‘Musical Instruments, Sound, Perception and Creativity’

In this interdisciplinary course, professors pull from a variety of musical and scientific disciplines to teach students about instruments and the sounds they produce.

Imagine a sound, a tone. Engineering and math might go into creating a musical instrument that can make that tone, but that same sound also depends on acoustics, perception, creativity — a multitude of subjects that overlap to create what we call music.

In the Princeton course “Musical Instruments, Sound, Perception and Creativity,” cross-listed in the Council on Science and Technology and the Department of Music, students learned about sound by studying traditional instruments, learning about the history of tuning and temperament, and experimenting with electronic and virtual instruments.

Dan Trueman, a professor of music, and Aatish Bhatia, associate director of engineering education and lecturer in the Council on Science and Technology, co-taught the course over the fall semester. This was the second time they taught this course; this time they added a component that meets the University’s general education requirements for science and technology laboratory courses due to its hands-on analytical laboratory explorations using math and science applications.

The course also consisted of precepts, lectures and visiting lecturers like artist Ellen Fullman, who installed a room-size stringed instrument in the Lewis Arts complex's CoLab called “Long String Instrument.” The series of hands-on labs offered opportunities to create instruments from scratch, including building an overtone flute out of PVC pipe. Students then analyzed the sound of the flute and compared it to their theoretical predictions.

Though not a history course, the class gave students an overview of Western music history, instruments, and the composers that used them, from J.S. Bach to John Cage. The class was in part an “artist practicum” that delved into the creative process of how new composers could invent and reinvent instruments to create new works.

For first-year student Maya Keren, the class has been a perfect intersection of her interests, music and computer science. “My lens and how I see music is very influenced by my path as a jazz pianist, and I think this class is going to open up this whole new realm of possibilities for me,” she said.