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University Bulletin
Undergraduate Degree Programs

These course descriptions are not being updated as of August 1, 2016. Current course descriptions are maintained in LionPATH.

Integrative Arts (INART)

INART 050 (GN) The Science of Music (3) Waves, physics of sound, hearing, musical scales, musical instruments, and room acoustics.

INART 050 The Science of Music (3)

(BA) This course meets the Bachelor of Arts degree requirements.

This course will explore the physical and acoustical bases of sound and music.

The physics will include a study of vibrating systems and simple harmonic motion, wave propagation, reflection and refraction, superposition, resonant frequencies, harmonics, phase, the relationship of speed and velocity, and spectra. The acoustics portion will apply these physical properties to hearing, sound and music, covering the nature of the human auditory system, and correlations of pitch to frequency, loudness to amplitude/power/intensity, timbre to spectra and envelope. NOTE: there need be no specific math prerequisite for the course. Though high school algebra and trigonometry will be recommended, these topics will be integrated with the rest of the course material.

With physical and physiological groundwork laid, the subject matter will move to purely musical areas: the construction of musical scales, the nature of consonance, dissonance, and harmony. Twelve-tone equal temperament, the basis of Western common practice music, is not an absolute, but a decision made to facilitate certain musical choices, and a compromise in terms of optimal consonance. The nature of the different instruments will then be discussed - strings, winds, brass, and voice. Different instruments naturally produce different scale types and different types of spectra. Students will learn to appreciate the inherent differences in different instrument types.

The last portion of the course will return to acoustics, exploring the role that performance spaces play in the propagation and reception of sound. The shape and materials of a room determine its characteristic sound. Students will learn about how sound in large auditoriums is characterized by the balance of direct and reflected sound, the distinction between specular and diffuse reflections, the absorptive properties of different building materials, and the nature of reverberation. Smaller performance spaces are subject to standing waves, flutter echo, and comb filtering. Taking steps to avoid undesirable characteristics is often an easy matter once the nature of these characteristics is understood.

Finally, an overview of perceptual psychological studies of auditory streaming will explore how the auditory system organizes sound on a primitive, unlearned level.

Grading will be based on weekly homework assignments, two midterm exams and a final

General Education: GN
Diversity: None
Bachelor of Arts: Natural Sciences
Effective: Spring 2012

Note : Class size, frequency of offering, and evaluation methods will vary by location and instructor. For these details check the specific course syllabus.


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Course descriptions are stored in LionPATH, the University-wide student information system. Please visit the LionPATH Course Catalog to access current course descriptions. At that point, you will be leaving the University Bulletin website.

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