PHYS 141: Science as a Human Endeavor: Physics of Music

Course Description

An exploration of what science is and how science changed our understanding of who we are and our place in the universe. This question is explored as it relates to a topic of a particular science discipline. One hour lecture, three hours lab each week. Fulfills half of General Education Natural Sciences requirement. Liberal Arts. This course has a fee.

Music is a human activity shared by every culture on earth. Everyone loves making and listening to music. There are wonderful composers who have mastered the art of writing music, and superb musicians who perform the music. According to the Bible, in heaven there is music.

But what is music? How is it made? These questions can be asked from several familiar perspectives — artist, performer, or composer. These questions, however, can also be examined from a scientific perspective. Why do musical instruments each have a characteristic sound? How does the environment influence the perception of music? How should an instrument be tuned? Where does the sound come from in a clarinet? These are all questions that can be answered by science.

Music consists of sound waves generated by musical instruments or human voices, perceived by the human ear. Science can explain the production, transmission, and perception of music – but is that all music is? Is music nothing but sound?

In this class will both explore the science of music, and spend time thinking about this question: Is there more to music than just the physical processes?

Useful Information

Class Time MTWRF 8:00-10:45 AM P118
MTWRF 1:00-3:15 PM P207
Instructor Dr. Yuly
Teaching Assistant Katelyn Cook


“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”


“The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition. My new discovery is the result of musical perception.”

Albert Einstein