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PPoM The Physics and Psychophysics of Sound and Music

The Physics and Psychophysics of Sound and Music

An undergraduate study site for music, psychology and physics for a basic understanding. (Not updated since 2000.)

This course is is designed as an introductory unit of one semester for first year undergraduate music students and covers what I consider the necessary basic material needed for working in a recording or electronic music studio or for a composers working in all idioms.

The course is divided into 3 broad topic areas:

  • Basic principles of the physics of sound.
  • The physiology of hearing, and
  • The psychophysics of hearing.

There is also some additional notes on Acoustic Space.

Physics Of Sound: Basics Concepts

  • Definitions of sound
  • Sound Generators

Frequency Of A Sound Wave

  • Effect of Temperature on Velocity of sound in air
  • Wavelength Revisited
  • History of Measuring Velocity of sound in air
  • Pressure in a Sound Wave


  • Power in a Sound Wave
  • Definition of Intensity
  • Sound Intensity Level (SL)
  • Working with Decibels
  • A Review of Logarithms
  • Comparison of Intensity and Pressure Level


  • Complex Tones
  • Sympathetic Resonance
  • Fourier Analysis and Fourier Synthesis

Tuning, Scales And Temperament

  • Harmonic and Inharmonic Spectra
  • Scales - An Introduction
  • Construction of the Pythagorean Diatonic Scale
  • Construction of the Pythagorean Chromatic Scale
  • Construction of the Just Diatonic Scales
  • The Just Chromatic Scale
  • The Tempered Scale
  • Equal Divisions of the Octave into Different Numbers of Tones

The Physiology Of Hearing

  • Introduction
  • The Middle Ear Ossicular Chain - Malleus, Incus and Stapes
  • The Inner Ear: The Cochlea
  • The Organ of Corti
  • The Cochlea to Brain transmission system

The Psychophysics Of Hearing

  • JND - Just Noticeable Difference
  • Psychophysics of Pitch Perception
  • Superimposition of two sine tones of equal frequency and equal phase
  • Sensation of the superposition of two tones
  • What Happens When The limit of frequency discrimination approaches the Critical Band?
  • Limits
  • Combination Tones

The Psychophysics Of Loudness

  • Review of Basic Concepts
  • Intensity Masking
  • Loudness

Theories Of Consonance And Dissonance

  • Concepts of Consonance and Dissonance
  • The Critical Band Theory of Plomp
  • Consonance, Dissonance and the Critical Band (with audio examples)


* Stevens, S.S. & Warshofsky, Fred.: Sound and Hearing : Time-Life Science Library : 1980
# Olsen, Harry F.:Music, Physics and Engineering : Dover Publications, Inc. N.Y., 2nd ed. : 1967.
Rigden, John S. :Physics and the Sound of Music: J. Wiley 2nd ed.: 1985
Roederer, Juan : Introduction to the Physics and Psychophysics of Music: The English Universities Press, London 1973.
Blake, Randolph and Sekuler, Robert : Perception: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. : 1985
Goldstein, E.Bruce : Sensation and Perception: Wadsworth Pub. Co. 3rd ed.: 1989
+ Wood, A : The physics of music: Methuen London 6th ed. : 1962

This course was developed and expanded over a 15 year period from the early 1970's and used as an introductory course at the Australian Centre for the Arts and Technology, at the Australian National University, where the author was the Founding Head, and director from1989–2000.

Since their migration to the WWW in the early 1990's with the assistance of Marciano Telese and Rohan Phillips, they have been hardly modified but still remain a central resource for many courses in music and acoustics around the world. They are offered in the now almost defunct spirit of free intellectual inquiry.


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