Sounds are around us every day. Similar to having eyes that detect light and color, human beings are equipped with ears that detect sound. Rarely do we stop to consider the characteristics and behaviors of sound and the mechanisms that produce, propagate, and detect sounds. To understand sound, music, and hearing, we must understand the physics of waves.

A wave is a disturbance that travels through a medium, transporting energy from one location to another location. The medium is simply the material through which the disturbance is moving. In music, the sounds are created by a vibrating object (vocal chords, a string that is bowed or plucked, the double reed of an oboe, etc.) and propagated through the medium of the air that is in the performing space. (Fuller descriptions of how sound works can be found at

Rick Talaske, the Music Center’s acoustical consultant, uses the words “source,” “path” and “receiver” for this process of transmitting music. The source is the musician or ensemble. The receiver is any listener at the performance. The path is the mysterious, invisible medium. The acoustical engineer is charged with designing a successful path.