The Physics of Music and the Nature of Timbre

Lauren Rhoda, Carroll College, Helena, MT

Abstract

Music is an art form which shapes all of our lives. It is integral to the human experience as an expression, however simple or complex, of joy, sorrow, devotion, or any emotion that man is capable of feeling. Yet, music is not widely understood as a physical phenomenon. The physics of the soundwave lies at the core of our experience of music, with features of the wave giving sound its musical quality. Of special interest in this paper is timbre, which is essentially what distinguishes the sound of instruments from one another and ultimately lends music its beauty.