The beauty of string instruments

TASC is a time for some students to settle into practice rooms, hidden away from the obvious eye all around school. Passing the Art department, musicians like April Wang ’16 can be heard playing the piano in a practice room. In fact, there are many musicians like Wang at Blake who have the knowledge of the musicality behind instruments such as the piano, but not about the science behind the music.

Vibration plays a significant role in creating sound for all string instruments. Inside the piano, there are around 230 strings, all with different lengths that correspond to 88 separate pitches, where there are at least three strings for one pitch. The strings vibrate when a pianist strikes a note, and it creates sound waves that can produce a frequency creating sound. The frequency can vary with different pitches and volume.

Physics teacher Steve Kaback explains this phenomenon, “pitch is a result of a vibrating object doing so at different frequencies.” Frequency is a description of the number of vibrations the sound source creates per second, and the medium of the frequencies of a sound wave represents the pitch. Therefore, the higher the frequency will produce a higher tone.

The height of a sound wave – the amplitude – adjusts the volume of a note. The greater the amplitude is, the louder the sound; whereas a smaller amplitude will produce a quieter sound. In addition, when vibration occurs in the sound wave, it produces natural frequency, which enables the atoms to jiggle to create resonance. Most importantly, the natural frequency amplifies resonance on the string and even the piano board so that the instrument can produce a louder sound.

New physics teacher Rebekah Johnson, sums up the correlation among frequency, pitch, and volume. Johnson says, “the density of the string dictates the wavelength, and length of the string dictates the frequency, so by varying the lengths and density of the strings, you can make the wave travel through that air differently. That’s what will dictate the different pitch you hear.”

However, music goes beyond the physical realm. Musicians expressed how piano has helped them both mentally and physically. John Mullan ’16 says, “ [piano] has the uncanny ability to relax me and to relieve stress.” On the other hand, Michael Feldkamp ’18 says, “it strengthens fingers, increases coordination, and helps with memory.” Surprisingly, most pianists said that they enjoy playing the piano in a wide range of genres including classical music to contemporary pop songs.

Whether you’re a kid who learned the piano from your parents’ pressure or someone who simply enjoys listening to the piano, you might have wondered what it’s exactly creating the sound. Through the mechanics behind string instruments, bear musicians and their peers appreciate the glorious harmony piano creates everyday.

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