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Oxford University scientist uncovers physics of the guitar

Monday, September 29, 2014 - 02:30

An Irish scientist, who is also a semi-professional guitarist, has devised what he says are the first known equations explaining the physics behind playing the instrument. Dr David Robert Grimes, of the University of Oxford, says that mastering the physics of guitar playing could help instrument manufacturers and musicians alike. Jim Drury went to meet him.

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UPSOT: GUITAR David Robert Grimes is a university of Oxford researcher - and a keen musician. He's combined his interests to devise what he says are the first equations explaining the physics of guitar playing. His models describe how the pitch of notes is changed using techniques like vibrato, whammy bars, and - in particular - string bending. SOUNDBITE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD SCIENTIST, DAVID ROBERT GRIMES, SAYING (ENGLISH): "This is a technique where you manipulate the string and move it perpendicular to the fretboard, so I'll give you an example now, so here's just a note.....(BENDS NOTE).......and then we're going to bend it up." (BENDS NOTE) Grimes took an old guitar of his to an engineering lab at Dublin City University, There he and colleagues stripped it down to the bones - removing strings and instead banging in nails at strategic positions along the fretboard. He found that the individual properties of each strings had a big effect on the change in pitch - and that, he says, could help instrument manufacturers. SOUNDBITE (English) UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD SCIENTIST, DAVID ROBERT GRIMES, SAYING: "Definitely for someone who's designing instruments it would probably be quite useful. A lot of it's intuitively known already. I mean guitarists will talk about the action of their guitars and they'll talk about the strings they buy, but that's only half the story." UPSOT: GUITAR For rock musician Tim Bricheno playing is intuitive. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSIONAL ROCK MUSICIAN, TIM BRICHENO, SAYING: "When I'm playing I'm not thinking about the physics of guitar playing at all. I'm just thinking about what notes are coming next usually." But he still agrees Grimes's research could help him in his other role as a music lecturer. This isn't his first physics lesson though. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSIONAL ROCK MUSICIAN, TIM BRICHENO, SAYING: "I'm trying to go from here to here. Now I used to do it like this, with one finger....(DEMONSTRATES).....which is actually quite hard because basically you're trying to bend the string up to that note with one lever, which is that finger. I found out from watching older guitar players that when they played they used three fingers, so you've effectively got three levers, so the physics of that is you've got more, I guess fulcrum behind that to push that up....(BENDS NOTE).....I can hold that there now for as long as I want." Grimes reckons the guitar is useful for physics students to examine because string vibrations can be easily seen, heard, and measure. In fact he says studying it could be music to their ears. UPSOT: GUITAR

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Oxford University scientist uncovers physics of the guitar

Monday, September 29, 2014 - 02:30