Acoustics Provides a New Service for Musicians

One of the goals of music acoustics is to provide practical assistance to musicians and instrument makers. This is rather difficult to do: musical instruments are complicated and subtle, and musicians and makers work to high precision, are interested in very subtle effects, and are concerned with hundreds of different acoustical configurations of the instrument. So the acousticians must provide an accurate theory, based on precise and detailed measurements, and very large data sets. Our work on wind instruments is now reaching these goals.

The acoustics group has developed a technique to produce precise, rapid measurements of acoustical transfer functions with a large dynamic range. Using such measurements, student Andrew Botros developed an accurate model of the modern flute, which has been applied to all 39,744 possible configurations or fingerings. For each fingering, the model ranks several different notes for their intonation and playability. These data have recently been incorporated in a web service, which is regularly consulted by musicians in various different ways.

One tool allows players to seek alternative fingerings that facilitate rapid passages or trills where the standard fingerings are awkward. Another seeks fingerings with improved or different intonations. Another tool, popular with performers of contemporary music, seeks multiphonics or chords. The capacity of wind instruments to play chords is still being developed and, until now, there has been no systematic list of the thousands of chords that are possible.

The next step for this research is to predict, for the benefit of instrument makers, the effects on all of the standard fingerings produced by small changes to the geometry of the instrument.

Andrew Botros, John Smith and Joe Wolfe

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