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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)
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 Aims of Creating musical sounds
- 2 What is a musical instrument?
- 3 Sound production in musical instruments
- 4 Excitation
- 5 Primary Vibrators
- 5.1 Standing waves
- 5.2 Vibrating string: speed of wave propagation
- 5.3 Vibrating string: standing waves on a string
- 5.4 Vibrating string: normal modes of vibration
- 5.5 Vibrating string: pitches of notes produced by stringed instruments
- 5.6 Vibrating air column
- 5.7 Vibrating air column: reflection at the end of an air column
- 5.8 Vibrating air column: standing waves in a cylindrical tube open at both ends
- 5.9 Vibrating air column: standing waves in a cylindrical tube closed at one end
- 5.10 Vibrating air column: end effects
- 5.11 Vibrating air column: standing waves in a conical tube
- 5.12 Vibrating air column: pitches of notes produced by wind instruments
- 5.13 Other primary vibrators
- 5.14 Response and damping
- 5.15 Summary of Section 5
- 6 Radiation
- Keep on learning
Study this free course
Enrol to access the full course, get recognition for the skills you learn, track your progress and on completion gain a statement of participation to demonstrate your learning to others. Make your learning visible!
Creating musical sounds
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.
This OpenLearn course provides a sample of Level 2 study in Technology.
This free course includes adapted extracts from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Technology courses or view the range of currently available OU Technology courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Friday, 1st July 2011
Last updated on: Wednesday, 24th August 2016
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
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