Musical Instrument Engineering Program at Tufts University
Jesse N Jones IV, Livia Racz, Chris Rogers
Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155
January 24, 2000
Abstract Finding exciting ways to introduce and teach principles of mechanical engineering to undergraduate students helps retain their interest and improve learning. At Tufts University we have done this by initiating an engineering minor and concentration certificate program in Musical Instrument Engineering (MIE). The goal of this program is to teach the fundamentals of engineering through the manufacture of musical instruments. As musical instruments are both familiar and complex, they provide non-threatening and enjoyable focal points for engineering education. This curriculum combines a variety of learning experiences, including lecturing, experimental analysis, and project development. In this paper we outline the minor and certificate programs, and assess the success of the Musical Instrument Engineering program through the response of faculty, administration, and students. Introduction The concept of approaching the design of musical instruments from an engineering standpoint is not a new one. Certainly even the most primitive instruments were built with the consideration of available material and manufacturing limitations, and were the result of a design process. However, formal research and education of musical instrument design and manufacture is somewhat limited in today's educational environment. Whereas some schools are making advances in musical instrument research, most ignore the subject as a viable educational medium. Examples of prominent musical instrument engineering research programs exist at Stanford University1, Princeton University2, and Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands3. Research at these institutions range from advanced digital synthesis of acoustic instruments to studying the fluid behavior of air within the sound generating mechanism of the recorder. However, most of this research and education is on the graduate and upper undergraduate level. Further, these programs are not structured to teach the fundamental engineering concepts with regard to vibration, materials, and manufacture of musical instruments. A program similar to ours existed at North Carolina State within their Engineering Operations curriculum in the 1960's and 1970's, but it was geared toward students not willing to pursue an accredited engineering degree4. At Tufts, the Musical Instrument Engineering Minor and Concentration Certificate encompasses a rigorous engineering curriculum, both of which completely meet ABET accreditation requirements when completed in conjunction with a B.S.M.E. degree.
Although the Musical Instrument Engineering Program is only two years old, it has already become a diverse and exciting area of academic activity. Funded in part by Steinway & Sons and Selmer Instruments, the project has been propelled by a collaboration of the Music, Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering Departments at Tufts University. Further, the project has brought together professors and students whose specialties include music composition, fluid mechanics, acoustics, vibrations, robotics, and materials science. At the present time, the project includes both pure research, including the study of mechanical behavior of musical instruments, and the development of the curriculum, which is to include the minor and concentration certificate in Musical Instrument Engineering. MIE Program At its core, engineering is a profession of both problem solving and designing, pursuits that thrive in creative environments. Unfortunately, many engineering students are not given the chance to explore the creative side of their college major. Instead, they are relegated to prerequisite courses, which provide little motivation aside from being stepping stones toward a nearly unseen goal. Further, many students transfer out of mechanical engineering before the common thread of their courses begins to materialize. For many students, this sense of cohesiveness within their curriculum rarely materializes until their junior or senior year. With musical instruments as an educational focal point, students can see and experience how these different courses overlap and interact. Dynamics, vibrations, acoustics, fluid mechanics, and material science are all subject matters that directly apply to the design and performance of musical instruments. The MIE curriculum has two options, depending on the student's preference and educational background. The first is the minor in Musical Instrument Engineering. The minor is also intended to give engineering opportunities to engineers, musicians, and other non-engineers of varying disciplines. Thus, anyone with the will and a strong mathematical background can get the chance to develop and apply engineering skills toward building musical instruments. It includes: 1. Fluid Mechanics or The Physics of Music and Color 2. Dynamics and Vibrations 3. Musical Instrument Design and Manufacture 4. A monthly MIE Seminar Series during the junior and senior years. 5. A music theory or composition course 6. An approved practical experience in instrument making (i.e. an internship at with a musical instrument company or craftsperson, take a musical instrument making course at the museum school, or conduct a research project at Tufts).
The second option is a concentration certificate in Musical Instrument Engineering. This is a more intensive curriculum than the minor, and is intended exclusively for mechanical engineers. The specific required courses were chosen such that the curriculum thread can coincide with the mechanical engineering curriculum, but is augmented by courses that apply to musical instrument engineering. In addition to the requirements of the minor, the student must complete the following courses: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Acoustics Advanced Vibrations Advanced Material Science Finite Element Analysis Technical Writing Senior Design Project related to musical instruments
In both cases, course work is intertwined with research experience and hands-on project development. These different educational experiences give the student a chance to learn the theory behind the science in class, experience first-hand the theory being realized in a laboratory, then apply the theory and lab experience toward constructing his or her own instrument. This string of course work would generally begin in the first semester of the junior year, but in some cases could begin in the sophomore or freshman years. Every attempt has been made to build these curricula from existing courses. Further, these courses are deliberately drawn from various mechanical engineering disciplines. In a few cases, namely the Senior Design project, MIE Seminar, and the internship / research requirement, existing courses and programs have been adapted to suit the focus of the Musical Instrument Engineering program. To complete the MIE curriculum only one course, Musical Instrument Design and Manufacture, has been created which did not previously exist. The specifics of this course are discussed below. Specific Courses A precursor to the MIE program was initially developed and first offered in 1994. It was a half credit introductory freshman course titled "The Design and Performance of Musical Instruments"5. It touched on a wide variety of subjects, including basic acoustic wave behavior, digital sampling, frequency analysis, and basic composition theory. Each class period included a brief lecture introducing the physics and theory behind the day's topic, and then the instructors led the students through a series of experiments for the remainder of the class period. For the following class period, the students were required to write up a paper reporting the specifics of the previous week’s experiments. This included procedure, equipment, theory, and results of the experiment. The students also broke up into groups of 3 or 4, did a research project on a major musical instrument category (i.e. strings, woodwinds, etc.) and gave a presentation to the class.
Each student was also required to design and construct a musical instrument as a final project. The course ended with a concert, where each student performed an original composition on his or her own instrument. This course was offered for the second time in the Fall of 1999. Another course involved in the development of the Musical Instrument Engineering program was an advanced fluid mechanics class taught in the spring of 1998. In addition to the standard course structure, acoustics and vibration theory was covered. In this course, students were required to participate in one of five research projects. For instance the change in behavior of a piano action with regard to temperature and humidity was one of these choices. This research, funded by Steinway & Sons, is still ongoing as an undergraduate research project. In order to complete the development of the MIE program, one last course has been realized. This course is titled Musical Instrument Design and Manufacture, offered for the first time in the Spring semester of 2000. The course will essentially act as the backbone of the MIE program. The class is similar in structure and content to the freshman course discussed above, but it is much more in depth and intensive. It too combines three different approaches to teaching, namely, lecturing on the subject of theory, hands-on experimentation, and project development. Subjects examined are the physics behind the sound generation mechanisms of various instruments as well the effects of different materials and manufacturing processes on the sound of an instrument. This class is specifically designed for those students enrolled in the MIE minor and concentration certificate programs. Coinciding with the Musical Instrument Design and Manufacture course is the MIE seminar series. These seminars feature local instrument craftspeople and others from the musical instrument and acoustic industries and research fields on a monthly basis. These people come to Tufts and give presentations on their work and/or research. Although all undergraduate students participating in the MIE program are required to attend, the entire Mechanical Engineering community is encouraged to attend. In the future, we hope to expand the program such that MIE students can use their instruments as projects in their standard classes. For instance, a student could do a research paper on the materials of their musical instrument for a materials science course, and an acoustic analysis of their instrument for an acoustics course. Thus, the students are more interested in their standard classes, because of the application to their instrument, and their instrument benefits from the increased research and development. Research Projects Since the initiation of the piano action project, many other undergraduate research projects have been and are being conducted as a result of our
relationship with Steinway and its sister company, Selmer Musical Instruments, Inc. These include an acoustic spectral analysis of the flute, the construction of a violin through an internship with a local craftsman, the design and construction of a quiet room, and holographic imaging of the vibrating surfaces of a violin. In addition to the research projects mentioned above, two other projects conducted here at Tufts have been successful. The first is investigating the effect of cryogenic processing of trumpets. This research, now in its second year, is looking specifically at 10 identical trumpets. Half have been frozen at –300 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours. By analyzing sound samples of these trumpets when played by local professional musicians, we are quantifying the changes incurred by the treatment. Another successful project was conducted within the Electrical Engineering Department. It was the development of a database for inventory control at one of Selmer's manufacturing plants. Selmer adopted this package last year, and they have requested the development of similar packages for other plants. Finally, we completed construction and characterization of the quiet room this past spring. Acting as the focal point of musical instrument research, its operation is in full swing. In addition to the continuation of the Cryogenic Trumpet project, the quiet room is acting as the research facility for data collection of instruments built by those students enrolled in the Musical Instrument Design and Manufacture course. Student & Faculty Response Student response has been very positive. Student evaluations from both offerings of the freshman half-credit course garnered very high marks. Attendance, enrollment, and student involvement in these classes have all been well above expected levels. Since the participating students are a self-selected group, enthusiasm for the program is overwhelming. Faculty response, too, has been positive, as three students taking part in the MIE program received awards last year in recognition for their research. We have already seen interest in the program in the form of high school students applying to Tufts primarily on the basis of the existence of the Musical Instrument Engineering program. Increasing interest from liberal arts students and engineering students has also been very encouraging. An informal survey of engineering juniors revealed that about 40% consider themselves musicians, and a large number of them say they would have participated in the Musical Instrument Engineering program, had it existed at the time of their enrollment. Conclusion The initial success of introducing and using musical instruments as a nonthreatening teaching medium is very encouraging. This success can be measured in the high scores the students give the class in evaluations, and in the awards received by students participating in the Musical Instrument Engineering
Program. By giving the students a chance to see engineering principles applied to a subject they already have a passion for, they tend to be more enthusiastic. Research, both on the graduate and undergraduate levels, has been highly successful and rewarding. Finally, response from faculty, administration and the students who have either conducted research or taken the freshman half-credit course has been very positive. Acknowledgments The authors would like to thank Steinway & Sons and Selmer Musical Instruments, Inc. for their intellectual and financial support of the program. References 1. Julius O. Smith III, Nonlinear Commuted Synthesis of Bowed, Strings, Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, Stanford University, 1997 2. Dan Trueman, Perry R. Cook, BoSSA: The Deconstructed Violin Reconstructed, Department of Music and Department of Compute Science, Princeton University, 1999. 3. Marc-Pierre Verge, Aeroacoustics of Confined Jets with Applications to the Physical Modeling of Recorder-Like Instruments, Eindhoven University of Technology,1995. 4. Engineering Operations Curriculum Undergraduate Catalog, North Carolina State University,1983. 5. Chris Rogers, Martha Cyr, John McDonald, Todd Nocera, The Design and Performance of Musical Instruments, ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, WA, 1998.