Music Science: research projects and scholarships

Research in music science at UNSW involves physicists, engineers and musicians working in collaboration. This page lists our main interests. For introductory materials, use the navigation bar at left.

Research Areas

    Research publications. The best way for researchers or potential students to get an idea of our research is by looking at our papers. Most of our research is published within a year, usually in J.Acoust.Soc.America, occasionally in Nature and Science and sometimes in other journals.

    Student projects. For these, we usually discuss in detail with the student involved: how best to combine the student's interest with the areas in which the lab can offer a competitive advantage? With musical instruments, we sometimes can organise a project on an instrument played by the student; in other cases, students and postdocs have learned (at least to beginner level) the instrument for which we had a really interesting project. Similarly, for the singing voice, there are advantages for a student to do preliminary study on his/her own voice first, before running experiments on volunteer subjects.

  • The acoustics of the voice. This is one of the major preoccupations of the lab. How and why do the vocal folds vibrate? What sort of acoustic current do they inject into the vocal tract? How do the subglottal and supraglottal resonances affect this? How do they affect the output sound? How is the vocal tract used in speech and in singing? Can we devise techniques to assist speakers, language learners and singers? See some details here.

  • How to play wind instruments well. This is another major interest. What are the control parameters of breath and embouchure? How do they work and how are they controlled in performance? What determines the 'steady state' properties? What about articulation and tonguing? How are the coordinated with each other and with the fingers? This paper gives an introductory overview. We have published papers on the trumpet, horn and trombone. We have also studied the didjeridu, partly because it's Australian, but mainly because it is the instrument in which the vocal tract has the largest effect, and that effect had not been studied experimentally. We have done considerable work on flutes, clarinets and saxophones, but we are now studying oboes and bassoons.

  • Acoustics of string instruments. We have occasionally studied the acoustic properties of violins and guitars. See for example the research papers of John McLennan, a PhD student in Music Acoustics at UNSW who is also a luthier.

  • We gratefully acknowledge support from the Australian Research Council, the Australia Council for the Arts and the University of New South Wales, as well as that from the industrial collaborators. We also thank the many musicians who collaborate with us.

Collaboration with the School of Music and Music Education

    Music Science at UNSW is the name of the collaboration between the Music Acoustics group in Physics and the Empirical Musicology group in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. For some projects, it is possible for musicians, who are not physicists, to do research projects with the Music Acoustics Lab. Recent collaborations have involved music perception, but we are keen to expand the music-physics projects to include performance and technical details of string and wind instruments. Students who might be interested in collaborative projects in the areas of music, acoustics, physics and computing are invited to discuss their ideas with us.

    In the past, students in Physics have been able to take advantage of resources in the School of Music and Music Education. It would similarly be possible for students to enrol for graduate study in the School of Music and Music Education and do experimental research using the resources of the Music Acoustics Group. Contact in Music or in Physics.

Projects for students, scholarships and part-time work:

    Projects for graduate students (and practicum students) regularly arise in some of our research areas.

    Other scholarships for Australian citizens or permanent residents are possible for students who have first or good second class honours degrees in physics, engineering, mathematics or computing. Apart from the Australian Postgraduate Awards offered by the federal governement, there are UNSW Graduate Scholarships and others offered by the Faculty of Science, the School of Physics or directly by the laboratory. Three of our graduate students are supported by scholarships jointly funded by industrial partners and grants the Australian government. We have such scholarships from time to time. If you are a permanent resident of Australia or New Zealand and are interested in graduate study in the lab, please write to about projects and scholarship possibilities.

    Scholarships for overseas students are more difficult to obtain, so they are competitive and require a very good record. See International postgraduate research scholarships. Whereas Australian and New Zealand students do not pay tuition fees for research degrees, other students must, which makes scholarships very important for foreign students.

    Part time and distance study. One of our students did an experimental research PhD by distance education. This is considerably more difficult.

    Undergraduate vacation scholarships are offered by the School of Physics to high quality students who have finished third or second year in physics. Let us know if you are interested in such a scholarship to study music acoustics.

    Honours relocation scholarships are also offered to Australian undergraduates. Again, talk to us.

    Part-time work. A small number of students have done paid part-time work in the laboratory on some of our research projects. These are usually senior undergraduate students in physics, engineering or computer science who are musicians, who are good at experimental science and/or computing, and who are interested in the work that we do. These jobs are irregular. They depend on the stage of projects and of course on whether we have grant money to support them.

Visiting researchers:

    Post-doctoral fellowships are advertised on our home page when we have them. It is also possible to propose a project and to apply for funding for it from various agencies in Australia or abroad, but this requires considerably more lead time and a suitable funding source.

    Some researchers visit us for scientific collaborations. There are exchange agreements between the Australian Academy of Science and similar bodies in several other countries. Funding from such agreements is possible, but far from certain, and takes time to organise.

Jobs. What happens to students from this lab?

    The lab is relatively young, and we have/have had only eight PhD students and one MSC student.
    • Robert Fearn, who graduated in 2001, was the first. His scholarship was in part supported by Cochlear Ltd. The company offered him a job during the last year of his PhD and he finished his thesis part-time. He is now working in Cambridge.
    • Claudia Fritz, a French student who did a joint PhD UNSW-Université Pierre et Marie Curie, graduated in 2005. She is now a researcher in the CNRS in Paris, after a 3 year research fellowship in Cambridge studying violin acoustics and perception.
    • Andrew Botros came to Physics from Biomedical Engineering. On graduation, he worked at Cochlear Ltd. before establishing his own company.
    • Ra Inta had a scholarship that was also part of an industrial collaboration (Gilet Guitars). Towards the end of his study he successfully applied for a research job in the Acoustics and Vibration Lab at ADFA in Canberra and finished his thesis part time. He now works on different vibrations in the gravity wave observatory in Canberra.
    • Paul Dickens also had a scholarship that was part of an industrial collaboration (Terry McGee flutes and the Powerhouse Museum). In his third year, he was headhunted by a medical company for an acoustical research position and suspended his scholarship to work for the ResMed company while he worked on his thesis part time. He is now a research engineer with that company.
    • John McLennan is a retired engineer who decided to do a PhD in his retirement. He studies violins and his page is here.
    • Chen Jer Ming is from Singapore. He did his PhD here on wind instruments, then did a postdoc with us on the voice, and is now a lecturer in the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
    • Noel Hanna is from Australia via Egypt and China. He did a PhD on the voice in this lab., in collaboration with a lab in Grenoble, and is now a postdoc here.
    • Weicong Li is from China. He is doing a PhD on wind instruments.

    Of our honours students, Julien Epps, Annette Dowd and Daniel Woo did PhDs in other areas of physics or engineering and are now academics. Manfred Yew went to Ventracor, the artificial heart company. Elizabeth OConnor became a physics teacher at Sydney Girls High School. Nicole Dwyer became an engineer in Belgium. Most of the other students have been undergraduates visiting for short research periods in the lab, and then went back to their home institutions.

    We are happy to see that some of our students return. Nathalie Henrich came to do part of her masters project with us. She is now a researcher in the French CNRS and has been back twice for collaborative research. Claudia came to do experimental studies both for her masters and doctorate. And Andrew Botros sometimes takes a 'sabbatical' from the world of industry to come back to the lab.

    Of our postdocs, Alex Tarnopolsky went into industry, Maëva Garnier and Nathalie Henrich are now researchers in the French CNRS, André Almeida is a university lecturer in Le Mans (but currently visiting us) and Henri Boutin is doing a postdoc at IRCAM in France.



Acknowledgements. Our research is supported by the Australian Research Council, as well as by the industrial collaborators and musicians who are acknowledged on the pages concerning the relevant projects.


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