Good Vibrations: Music Resounds with Physics!

In this activity, students are asked to experiment with systems in which standing waves are created in a string or spring via external vibrations. Students must determine what factors in each system determine the characteristic frequencies at which that system resonates—and they must try to identify the mathematical relationship each factor has to the resulting frequencies. This assignment assumes prior exposure to the basics of wave math and terminology, but it leaves much of the experimental design process to the students. The factors they investigate are not identified for them, nor are the mathematical relationships.
Subjects: Physics, Science
Prior Knowledge: To be successful in this activity, the students should have a basic working knowledge of oscillation motion, waves, and the quantities that describe wave motion. Students will need experience measuring lengths and using known masses—both for weight and for inertia. Students should have basic knowledge of mathematics and skills consistent with high school algebra, including geometry. They will also need to know how to use a graphing calculator or a computer-based graphing program that will analyze data for “best-fit” functions.
Key Concepts and Terms: Amplitude, Antinode, Frequency, Force of tension, Interference, Linear density, Node, Oscillatory motion, Period, Resonant frequencies, Speed of wave, Standing wave, Transverse and longitudinal wave, Wavelength
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