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The Design And Performance Of Musical Instruments

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.553.1 - 3.553.6



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Paper Authors

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Todd Nocera

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Martha Cyr

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John McDonald

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Chris Rogers

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3553

The Design and Performance of Musical Instruments

Chris Rogers, Martha Cyr, John McDonald, and Todd Nocera Tufts University

Abstract By challenging the students to design and build a musical instrument, we teach the fundamentals of engineering design and acoustics, as well as introduce statics, dynamics, fluid mechanics, and vibrations to liberal arts students and first-year engineers. Using the instrument as a non- threatening medium, students get a chance to do hands-on problem solving from the beginning of their college career. One of the unique aspects of this course is that it is co-taught by the music department and the mechanical engineering department. Students also learn the fundamentals of composition and actually perform an original composition on their instruments in an end-of- semester concert. Students found this course very rewarding and a number of them have continued refining their instruments after the end of the course. In the following paper, we present a general overview of the class as well as the student response with examples of student work and thoughts.

Introduction Traditionally, first year engineering students have very little exposure to engineering. Instead, they spend the bulk of their year learning many of the fundamental stepping stones for their future engineering courses: physics, calculus, etc. Often, these courses fail to motivate the students and many potential engineers transfer out of the engineering college before they have even done any engineering. At Tufts University, we started a new program for first year students where they get the chance to engineer in their first year and to learn why they need calculus, physics, and chemistry. These mini-courses are taught by the best teachers in the various departments and are based on their personal hobbies. For instance, some of the courses offered are: Design of a Solar House, The Way Things Work, Aeronautics and Space Systems, Image Processing, Introduction to Biotechnology, and Life in Moving Fluids (how animals have engineered solutions to many of their problems). We also offer one such introductory course in the Design and Performance of Musical Instruments. Through the construction and testing of a musical instrument, we teach the fundamental concepts of acoustics, statics, and materials. In this paper we will concentrate on this course as an example of a way to engage first year students in engineering right away.

Course Specifics The course was divided into three segments: introduction to the fundamental science principles, design and construction of an instrument, and a final concert in which the students present their instruments by playing their own compositions. The bulk of the science principles were introduced through 7 labs (see figure 1). We began each of the classes with a ten minute

Nocera, T., & Cyr, M., & McDonald, J., & Rogers, C. (1998, June), The Design And Performance Of Musical Instruments Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/1-2--7015

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