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Creating musical sounds

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How do different instruments produce the sounds we classify as music? How do we decide whether something whether a piano or a vacuum cleaner is actually a musical instrument? In this free course, Creating musical sounds, we investigate the way vibrations and sound waves are harnessed to create music.

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • Explain correctly the meaning of the emboldened terms in the main text and use them correctly in context
  • Identify whether a given sound source can be classed as a musical instrument and explain why (Activity 2)
  • Identify the primary vibrator and any secondary vibrators in the most common types of instrument (Activity 3)
  • Appreciate that, when a note is played, a musical instrument vibrates strongly at certain specific frequencies and that these frequencies correspond to the natural frequencies of the primary vibrator; (Activity 4)
  • Determine whether the sound from a given instrument is transient or sustained (Activity 5)

By: The Open University

  • Duration 20 hours
  • Updated Wednesday 24th August 2016
  • Introductory level
  • Posted under Technology
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Creating musical sounds


Unit image

This course is concerned with the tools required to perform music, namely musical instruments. When you see the term musical instrument, you probably automatically think of the instruments found in an orchestra such as the violins, trumpets and flutes. Maybe you think of keyboard instruments like the piano or the organ. Or perhaps you visualise more modern instruments such as the electric guitar or the electronic synthesiser. You may even think of the human voice. These are all certainly examples of what we traditionally consider to be musical instruments (Figure 1). But what is it about these examples that makes us classify them as musical instruments?

On the face of it, they all seem bewilderingly different. Some involve plucking or bowing a string, others involve blowing air through a tube, and still others involve pressing keys. As if this weren't enough, consider the difference in size between some of these instruments. A flute is small enough to be able to be carried comfortably in one hand, while a pipe organ may be so large that it has to be permanently installed in a spacious building like a church or concert hall. However, despite all these differences, there are some features that are common to all musical instruments. Here we shall examine the general principles of sound production that apply to all instruments.

Please note that Activity 21 and Activity 22 are optional and require additional materials and software.

This OpenLearn course provides a sample of Level 2 study in Technology courses/ find/ technology [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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