13769 - Musical Acoustics (1)

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2019/2020

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will:

- know the fundamental concepts of acoustics and physiology/psychology of the auditory perception;

- understand the elements and structures of the European music in an acoustic perspective;

- develop basic knowledge of the digital processing technologies and the mechanical and acoustic operation of musical instruments.

Course contents

This course focuses on the following fundamentals of Musical Acoustics:

- the acoustic phenomenon: period, amplitude, wavelength, frequency;

- harmonic oscillator. Fourier analysis. D'Alembert and Helmholtz equations (qualitatively);

- sound speed in various media. Standing waves, interference, beats. The basics of classic harmony. Sound rays;

- absorption, reflection, transmission and diffusion at an interface. Sound levels; decibels and spectra. White, pink noise;

- sound signals. Frequency analysis, spectra for octave bands and octave thirds. Time and frequency weights. Metrology of noise;

- fundamentals of the theory of time-invariant linear systems. The linear system. The impulse response;

- Shannon's theorem.

This course will also deal with some elements of psychoacoustics and instrumentation, such as:

- the human auditory system. Psychoacoustic aspects and their evaluation;

- Microphones, accelerometers, filters, phonometers. Digital waveform recording and playback;

- AD/DA conversion. Waveform editing programs.

Musical instruments (notes)

Percussion (plates, timpani);

String instruments, (piano, violin, guitar, cello);

Wind Instruments (brass, reed instruments: clarinet, organ);

Electronic instruments (synthesizers, standard midi);

The human voice. The sound production.

Psychoacoustic aspects of music

History of musical notation: Pythagoras, Zarlino, equable temperament. Pitch, intensity, timbre, rhythm.


Acoustics of musical instruments. Acoustic and non-acoustic criteria: vibrations, normal modes, cut-off frequency ranges in sound tubes. Dendrochronology. Holographic techniques.

Architectural acoustics

Theater acoustics. Beranek's work. Normal ways and coupled cavities. Reverberation time and direct and reverberating field.

Energy and spatial parameters. Ando's theory. Contemporary research. Physical and numerical models; auralization.

The acoustic properties of the materials. Soundproofing. Mass law (an outline).

Laboratory experiences

Measurement procedures and post-processing of impulse responses of theaters. Measurements of IRs. Binaural and three-dimensional recording techniques. Modal analysis techniques. Measurements on ancient musical instruments.

Degree thesis

The degree thesis will be manly an experimental work on one aspect of architectural acoustics, electro-acoustic or musical acoustics


  • Material given by the lecturer
  • Acustica Musicale ed Architettonica, a cura di S.Cingolani e R. Spagnolo, Città Studi, 2007 (only for further comprehension)
  • L. Tronchin, Elementi di Fisica Tecnica e Controllo Ambientale, Seconda Edizione, Ed. Esculapio, 2010 (from chapt. 19 to chapt. 24)

Teaching methods

The approach will be phenomenological. It will be possible to explore some of the topics of the course for those students who wish it.

Assessment methods

The final examination will be a written multiple questionnaire on 15 questions. Students may alternatively take, on request, an oral examination.

It will be assessed as excellent the performance of those students achieving an organic vision of the course contents, the use of a proper specific language, originality of reflection and familiarity with the musical acoustics tools. It will be assessed as discrete the performance of those students showing mostly mechanical or mnemonic knowledge of the subject, disarticulated synthesis and analysis capabilities, or a correct but not always appropriate language, as well as a scholastic study of musical acoustics. It will be assessed as barely sufficient the performance of those students showing learning gaps, inappropriate language, lack of knowledge of the tools of musical acoustics. It will be assessed as insufficient the performance of those students showing learning gaps, inappropriate language, no orientation within the recommended bibliography and inability to analyze the musical acoustics.

Link downloading a sample of the written examination: http://www.fistecamb.com/download/dams/esempio-esame.pdf

Teaching tools

For further information go to the following webpage:


Links to further information


Office hours

See the website of Lamberto Tronchin