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Selecting Materials for Musical Instruments: a Case Example with a Xylophone

Humans have been enjoying music made by instruments for a long time. But how do different types of instruments actually make sound? And how would be select materials for said instruments based on their sound-producing method? This interactive lecture introduces the Hornbostel-Sachs musical instruments classification system as a way to start this discussion. A xylophone is used as a case example for chosing materials based on the properties required for the final product. An option hands-on activity of building an instrument from household materials is included. 

Learning Outcomes

  • Define music, sound, and musical instruments
  • Describe different instrument classes based on the Hornbostel-Sachs System
  • Define young’s modulus, density, and mechanical loss coefficient
  • Explore material properties via Ashby property charts
  • Question why we do not always pick the “best” material for a product

Applicable Courses for Use

  • Pre-university STEM teaching, Introductory courses at university (intro to engineering, intro to music)

Downloadable Content

  • Zip file containing: Read Me instructor's guide, PowerPoint lecture
Selecting Materials for Musical Instruments

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