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What is Sound?

So what is sound? Let's look at the properties of sound. We can hear it, but we can't see, taste, smell, or feel it, right? Now, wait a minute, we CAN feel sound. Have you ever stood next to a large speaker? Or maybe you've felt the rumbling of heavy bass music through a table or a floor. These effects prove that sound is some kind of physical phenomenon. Sound must somehow be "hitting" you, letting you "feel the beat". But how can that be happening? We don't see anything when we "feel" sound nothing but air! So we must be feeling the air when we feel sound!

So how are we "feeling" the air? Well, to answer this question, we need you to complete a little demonstration. Ready? Gently, take one of your hands and find your windpipe (at the base of your neck). The windpipe is the tube through which air passes when we breathe or talk. Now, keep your fingers touching your windpipe and sing a note (any note!) for a few seconds. If you're not the singing type, you can also hum or talk instead of singing. So, what did you notice? Your windpipe probably vibrated; if not, you may need to try again while singing a little louder.

Now we have the results of an experiment on sound, but what do these results mean? Let's think about this logically. Your windpipe vibrated when you made a sound. So, this means your windpipe caused the air to vibrate. Great, now we've figured out that sound is just vibrating air. But that still doesn't explain the rich variety of sounds that we can hear.

The answer to this one is simple. We've established that sound is simply vibrations in the air. In fact, the reason we can hear sounds is that these vibrations trigger tiny sensors in our ears that send the messages to our brains. Back to the question: why is there such a wide variety of sound? Well the answer is that there is an almost infinitely wide variety of vibrations in the air. For example, the air can vibrate at different speeds and intensities. Each of these slight variations can produce a different sound. Everyone has experienced a wide variety of sound, from the lyrical singing of a violin to the chirping of a bird.

Instruments and Sound

How do all the musical instruments produce sound? Well, in all cases, the instruments produce a vibration (usually through the vibration of a string). This vibration is in turn transferred to the air, and eventually reaches our ears. Again, a wide variety of vibration is possible from the many different instruments. Of course, one violin may sound drastically different from another violin due to a slightly different type of vibration produced. This applies to any instrument, not just violins.

Yet another point to think about is acoustics. You've probably realized that an instrument sounds different in a small room than in a huge concert hall. At least, you've experienced an echo, which is just the vibration of the air being reflected by something so that it is heard multiple times. The acoustics of a room work the same way: the various surfaces can slightly alter the type of vibration and change the sound slightly. The surfaces can also direct the sound to travel in a certain direction. For example, in a concert hall, the sounds made on the stage travel out towards the audience because of the design and shaping of the hall. In some places, the concert hall is so well designed that a musician cannot even clearly hear the musician sitting next to him/her because all the sound is being directed outwards!


What is tempo?

The word "tempo" is Latin for "time." For our purpose it is the speed at which we play a piece of music.

What is rhythm?

Rhythm is that thing in music that makes you want to tap your foot, play drums with your silverware or play air guitar. It also helps keep armies and marching bands in step. Rhythm is a certain controlled, regular (or irregular) "pulse" which flows through music in time. The word "rhythm" is Greek for "flow."

What is the beat?

The "beat" or "meter" of a song is determined by its count. We measure some songs in sections of fourths with the beat count being a repetitious, one, two, three, four. Other songs may be measured in thirds and counted as a repetitious one, two, three. This produces a different beat. The count or beat is determined by the time signature.

What is the time signature?

The time signature is a formula that determines the counting process for each measure in a particular musical piece. For example 4/4 is a time signature formula that tells us to count a piece of music in fours. The top number tells us how many counts and the bottom number tells us what kind of notes are being counted. In the case of 4/4 the time signature is saying to count four/fourth notes to each measure that follows.


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