Musical Acoustics: from the Human Voice to Musical Instruments
Course code
old course code
Course title in Estonian
Akustika muusikas: inimhäältest pillideni
Course title in English
Musical Acoustics: from the Human Voice to Musical Instruments
ECTS credits
Assessment form
lecturer of 2024/2025 Autumn semester
Not opened for teaching. Click the study programme link below to see the nominal division schedule.
lecturer of 2024/2025 Spring semester
Not opened for teaching. Click the study programme link below to see the nominal division schedule.
Course aims
To enable the acquisition of the basics of acoustics.
To create opportunities for checking and researching the main principles of acoustics via practical works and demonstration experiments.
To enable the student to learn how to carry out a natural science research.
Brief description of the course
Oscillations and waves. The properties of a wave: frequency, amplitude, period, speed. Types of waves: longitudinal and transverse waves. Standing waves: formation, nodes and antinodes, harmonics, examples from music.
The behaviour of waves: reflection, refraction, interference and diffraction of waves.
Sound as a wave: sound wave as a mechanical, longitudinal and pressure wave.
The properties of a sound wave: pitch and frequency, overtones, sound scale, sound intensity and the amplitude of a pressure wave, decibel scale, auditory threshold, speed of sound.
The behaviour of sound waves: interference – harmonies and dissonances, the pulsation of sound (e.g. while tuning a guitar), intervals as a ratio of sound wave frequencies, the Doppler effect and a shock wave, the behaviour of a sound wave on edges (on tips of the string of an instrument), reflection, refraction and diffraction of sound in architecture – echo and the focal point of the sound in a room.
Resonance of sound: natural frequency, shape, spectrum and timbre of sound (why do instruments have their peculiar sound), forced oscillations and resonance, resonance in music (who do the violins, guitars, etc. have a sound box), standing waves on a two-level plate: Chladni plates, analogue: the sound box of a violin, piano case. Main frequency and harmonics of the string of an instrument.
Physics of musical instruments:
Stringed instruments, brass instruments. Percussion instruments: sound and noise, percussion instruments with a certain and uncertain pitch (what differentiates them in the sound spectrum). Keyboard instruments. Electronic music.
Sound and biology:
how does a person make the sound, overtone singing, how does the sound reach a person's ear and brain.

Applications of acoustics in medicine: ultrasound, auditory threshold, from the diagnostics and treatment of tumours to the treatment of Parkinson's disease and stroke.
Learning outcomes in the course
Upon completing the course the student:
- understands the physical principles of sound and can link it with music;
- knows the physical principles of producing a sound in instruments;
- can compile a mini-research paper, measure different physical characteristics of instruments, and analyse the results.
- understands the physical and biological principles of producing and hearing a sound.
PhD Katrin Laas