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The University of Southampton

ISVR3063 Musical Instrument Acoustics

Module Overview

This module studies musical instruments from the orchestra and beyond, and applies engineering understanding of their physical mechanisms to explore why they sound the way they do. It also explores the issues raised by attempting to understand how an instrument works such as the psychology of subjective perceptions and how they can be quantified, the role of nonlinearity in determining the sound of an instrument and the effects of uncertainty and variability in characterising an ostensibly similar group of instruments. These are all issues which occur in a wide range of realworld engineering problems.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

Explore the physical mechanisms that govern the functioning of a wide range of musical instruments.

Learning Outcomes

Disciplinary Specific Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Explain how a musical instrument works by relating its physical mechanisms to its sound.
  • Understand how different research modalities can extend our knowledge of musical instruments.
  • Read and understand the literature of musical instrument acoustics.
  • Express critical thinking about musical instruments and other subjects through coherent written essays


1. Overview of the subject. 2. Sound perception. 3. Strings in free vibration. 4. Bowed stringed instruments. 5. Review of fluid dynamics. 6. Brass instruments. 7. Woodwind. 8. Voice. 9. Percussion.

Special Features

o Demonstrations of wave phenomena and musical instruments in lectures. o Lab class analysing plucked strings on electric guitars.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

There will be a weekly double-slot lecture given either by the module co-ordinator or a guest lecturer with a particular interest in the subject of that lecture. There will also be two supervised laboratory sessions, one computational and the other involving sound measurements from an instrument.

Follow-up work36
Preparation for scheduled sessions12
Completion of assessment task52
Wider reading or practice18
Practical classes and workshops6
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Other Materials. 

Fletcher, N. H. and Rossing, T. D. The Physics of Musical Instruments. 





MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 60%
Laboratory Report 20%
Laboratory Report 20%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 60%
Lab Report 20%
Lab Report 20%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 60%
Laboratory Report 20%
Laboratory Report 20%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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