Syllabus For Physics 305 On-Line at Cal State Northridge Spring 09

This course requires concurrent enrollment in Physics305LOL(laboratory)



A. Course Objective


The main objective of this course is to give you an understanding of the basic physical principles underlying sound and music. It provides a clear demonstration of how physics works using a medium (sound and music) with which we are all familiar. The approach assumes no knowledge of mathematics beyond arithmetic and is designed for people with little or no physics background. Good use is made of numerous sound examples and sound analysis computer programs, including real time spectrographic analysis. This provides a graphical understanding of the physics involved. An important objective is to provide you with good familiarity with sound analysis software. For those of you majoring in music, speech, or language, the knowledge gained here will be directly useful in your occupations.


B. Textbook - Measured Tones - The Interplay of Physics and Music - by Ian Johnston, 2nd Edition, 2002, Institute of Physics Publishing, Bristol and Philadelphia. ($34.99 at Amazon) You will need the textbook early in the course! There will be two copies of the textbook on reserve in Oviatt Library

C. Outline of Course-(The order of subjects is subject to change!)


1. Properties of Sound Waves - Define and relate wavelength, frequency (pitch), and sound speed. Distinguish amplitude, intensity, and power.

Describe absorption, diffraction, refraction, reflection, phase and interference. Obtain a real understanding of what sound is.

2. Wave Shapes - Complicated wave shapes and pure tones compared (sine waves = pure tones). Introduce the concept of the frequency spectrum.

3. The Fourier Theorem. Non-mathematical description by actually synthesizing and analyzing a complex wave.

4. Musical Scales - The development of Western musical scales and harmony as based on harmonics. Introduce other scales.

5. Pipes as Instruments - Flute, clarinet, oboe, trumpet etc. Describe instrument as a resonant cavity (or filter). Define resonance & standing waves.

6. Percussive Instruments - Piano, drums, bells, etc.

7. The Strings - Violin, viola, cello, bass etc. Emphasis on the physics - cavity, body resonance, action of bridge, etc.

8. The Human Voice - The vocal tract as a resonant filter. Definition of filter. Use of spectrometry for comparing voices and instruments. Real time spectrograms and vocal feedback studies.


You will use the computer programs  (Syd and Canary for Macintosh 9.x and earlier users; Syd and Raven (NOT RAVENLITE!!!!) for PC and Mac OSX) for carrying out the experiments and sound sample analyses. These programs must be installed on your computer for the term.

Each of these programs has a particular purpose in learning about sound and music:

JSyd is a simple sound synthesis program and is important for learning about sound wave behavior. It is freeware! (Mac and PC).

Canary is a Macintosh (OS9.2 and earlier) free program designed for ornithologists at Cornell University that does spectral analysis on recorded sounds.

Raven is a sound analysis program, designed for PC and Mac OSX, also from Cornell University, that has most of the features of Canary. This program can be rented for six months for $50, or for the monetarily stressed, the demo can be used free?? in ten minute segments with some limitations in features. Vista seems to work ok (see the Raven System Requirements).

Syd and the Raven Demo are installed in some computers in Room 1100, Live Oak Hall.

There are other programs that can be used for real-time spectrometry and can be used for short times without cost.  I suggest that enrollees start installing JSyd and Raven as early as you can in the term.


D. Course Requirements

You will need access to an adequate computer. You must have a reliable word processor ( MS Word but Not 07) and an email system working on your computer. We will use WebCT for handling the instructions, posted material, and some of the chats. A DSL or broadband type of connection will be helpful, as the sound files are rather large. It will be necessary to have a microphone and speaker installed and working. Microphones are available for ~ $10.00 at any discount computer store.  This term we will be using Elluminate, which allows us to have online chats and computers displays, for some of the chats. Please try to familiarize yourself with Elluminate, it will be a great help. See

There will be a mid-term which will attempt to determine the degree of your understanding of the basic concepts covered so far. There will be an opportunity to work on and present the results of a project, of your own choosing, which will utilize the tools presented in the course. This will take the place of a final exam and must be completed by the first day of the exam period.


E. The grade will use the letter + and - system and will be made up of a simple average of: 25% midterm grade, 25% on weekly reports based on experiments you will carry out at home (SeePhysics396DOL-Physics of Music Laboratory), 25% on participation in one chat session per week, and 25% on the final project.

Class meetings (online) will be on Mondays at 8:00 PM for Section 1 taught by Dr. David Bach. Class meetings (online) will be on Wednesdays at 8:00 PM for Section 2 taught by Dr.  Henning Ottsen. It is particularly important to keep up with the class schedule. Please ask for assistance by email if you feel that you are getting behind. The assistance will be in the form of online Elluminate sessions with the instructor, direct phone contact, or personal contact with a Teaching Assistant in the Mac Lab in Eucalyptus Hall.


F. Instructors: Dr. David R. Bach for Section 1 and Dr. Henning Ottsenfor Section 2.  Contact hours to be arranged. e-mail: or Please make email contact with us as early as possible in the term as this is the only way we will be able to get in touch with you.


G. This course fulfills the requirements of a General Education course. It will provide a concrete introduction to the methods of experimental physics using a field of physics (sound and music) familiar to everyone. You will have the excitement of learning by observation and simple analysis. In addition, you will have the opportunity to use the tools (innovative equipment and computer programs) that will make this possible. You will also learn the definitions of many common terms that are used in all branches of modern physics.


H. According to the University Catalog..."All upper division required GE courses ...are required to complete writing assignments totaling a minimum of 2,500 words". Part of the requirement of the course is a project of your own choosing. This will be worth up to 25 points as stated above and will require a written report.