Segev BenZvi

Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Rochester

PHY 103: The Physics of Music

Fall 2016
Bausch and Lomb 407: Tu Th 9:40 - 10:55
Lab: M 2:00 - 4:40

PHY 403 is an exploration of music and acoustics using demonstrations and laboratory experiments. The class meets once per week for lectures. Students apply the lecture material during weekly sessions in the music lab (B&L 403), building and testing their own musical instruments. At the end of the semester, the class performs a short concert (or individual demonstrations) using instruments of their own design.

Location and Office Hours

Instructor TI
Segev BenZvi Luke Okerlund
B&L 405 B&L 403
Th 9:30 - 11:00 M 2:00 - 4:40


The course textbook is Musical Instrument Design by Bart Hopkin (ISBN-10: 1884365086), an excellent and inexpensive book about the physical principles behind the different families of instruments. The book also describes how to make music using highly creative and unusual instrument designs.

The following books are also on reserve at POA:



Weekly Lab Reports60%
Class Participation10%
Final Project20%

You are required to complete at least 8 out of 10 lab reports to get full credit during the fall semester. Due to the difficulty of setting up different equipment for different experiments, here are no make-up labs allowed -- hence the 8 out of 10 policy. Note that if you miss a lab, you will need to provide a valid excuse (religious holiday, personal emergency, etc.).

The midterm will be an in-class exam meant to test your conceptual understanding of the topics you learn about in the course.

For the final you will design and build your own instrument in the lab during the last month of the semester. We have tentatively scheduled a short (10-15 minute) concert on December 9 where you can show off your instrument. To get full credit you will need to be on the concert program. Students who cannot attend the concert may get credit by presenting their final projects in class.


In the lab we will use the commercial software Adobe Audition to perform frequency analyses of your recordings and produce awesome spectrograms. However, if you wish to explore on your own there are several excellent open-source (and free) software packages that you can try out:

Lecture Notes

1Sep. 6Introduction to Waves
Reading: Hopkin Ch. 2, Berg and Stork Ch. 2, Heller Ch. 2
2Sep. 8Standing Waves and Harmonics
Reading: Hopkin Ch. 1, Berg and Stork Ch. 3
3Sep. 13Fourier Analysis and Sampling
Reading: Hopkin Ch. 1, Berg and Stork Ch. 4
4Sep. 20Standing Waves in an Air Column
Reading: Hopkin Ch. 6
5Oct. 4Scales and Temperament
Reading: Hopkin Ch. 3, Berg and Stork Ch. 9
6Oct. 18Impedance
Reading: Hopkin Ch. 1, Heller Ch. 1.
7Oct. 25Loudness and Amplification
Reading: Heller Ch. 7, Fletcher and Rossing Ch. 9, 12.
8Nov. 1Bars and Bells
Reading: Hopkin Ch. 3, Fletcher and Rossing Ch. 2 (advanced).
9Nov. 15Drums
Reading: Hopkin Ch. 7, Fletcher and Rossing Ch. 3 (advanced).
10Nov. 22Voice
Reading: Heller Ch. 17
11Nov. 29Room Acoustics
Reading: Berg and Stork Ch. 8.
12Dec. 1Auditory Illusions
Reading: Cook.


1Sep. 12 Measurements of Frequency
2Sep. 19 Spectral Analysis of Sliding Whistles
3Sep. 26 Making a Fretted Monochord Tuned in Equal Temperament
4Oct. 3 Amplification with a Piezoelectric Contact Pickup
5Oct. 17 Building an Electroacoustic Transducer (Speaker)
6Oct. 24 Copper Pipe Xylophone and Gong
7Oct. 31 Near Field Radiation of Sound
8Nov. 7 Resonant Tones in an Air Column: The Didgeridoo
9Nov. 14 Constructing a PVC Flute
10Nov. 21 Room Acoustics

Final Projects

Final projects from Fall 2016, in order of presentation:

Paul Sinclair:
PVC clarinets played with standard mouthpiece.

Aaron Santiago:
Dresser-drawer kalimba with piezoelectric pickups.

Ethan Savitch:
Whamola with piezoelectric pickup.

Scott Trufan:
Electric guitar with humbucker pickups.

Theo Wahawisan:
Hammered dulcimer (plywood and steel string).

Melissa Proven:
Copper pipe and PVC piccolos.

Haley Weaver:
Zither/lap harp, with splined bridge!

Credit and Usage

Anyone who comes across this material and wishes to use it for their own courses is free to do so without requesting my permission. However, please cite S. BenZvi, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, University of Rochester, 2016.