Sound and Music SBG

I’m teaching “the physics of sound and music” in the fall, along with the labs. I really want to do that using my Standards-Based Grading with Voice approach, but I recognize that having 40 students really changes the grading calculus. In recent semesters I’ve managed to grade up to 1000 videos per semester. To do that for this course, that would be 25 videos on average per student. The typical average of re-assessments that my students do per standard is ~3, so that would mean teaching a course with only 8 standards, compared with the 30 or so I’ve been doing for majors classes. I think this is do-able, especially since the learning objectives for such a course are much more general than the typical sophomore/junior majors classes I’ve been doing.

So, what might eight standards look like? I’d like to use this post to begin brainstorming that. First, let me say that covering the labs for this course really helps me be flexible. In our department we’ve established 10 or so common labs that everyone uses whenever they teach this course. I’m thinking of changing most of them to be, not only SBG-worthy (instead of cookbook-y), but also supportive of the 8 major ideas of the course.

Ok, here’s a stab at a few. Note that I like them to start with “I can . . .” so that it’s clear what they should be able to do. Of course, the action verbs after that are really where the work lies. Please hold me accountable in the comments.

  1. I can describe the wave nature of sound.
    1. We’d have to study waves for this, of course.
    2. This could include all of the following
      1. wave propagation
      2. diffraction
      3. interference
      4. doppler
      5. standing waves (though, as noted below, this will likely get its own standard)
      6. beats
    3. I guess simple harmonic motion would have to be here too
  2. I can analyze the standing waves of a one dimensional system.
    1. strings for sure
    2. tubes
      1. flutes and  clarinets
    3. excitation mechanisms?
  3. I can analyze frequency/time issues of a complex sound
    1. Using something like Audacity
    2. Analyze harmonic structures
    3. Analyze the early time structures
    4. Determine what sort of instrument it might be
    5. Determine the room acoustics?
    6. This one seems too broad
  4. I can explain how sound is recorded, stored, and played back
    1. microphones
    2. digital compression
    3. speakers
    4. bare minimum of electronics, I guess
  5. I can describe the range and limits of the human ear and voice
    1. The book we’ve used (Berg and Stork) has a lot on this, though I’m not planning on using that book, so we’ve done a lot of this.
    2. However, it’s a lot more physiology than physics, so I go back and forth on it.
    3. It’s fun to teach the dB scale with the ear, though
    4. The vocal tract is a rich resonant chamber to study.
    5. Helium voice can be a fun lab, I suppose.
  6. I can do a scientific investigation
    1. This could quite possibly by the last science course they ever take.
    2. The labs will be like “measure the speed of sound using whatever is in your pocket and our campus”
    3. This standard will be given context from the labs we do
      1. of course, using my typical SBG approach, that means only the last lab counts, so that’s a problem
  7. I can design, build, characterize, and communicate about a new musical instrument.
    1. We’ve done this a lot, so we know how to support this
    2. Often people build guitars, but there’s often a lot of creativity involved.
    3. I focus more on the engineering to achieve a particular pitch, while my colleague tends to focus on musical qualities.

Ok, so that’s only 7, but it’s an interesting start. I’d love to get some feedback. Here are some starters for you:

  • I think 8 is far too few. You need some on _____ and _____.
  • I think 8 is far too many, you should just have _____ and _____.
  • I think the human stuff is way too much physiology and not enough physics.
  • Everything is physics!
  • I think you need to have one on the (fast) fourier transform.
  • You should definitely teach about analog synthesizers!
  • Keep the labs out of your SBG approach. Let them teach the students about scientific process
  • Your last two are the same.

About Andy Rundquist

Professor of physics at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN
This entry was posted in physics, syllabus creation, teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Sound and Music SBG

  1. First thoughts:

    Out of the 7 standards, only the last one says anything specific about music. (You’ve listed examples of musical instruments in the 1-d resonance standard, but the standard itself is about the systems: strings and pipes, not the instruments.) Everyone does a “Sound and Music” course differently, of course, but I think if music is in the title of the course, it should be well represented. The last standard is more about lab and engineering skills as you point out, anyway.

    What if you had a standard that was something like: “I can demonstrate understanding of the physics of each family of musical instruments.” That’s a little unfair, I guess, because it’s actually understanding woodwinds, brasses, strings, and percussion all wrapped into a single standard. My point is that a student could conceivably build one type of instrument for the class and understand how it works without having to know anything about any other type of instrument.

    Glad to see you’re trying to scale up the SBG. I’ll be interested to know how it goes.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      You raise a great point about the name, Andrew. I think I have focused historically on the “sound” part and not the “music” part. I like your suggestion about the classes of instruments, somehow making them compare and contrast them, or something. I have done the Berg and Stork chapter on temperaments and scales in the past. Would you recommend something like that as well?

      • Personally, I choose to leave out scales and temperaments, UNLESS there is a large majority of the class that is into it. I find that musicians occasionally get into temperament and the rare non-musician will find it neat to compare just tuning to equal temper, but getting enough of the class onboard to make it worth time taken from other things has only happened once or twice in the 10+ times I’ve run my class. If you have room in the scientific investigation standard for an interested student to explore scales and temperament on their own, it might make for interesting projects for motivated students.

        That said, there are many ways to run a class like this. My preference is towards the physics of acoustical musical instruments. That doesn’t make it the only (or even best) way to structure this sort of class.

      • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

        I was wondering whether pulling out the electric stuff could leave room for more sound/music analysis. I wonder what would happen if I had them vote on a larger number of standards in the first week to cut it down to 8. Maybe there would be a vote for temperaments or electronics or who knows. Of course, the first couple of standards should stay no matter what, I would think.

  2. why do two instruments playing the same note/frequency sound different?
    what is perfect pitch?
    What is the difference between an MP3 & WAV recording (& vinyl)

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      I really like these, Paul, but they sound a little small to be one of the 8. What do you think?

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  4. Jackie Bussjaeger says:

    As a beginner in physics and as a vocalist, I would be interested in learning vocal physiology anyway, if even to make the class a little bit more comfortable (although I realize I am only one person and I am unsure if my classmates share this sentiment).

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      One thing I’m thinking of is determining the content I really think should be there, and then offer several topics that the class can vote on. I think if we have a number interested in music, things like the voice physiology could easily get a vote.

  5. Joss Ives says:

    Andy, I’m really curious about how a course built around such coarse standards will go. With a ton of standards, the difference between a 2 and a 3 is not a big deal, but here that difference for one standard could have a large impact on the final grade. For a standard like #1, I can see sub-topics in there where the same person would get a 4 on one part and a 1 on a different part. I guess what I’m wondering is if these coarser standards will require chunkier assessments so that they can show both breadth and depth of understanding on a given standard?

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      Those are exactly the kinds of things I’ve been thinking about lately, Joss. I think that a coarse standard would have lots of things that need to be touched upon in a video. Another way to go is to give those fine grained issues as sub-standards and have them check them off, or maybe have weekly quizzes or something.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      I’m not 100% sure. There are a lot of models out there that my math and physics teacher sbg friends use. I’m still kicking it around.

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