10 Connections Between Physics and Music

Time and Anticipation
Even if an audience has never heard a piece of music before, listeners can intuit what will happen next, because we instinctively recognize and anticipate patterns. ©eurobanks/Thinkstock

Music's patterns join together time and what would otherwise be just noise. A room full of people playing instruments independently makes nothing but an ear-rending racket. When they play their instruments in time to the same sheet of music, though, the result is amazing. It's music.

Yet it's not only the players who understand these songs. The audience, too, picks up on melodies and learns to anticipate a chorus and refrains. Even if you've never heard a particular song before, you almost instinctively begin to understand a song's structure and pattern and timing.

This speaks to a level of interconnectedness that harkens back to physics. It might not quite be quantum mechanics, but it's yet another intersection – of many – in which music and physics collide.

Author's Note: 10 Connections Between Physics and Music

Whether we realize it or not, we're all in tune with music and physics. We clap and sing along to songs on the radio. We splash around in bath tubs and learn to control the waves (sometimes making a huge mess in the process). Intuitively, we come to recognize resonance, frequency, standing waves and other abstract terms without even knowing exactly what they mean. Some people, like the Bachs and Mozarts of the world, grasp these concepts more firmly and put them to use with the discipline of true scientists.

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  • Burton-Hill, Clemency. "The Sounds of Science: How Physics and Music Can Help Each Other." FT Magazine. Oct. 18, 2013. (July 18, 2014) http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/5a8ff636-36be-11e3-8ae3-00144feab7de.html#axzz37Bkd3n3c
  • Department of Physics Michigan Tech University. "Physics of Music." (July 18, 2014) http://www.phy.mtu.edu/~suits/SpeedofSound.html
  • Gold, Lauren. "Is it the Mystery, or the Structure, or the Discipline? Whatever the Reason, Playing Music Seems to Attract Physicists." Cornell Chronicle. Aug. 10, 2006. (July 18, 2014) http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2006/08/cornell-physicists-face-music-and-love-it
  • Gupta, Arvind. "The Interesting Connection between Math and Music." The Vancouver Sun. Apr. 7, 2009. (July 18, 2014) http://www.vancouversun.com/Entertainment/interesting+connection+between+math+music/1473881/story.html
  • Hollis, Benjamin. "Physics of Sound." (July 18, 2014) http://method-behind-the-music.com/mechanics/physics
  • Lapp, David R. "The Physics of Music and Musical Instruments." (July 18, 2014) http://kellerphysics.com/acoustics/Lapp.pdf
  • The Physics Classroom. "Sound Waves and Music." (July 18, 2014) http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/sound
  • Powles, Jonathan. "Music and Physics – The Connections Aren't Trivial." The Conversation. July 17, 2012. (July 18, 2014) http://theconversation.com/music-and-physics-the-connections-arent-trivial-8188
  • Rayner, John. "This is a Love Song: The Physics of Music and the Music of Physics." The Conversation. July 10, 2012. (July 18, 2014) https://theconversation.com/this-is-a-love-song-the-physics-of-music-and-the-music-of-physics-7799


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