The Essential Nonlinearity of Musical Instruments


Speaker: Professor Neville Fletcher
Date: 30th April 2010

It is tempting to think of musical instruments as simple linear systems – vibrating strings, standing waves in tubes, etc – but this is very far from true. The operation of all sustained-tone musical instruments such as violins, flutes and trumpets, depends critically upon the nonlinearity of the generator to which this resonator is coupled. Some impulsively excited instruments such as bells are very nearly linear in behaviour, but others such as gongs or cymbals derive their interesting tone qualities from nonlinearity. This talk will discuss the different ways in which nonlinearity arises, why it is so important for sound generation in musical instruments, and how it affects the resulting sound. Nonlinearity sounds complicated, but in this case it leads readily to simplicity!

Neville Fletcher