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Vibrating strings

If a string stretched between two points is plucked it vibrates, and a wave travels along the
string. Since the vibrations are from side to side the wave is transverse. The velocity of the
wave along the string can be found as follows.
Velocity of waves along a stretched string
Assume that the velocity of the wave v depends upon
(a) the tension in the string (T),
(b) the mass of the string (M) and
(c) the length of the string (L) (see
Figure 1).
Therefore: v = kTxMyLz
Solving this gives x = , z = , y = .
The constant k can be shown to be
equal to 1 in this case and we write m
as the mass per unit length where m =
M/L. The formula therefore becomes:
velocity of waves on a stretched string = [T/m] 1/2
Since velocity = frequency x wavelength
Frequency of a vibrating string = [T/m]1/2
The Physics of vibrating strings
A string is fixed between two points. If the centre of the string is plucked vibrations move out
in opposite directions along the string. This causes a transverse wave to travel along the
string. The pulses travel outwards along the string and when they reaches each end of the
string they are reflected (see Figure 2).

The two travelling waves then interfere with each other to produce a standing wave in the
string. In the fundamental mode of vibration there are points of no vibration or nodes at
each end of the string and a point of maximum vibration or antinode at the centre.
Notice that there is a phase change when the pulse reflects at each end of the string.

The first three harmonics for a vibrating string are shown in the following diagrams.
(a) As has already been shown; for a string of length L and mass per unit length m under a
tension T the fundamental frequency is given by:
Frequency (f) = 1/2L[T/m]1/2

(b) First overtone or second harmonic:

Frequency (f) = 1/L[T/m]1/2

(c) Second overtone or third harmonic:

Frequency (f) = 3/2L[T/m]1/2

A string can be made to vibrate in a selected

harmonic by plucking it at one point (the
antinode) to give a large initial amplitude and
touching it at another (the node) to prevent
vibration at that point.

The Doppler


Most everyone is familiar with the drop in pitch of a train whistle as a train passes
your position and switches from moving toward you to moving away from you.
This phenomenon is called the Doppler Effect , and is associated with the wave
nature of sound: the relative motion of the source causes the wavelength of the
sound waves to be decreased ahead of the source and stretched out behind the
source (musically, the pitch of a note is correlated with the wavelength of the
corresponding sound wave; thus, the longer the wavelength, the lower the pitch).
Here is a Java Virtual Experiment that illustrates the Doppler effect.
Light also can be described as a wave, and relative motion of the source of light
waves leads to a corresponding Doppler effect for light. In this case it is not the
pitch but the color (that is, the wavelength) that is shifted by the motion of the
source. The wavelength is shifted to larger values if the motion of the source is
away from the observer and to smaller values if the motion is toward the
observer. The shift to larger wavelengths by motion away from the observer is
called a red shift by astronomers and a shift to shorter wavelengths caused by
motion toward the observer is called a blue shift. The terminology is borrowed
from the visible part of the spectrum where blue is toward the short wavelength
end and red is toward the long wavelength end, but the Doppler effect occurs for
all wavelengths of light, not just the visible spectrum.

Resonance - when one object vibrating at the same natural frequency of a second
object forces that second object into vibrational motion. Resonance is a common
cause of sound production in musical instruments. One of our best models of
resonance in a musical instrument is a resonance tube (a hollow cylindrical tube)
partially filled with water and forced into vibration by a tuning fork. The tuning fork
is the object that forced the air inside of the resonance tube into resonance. As the
tines of the tuning fork vibrate at their own natural frequency, they created sound
waves that impinge upon the opening of the resonance tube. These impinging
sound waves produced by the tuning fork force air inside of the resonance tube to
vibrate at the same frequency. Yet, in the absence of resonance, the sound of these
vibrations is not loud enough to discern. Resonance only occurs when the first
object is vibrating at the natural frequency of the second object. So if the frequency
at which the tuning fork vibrates is not identical to one of the natural frequencies of
the air column inside the resonance tube, resonance will not occur and the two
objects will not sound out together with a loud sound. But the location of the water
level can be altered by raising and lowering a reservoir of water, thus decreasing or
increasing the length of the air column.

Resonance and Musical Instruments

Musical instruments produce their selected sounds
in the same manner. Brass instruments typically
consist of a mouthpiece attached to a long tube
filled with air. The tube is often curled in order to
reduce the size of the instrument. The metal tube
merely serves as a container for a column of air. It
is the vibrations of this column that produces the
sounds that we hear. The length of the vibrating air
column inside the tube can be adjusted either by
sliding the tube to increase and decrease its length
or by opening and closing holes located along the
tube in order to control where the air enters and exits the tube. Brass
instruments involve the blowing of air into a mouthpiece. The vibrations of
the lips against the mouthpiece produce a range of frequencies. One of the
frequencies in the range of frequencies matches one of the natural
frequencies of the air column inside of the brass instrument. This forces the
air inside of the column into resonance vibrations. The result of resonance is
always a big vibration - that is, a loud sound.

Woodwind instruments operate in a similar manner. Only, the source of

vibrations is not the lips of the musician against a mouthpiece, but rather the
vibration of a reed or wooden strip. The operation of a woodwind instrument
is often modeled in a Physics class using a plastic straw. The ends of the
straw are cut with a scissors, forming a tapered reed. When air is blown
through the reed, the reed vibrates producing turbulence with a range of
vibrational frequencies. When the frequency of vibration of the reed matches
the frequency of vibration of the air column in the straw, resonance occurs.
And once more, the result of resonance is a big vibration - the reed and air
column sound out together to produce a loud sound. As if this weren't silly
enough, the length of the straw is typically shortened by cutting small pieces
off its opposite end. As the straw (and the air column that it contained) is
shortened, the wavelength decreases and the frequency was increases.
Higher and higher pitches are observed as the straw is shortened. Woodwind
instruments produce their sounds in a manner similar to the straw
demonstration. A vibrating reed forces an air column to vibrate at one of its
natural frequencies. Only for wind instruments, the length of the air column
is controlled by opening and closing holes within the metal tube (since the
tubes are a little difficult to cut and a too expensive to replace every time
they are cut).

Resonance is the cause of sound production in musical