Oboe Physics

While I was reading the magnificent book “Reality Is Not What It Seems” by Carlo Rovelli, I pondered the physics of the oboe.  I managed to track down a few scholarly articles on oboe physics, which are based on the mechanical physics of cones.  One excellent paper, written by PhD candidate Nicole Pfiester while at Purdue is Sound Production Analysis of a Double Reed Instrument.

When a musician forces air through the double reed, the airflow excites the reed and causes vibrations that send pressure waves down the bore. The long, narrow channel of the reed introduces high flow resistance and Bernoulli forces that cause the two blades to beat against each other.  The nonlinear nature of the double reed makes analysis of the oboe very difficult and thus relatively little information is to be found concerning it…


All very interesting stuff when you consider the oboe is just a conical figure!
I also found some very interesting articles on oboe reeds, those nasty little buggers that can make or break a performance.  A really good one, written by Julia Gjebic of Grand Valley State University,” A Study of Oboe Reeds,” explains the entire reed-making process and then delves into her science:


In this study, a controlled batch of reed cane (internodes of the grass Arundo donax) was selected based on microscopic inspection of cellular composition as well as macroscopic physical characteristics. For most of the participants, the cane was then processed identically to the stage known as a blank, after which the participants finished their reeds according to their usual methods. (The few participants who made their own blanks still used the controlled cane and also a controlled staple, the metal cylinder that attaches the reed to the oboe.) The sound spectra of recordings of each participant playing on his/her respective reeds were analyzed, as was a spectrum of the crow (sound without the oboe attached) of each reed in an anechoic chamber. These spectra were compared to one another in an attempt to discern trends…


Who knew the oboe was more than a simple woodwind instrument?  Who knew there was a lot of mechanical physics behind the sound?
Waves, it’s all about waves.  Oh, and air.

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