Music Science: research projects and scholarships

scholarship ad Research in music science at UNSW involves physicists, engineers and musicians working in collaboration. This page give a brief overiew of some of the projects. For more detail about particular areas, we usually give links, or you can use the navigation bar at left, or the site map.

Research Areas

  • The player-instrument interaction in wind instruments. Using the technique of real-time measurement of transfer functions and impedance spectra, we are studying the interaction between the player's vocal tract and the sound produced by wind instruments.

  • The acoustics of the didjeridu. The didjeridu is the wind instrument in which the vocal tract plays the largest role. With colleagues Neville Fletcher and Lloyd Hollenberg, we have begun a project to understand this interesting instrument, about which we recently published a paper in Nature. This work on lip-valve instruments led us to study:

  • The acoustics of brass instruments. So far we have only published one paper (on trombone), but see Introduction to the acoustics of brass instruments.
  • Coding and perception of auditory information. The cochlear implant ('bionic ear') converts sound into electrical pulses which are injected directly into the auditory nerves. It works well for speech, but less well for music. In collaboration with Cochlear Ltd, we are conducting research on coding strategies for auditory information to be used in cochlear implants to improve the appreciation of music by users. We therefore also study pitch perception using cochlear implants. We are also interested in the information content of music, and where it comes from.
  •    cochlear logo

  • The acoustics of the flute. One of the results of this project is our flute site, a web-based resource of response spectra, sound spectra for standard and alternative fingerings for notes and multiphonics. We are also studying the effect of the player's embouchure on the timbre and pitch of instruments in the flute family, especially the shakuhachi, where the effect is most dramatic. (Flute research is supported by The Woodwind Group and Terry McGee flutes.)

  • Using our experimental database and a theoretical model for the flute, the virtual flute is a web service that examines 40,000 flute fingerings. It is interrogated by flutists seeking alternative fingerings, microtones and multiphonics.

  •    flute logo

  • The acoustics of reed instruments. "Why don't we do for the reed instruments what we have done for the flute?" is a FAQ. We're currently working on the clarinet and hope to do the conical woodwinds soon. Meanwhile, see the introduction to clarinet acoustics and introduction to sax acoustics. We are also working on vocal tract-instrument interactions in this family.
  •    clarinet logo

  • Acoustics of string instruments. In this study we are applying a range of techniques, including some developed here, to determine the acoustic properties of violins and guitars. (This research supported in part by Gilet Guitars.) One interesting study concerns torsional waves in bowed strings. Another is a long term study of how violins change with playing and environmental changes over time.

    See also the research papers of John McLennan, a PhD student in Music Acoustics at UNSW who is also a luthier.

  •    clarinet logo

  • Speech, singing and the acoustics of the vocal tract. Using the technique of real-time measurement of transfer functions and impedance spectra, we are studying the transient acoustic properties of the vocal tract in sound production. See also Resonance tuning by sopranos and The acoustics of harmonic (diphonic/ xoomi etc) singing.

  •    speech logo

  • Percussion. So far, the only study we have made in this family is the acoustics of bell plates. We became interested in this just because a student came to ask why it was that particular shaped plates ring while others do not. We only have limited tools for studying percussion, but if you have a question, don't hesitate to ask.

  • Optimising transfer function measurements. Transfer function measurements have a range of applications, including many beyond musical acoustics. In this study we are working to optimise the resolution, sensitivity and speed of measurement subject to different conditions of transducer response and external noise.

  • A system for the measurement and assessment of musical sounds, including starting transients and the steady state. A tristimulus method has been developed analogous to the system used for colour measurement. Application of this method to both starting transients and steady state parts of musical sounds has led to a scheme for identifying and specifying the essential features of musical sounds.
  • 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 mentioned above. We also thank the many musicians who collaborate with us.

Collaboration with the School of Music and Music Education

    We are sometimes asked whether it is possible for musicians, who are not physicists, to do research projects with the Music Acoustics Lab. Our collaborations with the music specialists in the Faculty of Arts and Social Science are part of Music Science at UNSW. Current projects involve 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 Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and do experimental research using the resources of the Music Acoustics Group. Contact in the School of Music and Music Education or in the School of Physics.

Projects for students, scholarships and part-time work:

    Projects for graduate students (and practicum students) regularly arise in some of our research areas. Sometimes these have scholarships, including this one.

    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.

    The School of Physics offers teaching scholarships: honours or graduate students do an agreed amount teaching in return for an agreed stipend. These can be held in conjunction with a scholarship.

    Scholarships for overseas students are more difficult to obtain, so they are competitive and require a very good record. See International postgraduate research scholarships. Again, the School of Physics offers teaching scholarships. Whereas Australian and New Zealand students do not pay tuition fees for research degrees, other students must. This makes it very difficult to survive on a scholarship.

    Part time and distance study. One of our students is doing an experimental research MSc by distance education, using occasional visits, web conferencing and a home laboratory.

    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.

    Part-time work. A 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 more lead time.

    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 six PhD students.
    • 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. On finishing, she obtained a short term position in acoustics research in Paris. She now has a 3 year research fellowship in Cambridge studying violin acoustics and perception and is a fellow of Wolfson College.
    • 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.
    • 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 company while he works on his thesis part time.
    • John McLennan is a retired engineer who decided to do a PhD in his retirement. He is in the second year of his doctorate.
    • Chen Jer Ming is from Singapore. He has just begun his doctorate at UNSW.

    Of our honours students, Manfred Yew quickly found a job in Ventracor, the artificial heart company, and Andrew Botros went straight to Cochlear Ltd, the artificial ear company. Elizabeth OConnor became a physics teacher at Sydney Girls High School. Nicole Dwyer found a job as an engineer in Belgium. Julien Epps and Annette Dowd both did PhDs in other areas and are now academics. 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.


Some pages for non-specialist readers:

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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