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New EE lab projects for non-EE majors: Fourier spectra of music and perception of the effects of student-built filters

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Laboratory Development in ECE II

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.926.1 - 23.926.20



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Paper Authors

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Alexander Ganago University of Michigan

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Sudarshan Sivaramakrishnan University of Michigan

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2013  ASEE  Conference     New EE lab projects for non-EE majors: Fourier spectra of music and perception of the effects of student-built filtersIn this report we address well-known challenges of teaching introductory courses in ElectricalEngineering (EE) to non-EE majors, which involve laboratory projects. The benefits of labs aremany: they help students to relate theory to applications, provide insightful hands-on experience,elucidate abstract EE concepts, and develop transferable skills valuable in non-EE environment.Notorious constraints to lab teaching include:o Conceptual (do students understand the engineering and physical principles in operation?)o Logistic (projects must be completed within scheduled time, esp. short in a service course)o Technical (test/measurement instruments and software should be adequate and easy to use)o Psychological (can students relate this lab to what they do in the rest of their lives?)Concepts related to the Fourier spectra and the transfer functions of filters are abstract and seemto be hardly related to students’ experiences in life and non-EE studies. In our new set of Labswe focus two Experiments – one in the Spectra Lab and one in the following Filters Lab – onthese concepts, striving to relate them to what students appreciate – the sounds of music. (Eachof 2-hour-long Labs is divided into 3 or 4 Experiments of approximately equal durations; eachExperiment includes its own Introduction as well as Pre-Lab, In-Lab, and Post-Lab assignments.)Our goal is to overcome the self-imposed limitations: (1) conventionally, filters in teaching labsare studied only with sinusoids rather than with real-world signals that have complex spectra; (2)similarly, Fourier analysis is conventionally applied to standard waveforms (square, ramp, etc.).In our new Labs, we intertwine these conventional measurements with more open-endedExperiments that involve the sounds of music.In the Pre-Lab for the new Experiment of our Spectra Lab the students play the same notes onseveral instruments of the “Virtual keyboard” on the Internet and try to assess their harmoniccomposition by ear; in the Lab, they use oscilloscopes to measure FFT spectra of the samesounds, and compare the lab data with their predictions.The sketch illustrates the main idea of our newExperiment in the Filter Lab: a famous piece of musicinvolves three groups of sounds with distinct spectra – abass guitar, mid-range vocal, and high-pitch cymbals.In the Lab, the students build Low-Pass and High-PassRC filters and measure their transfer functions, cutofffrequencies, etc. Then they apply these filters to music(the sketch explains their functionalities): listen to themusic as is, and through each of their real filters, and appreciate the filters’ effects on what theyhear. In the Pre-Lab for this Experiment, students use the Audacity program on the Internet to“build” two software filters with the same cutoff frequencies as in the Lab, and listen to the samemusic with and without the filters. This comprehensive experience helps students to relate theirlistening experiences to their circuit building and lab data, reinforcing the application of theory.We will explain each Experiment and its place in the sequence of rigorous measurements ofstandard signals; provide examples of lab data, and summarize the feedback from students andfrom the lab instructors in a large class.Last  printed  2012-­‐09-­‐21  3:47  PM       File:  2013 ASEE Abstract with SS rev2.doc  

Ganago, A., & Sivaramakrishnan, S. (2013, June), New EE lab projects for non-EE majors: Fourier spectra of music and perception of the effects of student-built filters Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22311

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