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About Positive Music
by Don Robertson

The Science of Sound

Please bear with me as I get a bit technical, but I would like to discuss the effects of music in a scientific matter, to get to the root of the subject.

Music is a vibratory phenomenon. Air particles are set in motion and these air particles in turn set matter that is within hearing distance into motion. This is called vibrational sympathy: When the vibrations of sound effect the airwaves, the airwaves effect other matter that they come into contact with in a manner that is in sympathy with the originating source. An example of vibrational sympathy is the sympathetic strings on the North Indian musical instrument called the sitar. The sitar is a large wooden instrument that has strings attached to it not unlike a guitar. These are the strings that are played by the musician when he or she is performing. Underneath these main strings, however, is a full set of strings that are tuned to the scale of the composition that is being played. The performer never plays these sympathetic strings except occasionally, simply for effect. The purpose of the sitar’s sympathetic strings is to give the sitar a richer sound. When a note is plucked on one of the main strings of the instrument, the sympathetic strings vibrate in sympathy with the main note. The sound that is produced by one of the main strings, when it is plucked, vibrates the airwaves and causes the secondary sympathetic string to vibrate, in sympathy. Thus, for every note played on a string on the instrument, two strings actually sound.

The effect of vibrational sympathy is easy to demonstrate. A well-known example is the cliché story about the opera singer who sings a note so high and so perfect that it shatters a crystal goblet. You can demonstrate the principal of vibrational sympathy for yourself. Open the lid of a piano and while someone holds down the right pedal--the one that releases the dampers on the strings--shout into the sound chamber of the piano. All of the strings that are tuned in a pitch that resonates with the tones in your voice will begin vibrating in sympathy and will produce a rush of sound.

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