Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ideas for a lecture on hearing and music

This year my lecture on hearing and music was quite confusing, which is really a shame, because the topic is so wonderful, interesting, and potentially rich with insights! (Everybody likes music - at least some kind of music - it's a general trait, and so I hope it can be used as a "hook" in teaching).

So now I'm looking for ways to make this lecture next year a hit. So far I am thinking of the following:

1) Instead of just showing formants and spectra in the presentation download a realtime spectrogram tool (like this one for example) and use it to show:

  • whistle, plunger flute (idea of a spectrum)
  • s-sch-sh sounds (noise and the spectrum)
  • voice (with harmonics)
  • throat singing rendition (to show that individual harmonics can be boosted / damped)
  • a-e-i-o-u, ba-da (standard formants)
  • difference between a flute and a clarinet (even vs odd harmonics)
2) More on formants. Trumpet mouthpiece with a "hand-trumpet" to show that "speech-like sounds" may be generated by means other than the mouth cavity. Also this video.

3) Auditory illusions and examples from this awesome site:

4) The easiest way to explain harmonic series is actually to use a piano, pressing some keys silently, and then exciting them by striking other keys corresponding to respective undertones. But I won't be able to bring a piano in a classroom, so either I'll try to use a re-tuned guitar, or just show them part of these amazing videos:

What else? When talking about frequencies, it may be useful to demonstrate them on the spot with something like this theremin simulator. Also with 2 plunger flutes I can show just tuning (disappearance of amplitude ripples), but I'm not sure they'll be able to hear them easily without prior training. Also I will probably bring an overtone flute (kalyuka) to demonstrate first several harmonics in a woodwind instrument.

Ideally it would be great to make some kind of a mini-lab, making them generate some sounds on their laptops, but I don't yet know what to do. Maybe making them run certain frequencies with certain pulse, in a hope that it would all mix into some kind of music? Giant interactive musical box? I should think more about that.

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