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The Effect of Humidity and Temperature on Percussive Pitch

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Author: Shumit DasGupta

Grade Level: 6th - 8th; Type: Physical Science

Objective:

The purpose of this project is to quantify the effect of weather- in this case temperature and humidity- on musical instruments. All musicians know that the environment affects the tone of the instrument. This project tells us exactly how much.

Research Questions:

  • What is pitch?
  • How does pitch relate to Hertz?
  • What are drum skins typically made of?
  • Why would humidity and temperature affect the pitch of an instrument, particularly a drum?

Musicians are constantly fiddling with their instruments, and for good reason: any instrument that relies on a hollow concavity (and that is most instruments) will be affected by temperature and humidity. In fact, knowing what effect humidity and temperature will have on instruments would be valuable information for musicians, as they could adjust appropriately at performance time. 

A drum rings at a certain pitch, and is most likely to be affected by these environmental fluctuations, so it makes a great ‘test subject’ so to speak. As we are honing in on two variables, this is really two separate experiments.

Materials:

  • A drum
  • A decent musical ear, or an electronic tuner
  • If you have a good ear, some way of matching notes (i.e. a piano or an online pitch producer)
  • A barometer
  • A thermometer

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Practice-either using your tuner or using the piano- determining the pitch of the drum you are using.
  2. Set up a data chart to record the humidity, temperature, and pitch of your drum.
  3. Take data on several different days under several different conditions.
  4. Make sure you have a lot of data- you will need to divide all of it into two categories.
  5. This is the tricky part. You need to compare the effect of temperature on SIMILAR humdities. Vice versa, you need to compare the effect of humidity on SIMILAR temperatures. You will need to examine out your data carefully, and there is no way to determine what data you have, well, until you have it.
  6. Compile as many different graphs as you can. Bar graphs work well, as there is no time component.

Terms/Concepts: Pitch; Humidity (and relative humidity); Temperature; Barometer; Hertz (not the car company)

References:

Thermometer/Barometer:
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