Graduation Year


Graduation Month


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

School or Department

Physics and Astronomy


Physics – Astronomy

Faculty Mentor Department

Physics and Astronomy

Faculty Mentor

David Macaluso & Paul Janzen & Margaret Baldridge


classical music, viola, violin, physics, harmonics, acoustic analysis

Subject Categories

Music Performance | Other Physics | Physics


In the classical music world, the viola is often overshadowed by its string colleagues, with many preferring the more pure, lively sound of the violin to that of the subdued, but richer timbre of the viola. Apart from the viola’s larger size and lower tuning, there are a few explanations for this discrepancy in sound production. In a study discussed in this project titled ‘Acoustic Analysis of the Viola’, student Meredith Powell investigated the body response of a viola, and found that unlike the violin, the instrument’s resonance did not lie on the frequency of its open strings. The study also recorded bowed notes of the viola’s open strings and compared the harmonic content to that of the violin, revealing the viola’s mid-harmonic frequencies to be relatively stronger than the violin’s in comparison to the fundamental frequency. In a similar fashion, I chose to recreate the second part of the project with five violas of differing sizes for harmonic comparison. The bowed notes of the open strings as well as their closed-note counterparts on lower strings were recorded. The first eight harmonic frequencies of the notes were then plotted to reveal each instrument’s unique harmonic signature. I found that the larger-bodied violas tended to have relatively stronger low harmonics (#2-3), suggesting a warmer tone in comparison to the smaller bodied violas which tended to have stronger high harmonics(#6-8), suggesting a brighter sound.

Honors College Research Project


GLI Capstone Project




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