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Sound Production In General

Thus, the production of sound depends upon the vibration of a material body, with the vibration being transmitted to the medium that carries the sound away from the sound producer. The vibrating violin string, for example, causes the body of the violin to vibrate; the "back-and-forth" motion of the parts of the body of the violin causes the air in contact with it to vibrate. That is, small variations in the density of the air are produced by the motion of the violin body, and these are carried forth into the air surrounding the violin. As the sound is carried away, the small variations in air density are propagated in the direction of travel of the sound.

Figures 1 through 5. Courtesy of Gale Research.

Sounds from humans, of course, are produced by forcing air across the vocal cords, which causes them to vibrate. The various overtones are enhanced or diminished by the size and shape of the various cavities in the head (the sinuses, for example), as well as the placement of the tongue and the shape of the mouth. These factors cause specific wavelengths, of all that are produced by the vocal cords, to be amplified differently so that different people have their own characteristic voice sounds. These sounds can be then controlled by changing the placement of the tongue and the shape of the mouth, producing speech. The frequencies usually involved in speech are from about 100 to 10,000 Hz. However, humans can hear sounds in the frequency range from about 20 to 18,000 Hz. These outer limits vary from person to person, with age, and with the loudness of the sound. The density variations (and corresponding pressure variations) produced in ordinary speech are extremely small, with ordinary speech producing less than one-millionth the power of a 100 watt light bulb! In the sonic range of frequencies (those produced by humans), sounds are often produced by loudspeakers, devices using electronic and mechanical components to produce sounds. The sounds to be transmitted are first changed to electrical signals by a microphone (see Reception of sounds, later), for example, or from an audio tape or compact disc; the frequencies carried by the electrical signals are those to be produced as the sound signals. In the simplest case, the wires carrying the electrical signals are used to form an electromagnet which attracts and releases a metal diaphragm. This, in turn, causes the variations in the density in the air adjacent to the diaphragm. These variations in density will have the same frequencies as were in the original electrical signals.

Ultrasonic vibrations are of great importance in industry and medicine, as well as in investigations in pure science. They are usually produced by applying an alternating electric voltage across certain types of crystals (quartz is a typical one) that expand and contract slightly as the voltage varies; the frequency of the voltage then determines the frequency of the sounds produced.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: 1,2-dibromoethane to AdrenergicAcoustics - Vibrations Of A String, Vibrations Of An Air Column, Sound Production In General, Transmission Of Sound - Production of sound