Crafting Meaningful Lives: PHYS 104 -- Why Music Matters: The Science of Sound Spring 2012

Course Professor: Scott Heinekamp
Stratton 302         ext 3361
Office Hours Tues 9:30-11:00 & Wed 11:30-12:30 or by appt

Here is the Lecture Schedule, which will evolve as we go. See below for a review of the course content outline. And here is the Assignment Sheet with solutions.

This course is a first-year seminar, and will include strong emphasis on critical thinking (both textual and mathematical) and writing improvement, organized around systematic content. One goal of this course is that you become a BETTER writer (and by implication, thinker), regardless of your present skill level. Discussion of the readings assigned will, to as great an extent as possible, by driven by the students in the class. That said, since this course is rather heavily weighted toward content, your professor will do a fair amount of "lecturing" on the material.
The goals of a Crafting Meaningful Lives course
Every section of the course will be different, but certain goals are universal. The objectives of the course are that you increase your ability to
- read and write analytically and critically
- connect the academic content of the course with personal values and passions
This particular course will also call on quantitative reasoning, through numbers, equations and graphs, and scientific reasoning too; there is probably more content that is non-controversial in this class than perhaps some others, so the important notions of thesis statement and argument will play only a secondary role. However, a truly well-lived and meaningful life is one that uses numbers and science to deepen experience. And I sincerely hope that you take away an increased appreciation for the power and mystery of music, through our analysis.
Academic Honesty and Plagiarism
Plagiarism is any use of another person's ideas or words as if they were your own. As long as you acknowledge that you are using another's ideas or words, by citing your sources, you are not guilty of plagarism. Using and reflecting and critiquing other people's ideas is a normal part of academic discourse. It's how new knowledge is created!! But the key is to ACKNOWLEDGE that the ideas you are usng are someone else's.
Plagarism is a serious violation of the honor code at Wells and plagarizers will be asked to submit to the procedures of the Community Court. Furthermore, plagarizers learn nothing about themselves; they do no critical thinking; they do not learn anything about the course material; they certainly do not become better writers. And, they don't accomplish anything toward crafting a more meaningful life!
Attendance and Grading Policy
It may come as a surprise to learn that your absence hurts everyone in the class! We want you here, because we like you!! I will forgive one unannounced absence, for whatever reason that may come along. After that, your class participation grade will suffer. Late assignments will be docked one letter grade split for each day late, including weekend days (so, for example, if an assignment is a day late and would have gotten a B-, it will receive a C+).
Essays, Exams and Other Work
Four short informal essays and/or homework assignments         10% each
Research Paper (process/presentation/paper)      15%
Class Participation         15%
Midterm and Final Exams        15% each
Course Content Outline What makes SOUND, often, sound good? What makes a sound musical? We'll grapple with this ancient question in this course, which is an inquiry into historical development of musical scales and of musical instruments, and of the related questions of the structure of sound as a signal, from mostly but not exclusively mathematical and physical points of view. I hope that, as a consequence of your SCIENTIFIC study of sound, you'll better appreciate why music sounds good in your life.
I. Introduction to the Physics and Mathematics of Good Vibrations
A little bit of trigonometry and some algebra, and there'll be a bit of physics in here too. The essential building block of musical sound is a pure sine wave. Ideas of traveling waves, sound waves, and some qualitative understand of how sound waves 'work'. develop
III. The Grecian Formulation
A review of ancient Greek thinking, as it pertains to their ways of understanding the order and unity of the world. We'll see a bit of philosophy; some geometry; some elementary mathematics.
IV. Elementary Scale Design as based on the vibrating string
Whence comes Western musicís (imperfect) equal-tempered twelve-tone scale system? From the octave, to the perfect fifth, we move by systematic leaps up the harmonic series as exhibited by the taut string, the goal being to "fill up the octave" with a bunch of more-or-less equally spaced notes. It ain't as easy as it sounds... Western culture has agreed to stop this maddening game at the (imperfect) 12-tone scale.
V. How We Hear This is not about human anatomy, but it is concerned with some interesting ways of understanding how sounds are processed in your mind. Concepts to include loudness, consonance/dissonance, masking, and others.
VI. Musical Instrument Technologies A review of the various classes of instruments: strings, winds, horns and percussion.
VII. The Quest for Perfect Tuning and Alternatives to the 12-tone System
A futile endeavor, ultimately, but humankind has been very clever in trying to hide the problems inherent in the 12-tone system. There are literally hundreds of alternative tricks. And, are there scientifically-based yet musically valid alternative scale structures? Some would say these tunings "sound weird" but logically, and even musically, it makes a lot of sense to bend the rules.
Major Textual Sources
Richard Berg & David Stork, The Physics of Sound [text for the course]
John R Pierce, The Science of Musical Sound (1983) [a beautiful rambly love song to music and science, by a brilliant Bell Labs scientist]
Various readings on science and music from Scientific American and other periodicals
Excerpts from other writings on Greek philosophy, tuning systems, and the aesthetics of music