PY231 Spring 2015
The Physics in Music  

Professor B. Lee Roberts

Department of Physics,  Boston University

Office: PRB 373,  phone:  617-353-2187

PY231 is designed for music and liberal arts students that are interested in learning about how their own musical instrument works, the physics behind music theory, and other topics in musical acoustics. We do not assume a prior knowledge of physics. You will learn how musical sound is produced, how it travels through the air and how it is perceived by us. We also will cover the acoustical foundations of music theory, including intervals and the building of musical scales.

The prerequisite is "musical performance", which means that you play some musical instrument or sing. It does not matter how well you play. The important thing is that you at least know what a scale and a chord are, and recognize the notes on the musical clef. The emphasis is on understanding the concepts behind acoustics, and then these concepts are applied to each of the traditional musical instruments. See the class schedule for a detailed list of topics. We use simple algebra in this course, and must acknowledge exponents and logarithms when we discuss the decibel system. If you have questions please send email to I have updated the Syllabus, where the course is described, along with a description of the project. You can access it through the pull-down menu below.

Course information: