waves. Notice that these circles are bunched up at the front of the aircraft. This phenomenon is known as a shock wave. Shock waves are also produced if the aircraft moves faster than the speed of sound. If a moving source of sound moves faster than sound, the source will always be ahead of the waves that it produces. The diagram at the right depicts snapshots in time of a variety of wavefronts produced by an aircraft that is moving faster than sound. Note that the circular compressional wavefronts fall behind the faster moving aircraft (in actuality, these circles would be spheres). If you are standing on the ground when a supersonic (faster than sound) aircraft passes overhead, you might hear a sonic boom. A sonic boom occurs as the result of the piling up of compressional wavefronts along the conical edge of the wave pattern. These compressional wavefronts pile up and interfere to produce a very high-pressure zone. This is shown below. Instead of these compressional regions (high-pressure regions) reaching you one at a time in consecutive fashion, they all reach you at once. Since every compression is followed by a rarefaction, the high-pressure zone will be immediately followed by a low-pressure zone. This creates a very loud noise.

If you are standing on the ground as the supersonic aircraft passes by, there will be a short time delay and then you will hear the boom - the sonic boom. This boom is merely a loud noise resulting from the high pressure sound followed by a low pressure sound. Do not be mistaken into thinking that this boom only happens the instant that the aircraft surpasses the speed of sound and that it is the signature that the

aircraft just attained supersonic speed. Sonic booms are observed when any aircraft that is traveling faster than the speed of sound passes overhead. It is not a sign that the aircraft just overcame the sound barrier, but rather a sign that the aircraft is traveling faster than sound.

Boundary Behavior
As a sound wave travels through a medium, it will often reach the end of the medium and encounter an obstacle or perhaps another medium through which it could travel. When one medium ends, another medium begins; the interface of the two media is referred to as the boundary and the behavior of a wave at that boundary is described as its boundary behavior. The behavior of a wave (or pulse) upon reaching the end of a medium is referred to as boundary behavior. There are essentially four possible behaviors that a wave could exhibit at a boundary: reflection (the bouncing off of the boundary), diffraction (the bending around the obstacle without crossing over the boundary), transmission (the crossing of the boundary into the new material or obstacle), and refraction (occurs along with transmission and is characterized by the subsequent change in speed and direction). In this part of Lesson 3, the focus will be upon the reflection behavior of sound waves. Later in Lesson 3, diffraction, transmission, and refraction will be discussed in more detail. In Unit 10 of The Physics Classroom, the boundary behavior of a pulse on a rope was discussed. In that unit, it was mentioned that there are two types of reflection for waves on ropes: fixed end reflection and free end reflection. A pulse moving through a rope will eventually reach its end. Upon reaching the end of the medium, two things occur:

A portion of the energy carried by the pulse is reflected and returns towards the left end of the rope. The disturbance that returns to the left is known as the reflected pulse. A portion of the energy carried by the pulse is transmitted into the new medium. If the rope is attached to a pole (as shown at the right), the pole will receive some of the energy and begin to vibrate. If the rope is not attached to a pole but rather resting on the ground, then a portion of the energy is transmitted into the air (the new medium), causing slight disturbances of the air particles.

The amount of energy that becomes reflected is dependent upon the dissimilarity of the two media. The more similar that the two media on each side of the boundary are, the less reflection that occurs and the more transmission that occurs. Conversely, the less similar that the two media on each side of the boundary are, the more reflection that occurs and the less transmission that occurs. So if a heavy rope is attached to a light rope (two very dissimilar media), little transmission and mostly reflection occurs. And if a heavy rope is attached to another heavy rope (two very similar media), little reflection and mostly transmission occurs.

The more similar the medium, the more transmission that occurs.

These principles of reflection can be applied to sound waves. Though a sound wave does not consist of crests and troughs, they do consist of compressions and rarefactions. If a sound wave is traveling through a cylindrical tube, it will eventually come to the end of the tube. The end of the tube represents a boundary between the enclosed air in the tube and the expanse of air outside of the tube. Upon reaching the end of the tube, the sound wave will undergo partial reflection and partial transmission. That is, a portion of the energy carried by the sound wave will pass across the boundary and out of the tube (transmission) and a portion of the energy carried by the sound wave will reflect off the boundary, remain in the tube and travel in the opposite direction (reflection). The reflected pulse off the end of the tube can then interfere with any subsequent incident pulses that are traveling in the opposite direction. If the disturbances within the tube are the result of perpetual waves of a constant frequency, then interference between the incident and reflected waves will occur along the length of the tube. The reflection behavior of sound waves and the subsequent interference that occurs will become important in Lesson 5 during the discussion of musical instruments. Many musical instruments operate as the result of sound waves traveling back and forth inside of "tubes" or air columns. The reflection of sound also becomes important to the design of concert halls and auditoriums. The acoustics of sound must be considered in the design of such buildings. The most important considerations include destructive interference and reverberations, both of which are the result of reflections of sound off the walls and ceilings. Designers attempt to reduce the severity of these problems by using building materials that reduce the amount of reflection and enhance the amount of transmission (or absorption) into the walls and ceilings. The most reflective materials are those that are smooth and hard; such materials are very dissimilar to air and thus reduce the amount of transmission and increase the amount of reflection. The best materials to use in the design of concert halls and auditoriums are those materials that are soft. For this reason, fiberglass and acoustic tile are used in such buildings rather than cement and brick.

Reflection, Refraction, and Diffraction


Like any wave, a sound wave doesn't just stop when it reaches the end of the medium or when it encounters an obstacle in its path. Rather, a sound wave will undergo certain behaviors when it encounters the end of the medium or an obstacle. Possible behaviors include reflection off the obstacle, diffraction around the

obstacle, and transmission (accompanied by refraction) into the obstacle or new medium. In this part of Lesson 3, we will investigate behaviors that have already been discussed in a previous unit and apply them towards the reflection, diffraction, and refraction of sound waves. When a wave reaches the boundary between one medium another medium, a portion of the wave undergoes reflection and a portion of the wave undergoes transmission across the boundary. As discussed in the previous part of Lesson 3, the amount of reflection is dependent upon the dissimilarity of the two media. For this reason, acoustically minded builders of auditoriums and concert halls avoid the use of hard, smooth materials in the construction of their inside halls. A hard material such as concrete is as dissimilar as can be to the air through which the sound moves; subsequently, most of the sound wave is reflected by the walls and little is absorbed. Walls and ceilings of concert halls are made softer materials such as fiberglass and acoustic tiles. These materials are more similar to air than concrete and thus have a greater ability to absorb sound. This gives the room more pleasing acoustic properties. Reflection of sound waves off of surfaces can lead to one of two phenomena - an echo or a reverberation. A reverberation often occurs in a small room with height, width, and length dimensions of approximately 17 meters or less. Why the magical 17 meters? The affect of a particular sound wave upon the brain endures for more than a tiny fraction of a second; the human brain keeps a sound in memory for up to 0.1 seconds. If a reflected sound wave reaches the ear within 0.1 seconds of the initial sound, then it seems to the person that the sound is prolonged. The reception of multiple reflections off of walls and ceilings within 0.1 seconds of each other causes reverberations - the prolonging of a sound. Since sound waves travel at about 340 m/s at room temperature, it will take approximately 0.1 s for a sound to travel the length of a 17 meter room and back, thus causing a reverberation (recall from Lesson 2, t = v/d = (340 m/s)/(34 m) = 0.1 s). This is why reverberations are common in rooms with dimensions of approximately 17 meters or less. Perhaps you have observed reverberations when talking in an empty room, when honking the horn while driving through a highway tunnel or underpass, or when singing in the shower. In auditoriums and concert halls, reverberations occasionally occur and lead to the displeasing garbling of a sound. But reflection of sound waves in auditoriums and concert halls do not always lead to displeasing results, especially if the reflections are designed right. Smooth walls have a tendency to direct sound waves in a specific direction. Subsequently the use of smooth walls in an auditorium will cause spectators to receive a large amount of sound from one location along the wall; there would be only one possible path by which sound waves could travel from the speakers to the listener. The auditorium would not seem to be as lively and full of sound. Rough walls tend to diffuse sound, reflecting it in a variety of directions. This allows a spectator to perceive sounds from every part of the room, making it seem lively and full. For this reason, auditorium and concert hall designers prefer construction materials that are rough rather than smooth.

Reflection of sound waves also leads to echoes. Echoes are different than reverberations. Echoes occur when a reflected sound wave reaches the ear more than 0.1 seconds after the original sound wave was heard. If the elapsed time between the arrivals of the two sound waves is more than 0.1 seconds, then the sensation of the first sound will have died out. In this case, the arrival of the second sound wave will be perceived as a second sound rather than the prolonging of the first sound. There will be an echo instead of a reverberation.

Reflection of sound waves off of surfaces is also affected by the shape of the surface. As mentioned of water waves in Unit 10, flat or plane surfaces reflect sound waves in such a way that the angle at which the wave approaches the surface equals the angle at which the wave leaves the surface. This principle will be extended to the reflective behavior of light waves off of plane surfaces in great detail in Unit 13 of The Physics Classroom. Reflection of sound waves off of curved surfaces leads to a more interesting phenomenon. Curved surfaces with a parabolic shape have the habit of focusing sound waves to a point. Sound waves reflecting off of parabolic surfaces concentrate all their energy to a single point in space; at that point, the sound is amplified. Perhaps you have seen a museum exhibit that utilizes a parabolic-shaped disk to collect a large amount of sound and focus it at a focal point. If you place your ear at the focal point, you can hear even the faintest whisper of a friend standing across the room. Parabolic-shaped satellite disks use this same principle of reflection to gather large amounts of electromagnetic waves and focus it at a point (where the receptor is located). Scientists have recently discovered some evidence that seems to reveal that a bull moose utilizes his antlers as a satellite disk to gather and focus sound. Finally, scientists have long believed that owls are equipped with spherical facial disks that can be maneuvered in order to gather and reflect sound towards their ears. The reflective behavior of light waves off curved surfaces will be studies in great detail in Unit 13 of The Physics Classroom Tutorial.

Diffraction of Sound Waves Diffraction involves a change in direction of waves as they pass through an opening or around a barrier in their path. The diffraction of water waves was discussed in Unit 10 of The Physics Classroom Tutorial. In that unit, we saw that water waves have the ability to travel around corners, around obstacles and through openings. The amount of diffraction (the sharpness of the bending) increases with increasing wavelength and decreases with decreasing wavelength. In fact, when the wavelength of the wave is smaller than the obstacle or opening, no noticeable diffraction occurs. Diffraction of sound waves is commonly observed; we notice sound diffracting around corners or through door openings, allowing us to hear others who are speaking to us from adjacent rooms. Many forest-dwelling birds take advantage of the diffractive ability of long-wavelength sound waves. Owls for instance are able to communicate across long distances due to the fact that their long-wavelength hoots are able to diffract around forest trees and carry farther than the short-wavelength tweets of songbirds. Low-pitched (long wavelength) sounds always carry further than highpitched (short wavelength) sounds. Scientists have recently learned that elephants emit infrasonic waves of very low frequency to communicate over long distances to each other. Elephants typically migrate in large herds that may sometimes become separated from each other by distances of several miles. Researchers who have observed elephant migrations from the air and have been both impressed and puzzled by the ability of elephants at the beginning and the end of these herds to make extremely synchronized movements. The matriarch at the front of the herd might make a turn to the right, which is immediately followed by elephants at the end of the herd making the same turn to the right. These synchronized movements occur despite the fact that the elephants' vision of each other is blocked by dense vegetation. Only recently have they learned that the synchronized movements are preceded by infrasonic communication. While low wavelength sound waves are unable to diffract around the dense vegetation, the high wavelength sounds produced by the elephants have sufficient diffractive ability to communicate long distances. Bats use high frequency (low wavelength) ultrasonic waves in order to enhance their ability to hunt. The typical prey of a bat is the moth - an object not much larger than a couple of centimeters. Bats use ultrasonic echolocation methods to detect the presence of bats in the air. But why ultrasound? The answer lies in the physics of diffraction. As the wavelength of a wave becomes smaller than the obstacle that it encounters, the wave is no longer able to diffract around the obstacle, instead the wave reflects off the obstacle. Bats use ultrasonic waves with wavelengths smaller than the dimensions of their prey. These sound waves will encounter the prey, and instead of diffracting around the prey, will reflect off the prey and allow the bat to hunt by means of echolocation. The wavelength of a 50 000 Hz sound wave in air (speed of approximately 340 m/s) can be calculated as follows

Wavelength = speed/frequency Wavelength = (340 m/s)/(50 000 Hz) Wave length = 0.0068 m The wavelength of the 50 000 Hz sound waves (typical for a bat) is approximately 0.7 centimeters, smaller than the dimensions of a typical moth.

Refraction of Sound Waves Refraction of waves involves a change in the direction of waves as they pass from one medium to another. Refraction, or bending of the path of the waves, is accompanied by a change in speed and wavelength of the waves. So if the media (or its properties) are changed, the speed of the wave is changed. Thus, waves passing from one medium to another will undergo refraction. Refraction of sound waves is most evident in situations in which the sound wave passes through a medium with gradually varying properties. For example, sound waves are known to refract when traveling over water. Even though the sound wave is not exactly changing media, it is traveling through a medium with varying properties; thus, the wave will encounter refraction and change its direction. Since water has a moderating affect upon the temperature of air, the air directly above the water tends to be cooler than the air far above the water. Sound waves travel slower in cooler air than they do in warmer air. For this reason, the portion of the wave front directly above the water is slowed down, while the portion of the wavefronts far above the water speeds ahead. Subsequently, the direction of the wave changes, refracting downwards towards the water. This is depicted in the diagram at the right. Refraction of other waves such as light waves will be discussed in more detail in a later unit of The Physics Classroom Tutorial.

Dr. Dan Russell Kettering University Applied Physics

Sound Fields Radiated by Simple Sources

Radiation from a monopole source


A monopole is a source which radiates sound equally well in all directions. The simplest example of a monopole source would be a sphere whose radius alternately expands and contracts sinusoidally. The monopole source creates a sound wave by alternately introducing and removing fluid into the surrounding area. A boxed loudspeaker at low frequencies acts as a monopole. The directivity pattern for a monopole source is shown in the figure at right.

The animated GIF at left shows the pressure field produced by a monopole source. Individual points on the grid simply move back and forth about some equilibrium position while the spherical wave expands outwards.

Radiation from a dipole source


A dipole source consists of two monopole sources of equal strength but opposite phase and separated by a small distance compared with the wavelength of sound. While one source expands the other source contracts. The result is that the fluid (air) near the two sources sloshes back and forth to produce the sound. A sphere which oscillates back and forth acts like a dipole source, as does an unboxed loudspeaker (while the front is pushing outwards the back is sucking in). A dipole source does not radiate sound in all directions equally. The directivity pattern shown at right looks like a figure-8; there are two regions where sound is radiated very well, and two regions where sound cancels.

The animated GIF at left shows the pressure field produced by a dipole source. At the center of the pressure field you can see sloshing back and forth caused by the dipole motion. The regions where sound is cancelled shows up along the vertical axes (the grid motion is almost zero). Furthermore, the wavefronts expanding to the right and left are 180o out of phase with each other.

Radiation from a lateral quadrupole source

If two opposite phase monopoles make up a dipole, then two opposite dipoles make up a quadrupole source. In a Lateral Quadrupole arrangement the two dipoles do not lie along the same line (four monopoles with alternating phase at the corners of a square). The directivity pattern for a lateral quadrupole looks like a clover-leaf pattern; sound is radiated well in front of each monopole source, but sound is canceled at points equidistant from adjacent opposite monopoles.

The animated GIF at left shows the pressure field produced by a lateral quadrupole source. At the center of the pressure field you can see the quadrupole motion as the particles alternate motion in the horizontal and vertical directions. back and forth caused by the dipole motion. The regions where sound is cancelled shows up along the diagonals (where the grid motion is almost zero). Furthermore, there is a 180o phase difference between the horizontal and vertical wavefronts.

Radiation from a linear quadrupole source


If two opposite phase dipoles lie along the same line they make up a Linear Quadrupole source. A tuning fork is a good example of a linear quadrupole source (each tine acts as a dipole as it vibrates back and forth, and the two tines oscillate in opposite directions). What makes the linear quadrupole interesting is that there is a very obvious transition from near field to far field. In the near field there are four maxima and four minima, with the maxima along the quadrupole axis about 5dB louder than the maxima perpendicular to the quadrupole axis. The near field directivity pattern is shown at right.

In the far field there are only two maxima (along the quadrupole axis) and two minima (perpendicular to the quadrupole axis) as shown in the figure below right. The animated GIF movie at left shows the pressure field radiated by a linear quadrupole. At the center of the picture you can see the quadrupole near field pattern. As the wave expands outwards it becomes almost a spherical wave (notice that the left and right going wavefronts are in phase as opposed to the dipole source) except that the amplitude is severely reduced in the vertical directions.