How Musical Notes Work

Music is universally known as an art form and it is generally considered as a universal language as many people all over the world use it to express themselves and communicate.

Aside from being an art form, music is also a science and to those wondering how a guitar or piano can play specific notes in different octaves and pitches, it is all about sound, particularly soundwaves.

In the context of music, soundwaves have many fascinating properties and rules that vary depending on the musical instruments that produce them.

As musical instruments fall under string, wind, and brass instruments among others, these instruments create soundwaves that vibrate using air molecules as a medium.  Soundwaves are longitudinal, which means they vibrate back and forth while the waves move all around the air.

The note A or La

These waves are classified as Standing Waves because they perform Reflection and Interference in the sense that a soundwave appears to be still while moving back and forth. The only thing that may change is there amplitude or volume.

Standing waves have different frequencies that match various musical notes. They contain areas in their vibrations that do not vibrate, which are called Nodes. They also have areas in their vibrations that do move, and the peak of their movements are known as Antinodes.

Generally, these instruments create music using the frequencies of standing waves, which depend heavily on the setup of these instruments. An example is if a guitar is tuned properly, its strings are tightly connected in both ends.

When plucked, this fixed connection will produce waves that travel through the string in a back and forth manner. This is how musical soundwaves work for stringed instruments and the dynamics vary depending if the instrument is string, wind, and brass in nature.

Interesting Facts About How Musical Notes Work

  • A flute can produce soundwaves that do not require any medium. Just air, which the waves reflect off of.
  • The properties of standing waves are different depending on whether the instrument is made from strings with 2 fixed ends or a pipe with two ends open.
  • In its simplest form, soundwaves created by musical instruments is basically a peek that moves up and down, while travelling back and forth.
  • In a piano, when a key is pressed down, it results in a small hammer striking a string, creating standing waves on the string. Each string in the piano is tuned so that its fundamental frequency matches a specific note.
  • Guitars are also tuned so that the fundamental frequencies of their strings match specific notes.
  • Instruments all produce sound; however, the decibels vary depending on the size of the instrument. This is why a ukulele sounds softer than a guitar.
  • A standing wave acts very much like a jump rope where the top of the wave motion is known as the Crest while the bottom is referred to as the Trough
  • The frequency of a pitch is measured with a unit called a Decibel.

Frequency vs position on treble clef

How many notes are there in music?

As complex as music composition is, musicians only have 12 notes to use in creating music.

What is the loudest sound ever recorded?

In August 27, 1883, the volcanic island of Krakatoa in Indonesia erupted and produced a sound so loud that the shockwaves circled Earth four times.

How do human beings hear sound?

Soundwaves travel through the eardrums, vibrating various tiny bones inside. This causes interaction with a cavity filled with fluid. The fluid stimulates tiny little hair follicles that send signals to the brain. This is how humans interpret sound.

Why is music universally appreciated?

Music stimulates just about every region of the human brain that includes the reward pathways that crave food. This is why babies tend to dance to music even without knowing what it is.