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Question

How does pitch of sound depend on type of material vibrating?


Solution

Changing Pitch

A string vibrates with a particular fundamental frequency. It is possible, however, to produce pitches with different frequencies from the same string. The four properties of the string that affect its frequency are length, diameter, tension, and density. These properties are described below:

  1. When the length of a string is changed, it will vibrate with a different frequency. Shorter strings have higher frequency and therefore higher pitch. When a musician presses her finger on a string, she shortens its length. The more fingers she adds to the string, the shorter she makes it, and the higher the pitch will be.
  2. Diameter is the thickness of the string. Thick strings with large diameters vibrate slower and have lower frequencies than thin ones. A thin string with a 10 millimeter diameter will have a frequency twice as high as one with a larger, 20 millimeter diameter. This means that the thin string will sound one octave above the thicker one.
  3. A string stretched between two points, such as on a stringed instrument, will have tension. Tension refers to how tightly the string is stretched. Tightening the string gives it a higher frequency while loosening it lowers the frequency. When string players tighten or loosen their strings, they are altering the pitches to make them in tune.
  4. The density of a string will also affect its frequency. Remember that dense molecules vibrate at slower speeds. The more dense the string is, the slower it will vibrate, and the lower its frequency will be. Instruments often have strings made of different materials. The strings used for low pitches will be made of a more dense material than the strings used for high pitches.

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