Promethean News

New Course:Physics of Music

New Course: Physics of Music

By James Pater

“Scientist musician” is a professional title which not many people hold, but in Professor Larry Medsker’s case, he is exactly that. Dr. Medsker, a professor in Siena’s departments of Computer Science and Physics and Astronomy, and who was also the Dean of the School of Science from 2005 through 2008, will be teaching “Physics of Music” this upcoming spring. In addition to his academic career, Dr. Medsker has been an active musician for many years, playing the double bass with orchestras in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia, Florida, New Jersey, and Vermont. He currently plays in the NIH Philharmonia and the Trinity Chamber Orchestra in Washington D.C., as well as the Vermont Philharmonic. It’s no wonder why Dr. Medsker wanted to implement a course at Siena that incorporates two of his greatest interests – music and physics.


The Physics of Music course was created by Dr. Medsker in 2006 and will be offered next semester. Dr. Medsker has designed the class in a way so that anyone who is interested and has basic algebra skills can enroll. Students can expect to explore acoustics, the scientific elements of music, the nature of musical sounds and how musical instruments produce sound. “The connection between music and science is really interesting,” Dr. Medsker said, “When I tell anyone about the course, they’re fascinated and curious about it. I’ve taught this class at other colleges and it has always been popular.” Upon completion of the class, students will be able to describe how instruments and computer-based music production work from a mathematical standpoint, understand how modifying performance spaces will affect acoustics, and also, how musical sound is perceived from biological and psychological perspectives.


When asked what insights he hopes students will gain from taking the class, Dr. Medsker said, “I want both musicians and non-musicians to be able to explain the way science and music relate to each other. Physics is involved in all aspects of music, but the interpretation of sounds we call ‘music’ is a complex combination of art and science. Students who take the course have the opportunity to learn a lot of science in an enjoyable way and gain a deeper understanding of music and the related technologies.” He added, “I even gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between science and music every time I teach this course!”