1. An Acoustics Primer

All musicians work with sound in one fashion or another, yet most have little understanding of its properties. Computer musicians, in particular, can benefit in myriad ways from an understanding of the mechanisms of sound, its objective measurements and the more subjective area of its perception. Not only is this understanding crucial to properly using common studio equipment and music software, but novel compositional strategies can be derived from exploiting much of the information below. One would expect a painter to know about the properties of paint—the same should hold true for the composer’s understanding of acoustics and psychoacoustics.

The physics of sound (acoustics) is often confused with the way we perceive it (psychoacoustics). The discussion below begins with a study of sound’s physcal characteristics and their measurements, followed by a discussion of our perception of them.

It is recommended that the first-time reader progress through the pages in sequence, using the arrow buttons at the bottom of each page. After a first reading, you may jump to a specific page by using the links below: The final page lists both published and on-line sources used in the preparation of this article. All would make excellent reference for further study.

Acoustics
Psychoacoustics
2. Sound
3. Speed of sound
4. Characteristics of sound waves
5. Frequency
6. Amplitude (including discussion of decibels)
7. Wave shape
8. Phase
9. Resonance
10. Reflection, reverberation and standing waves
11. How the ear works
12. Pitch and tuning
13. Loudness
14. Timbre
15. Localization
16. Music cognition

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An Acoustics Primer, Chapter 1
URL: www.indiana.edu/~emusic/acoustics/acoustics.htm
Copyright 2003 Prof. Jeffrey Hass
Center for Electronic and Computer Music, School of Music
Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana