Fall 2009

Science and Music

Listed in: First Year Seminar, as FYSE-18


Jonathan R. Friedman (Section 01)
Eric W. Sawyer (Section 01)


Appreciating music requires no special scientific or mathematical ability. Yet science and mathematics have a lot to tell us about how we make music and build instruments, what we consider harmonious and how music is processed by the ear and brain. This course will delve into the fundamentals of music theory, perceptual psychology and physics in exploring such topics as scales and tunings, the physical properties of sound, Fourier analysis, organizing principles of musical forms, fundamentals of instrument construction, vocal sound production, and basic electronic music. No background in music or physics is required.  Students are expected to be well versed in high-school-level mathematics but no knowledge of calculus will be assumed.

 This course will focus on the interface between two disciplines often thought to be disparate. Co-taught by one physicist and one musician, the course will bring quantitative skills to bear on an aesthetic discipline. The course will comprise various formats, including lectures, discussions and labs. Students will be asked to write essays, build some basic circuits, compose music, complete exercises in elementary music theory, and construct simple instruments, among other things.

Fall semester.  Professors Friedman and Sawyer.


2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009

Final assignment

Submitted by Jonathan R. Friedman on Friday, 11/6/2009, at 3:10 PM

Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms, Mvmt. 1

Submitted by Eric W. Sawyer on Thursday, 9/3/2009, at 11:11 AM
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