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Now that we have studied the basics of longitudinal waves, we are ready to study sound waves in detail.

Have you ever thought about how amazing your sense of hearing is? It is actually pretty remarkable. There are many types of sounds: a car horn, a laughing baby, a barking dog, and somehow your brain can sort it all out. Though it seems complicated, it is rather simple to understand once you learn a very simple fact. Sound is a wave. So you can use everything you know about waves to explain sound.

Characteristics of a sound wave

Since sound is a wave, we can relate the properties of sound to the properties of a wave. The basic properties of sound are: pitch, loudness and tone.

Pitch and loudness of sound. Sound B has a lower pitch (lower frequency) than Sound A and is softer (smaller amplitude) than Sound C.


The frequency of a sound wave is what your ear understands as pitch. A higher frequency sound has a higher pitch, and a lower frequency sound has a lower pitch. In [link] sound A has a higher pitch than sound B. For instance, the chirp of a bird would have a high pitch, but the roar of a lion would have a low pitch.

The human ear can detect a wide range of frequencies. Frequencies from 20 to 20 000 Hz are audible to the human ear. Any sound with a frequency below 20 Hz is known as an infrasound and any sound with a frequency above 20 000 Hz is known as an ultrasound .

[link] lists the hearing ranges of some common animals compared to humans.

Range of frequencies
lower frequency (Hz) upper frequency (Hz)
Humans 20 20 000
Dogs 50 45 000
Cats 45 85 000
Bats 20 120 000
Dolphins 0,25 200 000
Elephants 5 10 000

Investigation : range of wavelengths

Using the information given in [link] , calculate the lower and upper wavelengths that each species can hear. Assume the speed of sound in air is 344 m · s - 1 .


The amplitude of a sound wave determines its loudness or volume. A larger amplitude means a louder sound, and a smaller amplitude means a softer sound. In [link] sound C is louder than sound B. The vibration of a source sets the amplitude of a wave. It transmits energy into the medium through its vibration. More energetic vibration corresponds to larger amplitude. The molecules move back and forth more vigorously.

The loudness of a sound is also determined by the sensitivity of the ear. The human ear is more sensitive to some frequencies than to others. The volume we receive thus depends on both the amplitude of a sound wave and whether its frequency lies in a region where the ear is more or less sensitive.


Tone is a measure of the quality of the sound wave. For example, the quality of the sound produced in a particular musical instruments depends on which harmonics are superposed and in which proportions. The harmonics are determined by the standing waves that are produced in the instrument. For general interest see Physics of music , which explains the physics of music in greater detail.

The quality (timbre) of the sound heard depends on the pattern of the incoming vibrations, i.e. the shape of the sound wave. The more irregular the vibrations, the more jagged is the shape of the sound wave and the harsher is the sound heard.

Speed of sound

The speed of sound depends on the medium the sound is travelling in. Sound travels faster in solids than in liquids, and faster in liquids than in gases. This is because the density of solids is higher than that of liquids which means that the particles are closer together. Sound can be transmitted more easily.

The speed of sound also depends on the temperature of the medium. The hotter the medium is, the faster its particles move and therefore the quicker the sound will travel through the medium. When we heat a substance, the particles in that substance have more kinetic energy and vibrate or move faster. Sound can therefore be transmitted more easily and quickly in hotter substances.

Sound waves are pressure waves. The speed of sound will therefore be influenced by the pressure of the medium through which it is travelling. At sea level the air pressure is higher than high up on a mountain. Sound will travel faster at sea level where the air pressure is higher than it would at places high above sea level.

Speed of sound
The speed of sound in air, at sea level, at a temperature of 21 C and under normal atmospheric conditions, is 344 m · s - 1 .

Sound frequency and amplitude

Study the following diagram representing a musical note. Redraw the diagram for a note

  1. with a higher pitch
  2. that is louder
  3. that is softer

Questions & Answers

how do you translate this in Algebraic Expressions
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Need to simplify the expresin. 3/7 (x+y)-1/7 (x-1)=
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types of nano material
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I start with an easy one. carbon nanotubes woven into a long filament like a string
many many of nanotubes
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I'm interested in nanotube
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what is nano technology
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what is system testing?
preparation of nanomaterial
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Yes, Nanotechnology has a very fast field of applications and their is always something new to do with it...
Himanshu Reply
good afternoon madam
what is system testing
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In this morden time nanotechnology used in many field . 1-Electronics-manufacturad IC ,RAM,MRAM,solar panel etc 2-Helth and Medical-Nanomedicine,Drug Dilivery for cancer treatment etc 3- Atomobile -MEMS, Coating on car etc. and may other field for details you can check at Google
anybody can imagine what will be happen after 100 years from now in nano tech world
after 100 year this will be not nanotechnology maybe this technology name will be change . maybe aftet 100 year . we work on electron lable practically about its properties and behaviour by the different instruments
name doesn't matter , whatever it will be change... I'm taking about effect on circumstances of the microscopic world
how hard could it be to apply nanotechnology against viral infections such HIV or Ebola?
silver nanoparticles could handle the job?
not now but maybe in future only AgNP maybe any other nanomaterials
I'm interested in Nanotube
this technology will not going on for the long time , so I'm thinking about femtotechnology 10^-15
can nanotechnology change the direction of the face of the world
Prasenjit Reply
At high concentrations (>0.01 M), the relation between absorptivity coefficient and absorbance is no longer linear. This is due to the electrostatic interactions between the quantum dots in close proximity. If the concentration of the solution is high, another effect that is seen is the scattering of light from the large number of quantum dots. This assumption only works at low concentrations of the analyte. Presence of stray light.
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the Beer law works very well for dilute solutions but fails for very high concentrations. why?
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how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
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Properties of longitudinal waves
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Source:  OpenStax, Siyavula textbooks: grade 10 physical science [caps]. OpenStax CNX. Sep 30, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11305/1.7
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