Crafting Meaningful Lives: PHYS 104 -- Why Music Matters: The Science of Sound Spring 2012
Course Professor: Scott Heinekamp
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.
Stratton 302 ext 3361
Office Hours Tues 9:30-11:00 & Wed 11:30-12:30 or by appt
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'.
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
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