The Physics of Music

5 credits

Syllabus, Bachelor's level, 1FA301

Education cycle
First cycle
Main field(s) of study and in-depth level
Physics G1N
Grading system
Fail (U), Pass (3), Pass with credit (4), Pass with distinction (5)
Finalised by
The Faculty Board of Science and Technology, 30 August 2018
Responsible department
Department of Physics and Astronomy

Entry requirements

General entry requirements

Learning outcomes

On completion of the course, the student should be able to:

  • outline the principles for how sound arises and propagates as mechanical waves in different media.
  • explain how musical tones are created and altered in wind, string and percussion instruments, as well as with the voice.
  • describe what is meant by harmony, overtones and relations between tones in musical scales.
  • outline basic acoustic principles.
  • perform simple laboratory exercises and present the results.


The course addresses the general properties of sound which is described as waves with speed, amplitude and frequency, propagating in a medium. Discussed is also what is meant by a tone and how loudness and pitch of a tone is related to the properties of the mechanical wave. Furthermore, the 12 tone scale is explained, and how intervals, harmonies and overtones are represented by wave patterns. Examples of how musical tones are created and altered in wind, string and percussion instruments, as well as with the voice are presented, as well as tuning and dissonance. The course also touches on basic acoustics and the history of music up to electronic music.


Lectures, laboratory exercises, study visit.


Presentation of laboratory exercises and study visit (2 credits). Written examination at the end of the course (3 credits).

If there are special reasons for doing so, an examiner may make an exception from the method of assessment indicated and allow a student to be assessed by another method. An example of special reasons might be a certificate regarding special pedagogical support from the disability coordinator of the university.