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Measured Tones: The Interplay of Physics and Music, Third Edition Paperback – 1 Mar 2002

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Product details

  • Paperback: 420 pages
  • Publisher: CRC Press; 2 edition (1 Mar 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0750307625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0750307628
  • Product Dimensions: 23.3 x 16.1 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,109,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


I find it unputdownable, combining a thorough development of the mathematical and physical basis of music, dealt with in a historical framework, with interludes dealing in details with the different families of musical instruments. This new edition has updated the sections on electronic music and digital technology, which have changed vastly in the last decide, and which feature prominently in the new AS/A2 specifications. Thoroughly recommended.

About the Author

Ian Johnston spent his early years on a pineapple farm in southern Queensland, studied physics and mathematics at the Universities of Queensland and Sydney, and was appointed to a lecturing position at the University of Sydney in the late 1960s. He has been there ever since until he retired in 2001, except for two separate years in the U.S. at Cornell and Maryland Universities and one year in England at the Open University.

His early research work was in theoretical astrophysics, but lately he has become interested in research into physics education, with particular emphasis on the role to be played by computers and other forms of information technology. He has written a deal of educational software as a member of several international consortiums, most notably the Maryland University Project in Physics and Educational Technology (M.U.P.P.E.T.) and the Consortium for Upper-Level Physics Software (CUPS). His interest in acoustics and music has been with him all his working life.

In 1989 he made a series of six programs on Australian national radio, devoted to physics and music. It was from those programs that the idea of this book first arose. He has also made programs on other subjects of general interest, including astronomy and religion, science fiction and pseudo-science.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Michael R. Mcdowell on 29 Jun 2008
Format: Paperback
Phew, what a great book.

The book takes an historical approach to explaining the the underlying physics of music. Starting off with the development of scales it eventually gets on to string theory (albeit only speculatively). Throughout the book we are constantly reminded of how contemporary understanding of the time influenced music (and vice versa). Often in surprising ways.

Another excellent feature of the book is that it uses the development of musical instruments to show how the science of the day was applied.

Needs a bit of concentration though, and while the author points out the more technical sections that can be skipped these are well worth working through.

So now if you're serious about your music there is no excuse for being ignorant of its scientific under pinnings.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 8 reviews
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
An unusual approach to the topic 8 Aug 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I have used this book as the secondary text for a college course in the physics of music. There are a number of textbooks out there for courses of this sort (Rossing, Backus, Rigden, etc.) but this book takes a very different, historical approach, with a strong emphasis on scales and intonation. The mathematical level and level of detail are quite low--I found it hard to devise test questions to see whether the students had read the book. But it is written in a quirky, engaging style, and the students in the course found it a more enjoyable read than the main textbook by Rossing. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the relationship of history, physics, and music--no science background is required!
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
This book answered many questions 10 May 2000
By D. Gustavson - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been trying to understand why music works like it does for several years, and stumbled onto this book by accident. It's exactly what I needed! It explains why musical scales are like they are, and how they got that way (which is important for understanding why it used to be significant which key some symphony was written in). It explains how harmony works, and melody too. And, how musical instruments work. And on top of that, it includes a very interesting history of science and of music, a very enjoyable read.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Entertaining and historically informed account 16 Oct 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
A superior and engaging account of how progress in the physical sciences is intertwined with the development of music theory and the evolution of musical instruments. The conversational tone of the text is never dry, and is liberally sprinkled with illustrations. There is music, science and history a-plenty here. You do not have to be "scientifically minded" to derive a great deal of pleasure and edification from the book, it has definitely been thoughtfully shaped by a professional educator. I first read this in 1990 and return to it time and again for reference, only to find myself absorbed in re-reading sections. Obviously a labor of love, "Measured Tones" deserves a wide audience. I wish Prof Johnston had written more!
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
broad and quirky 2 Dec 2001
By A. Brick - Published on
Format: Hardcover
this book covered more ground than i had hoped and features lucid explanations of topics traditionally belonging to a whole variety of fields, as well as substantial biographical content and historical references. at many points while reading it i found myself entraced with descriptions of clear and important aspects of music and musical instruments which i had never known about before.
i was especially interested in a book more abstract than the western musical paradigm, and it scored fairly. enough generalized explanations were included that i felt comfortable. johnston described a lot of musical instruments, but they are mostly western ones.
my only beef is with johnston's informal writing. he glosses over some details (admitting as much) and generally avoids mathematical equations. for a book which includes, for example, generalized descriptions of the movement of masses of air in adjoined chambers of varying size, it would not have been unreasonable to have more math - imho, the principal field connecting physics and music.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A wonderful introduction to the physics of music--as well as physics itself! 26 May 2012
By Ulfilas - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is the best introduction to physics for the general reader that I have ever read, as well as an excellent discussion of the physics of music. Because music is familiar to almost everyone, it provides examples of vibrations, waves, and forces that the reader can easily imagine. In addition, the author makes the interesting argument that music played an important role in the advancement of physics over the course of history. Although I had read and enjoyed the famous book On the Sensations of Tone (Dover Books on Music) by pioneering German physicist Hermann Helmholtz, I had not been aware that his students included the discoverer of radio propagation Frank Hertz, and the founder of quantum physics Max Planck. Nor was I aware that Planck had been active in the physics of music well before he did his groundbreaking work on quantum effects.

Other interesting topics addressed by the author include the theories of music developed by the ancient Greeks, including those of Pythagoras. It was even once believed that musical harmonies derived their special place from a correspondence to supposedly quasi-inaudible sounds made by the crystal spheres that moved each planet in its imagined orbit around the Earth--the so-called "Music of the Spheres." The author also draws a parallel between these early ideas of planetary motion and the movement of electrons around the atom--the study of which yielded the modern quantum mechanics of Bohr, Sommerfeld, and Schrodinger. In the end, the author puts forth the conjecture that the German-speaking world played such a large role in the advance of quantum theory due to its dominant position in 19th century music.
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