Photo by Jason Meredith via Flickr / CC BY 2.0
The science of acoustics is a serious academic study. It’s multidisciplinary and has implications across disciplines. People get doctorates in this stuff. Luckily for us, we don’t need to know how sonic vibrations effect nuclear centrifuges or use sonar to locate skulking nuclear submarines. We just want to make music sound good. A little understanding of the science helps a lot.
Here’s an image that will change your perspective on sound. As explained by the University of Indiana’s acoustical program, we live in an ocean of air. Crawling around on the surface of the earth, we’re at the very bottom of that ocean, and the miles of air above us create very high air pressure. Sound waves are simply fluctuations in that air pressure, and our ears are attenuated to detect them. In fact, our ears are so perfectly adapted to the job that we can detect fluctuations of less than one billionth of standard air pressure!