General index

Exploring sound waves

A few facts

Tall and flat

Wide and narrow

How low can you hear?

How high can you hear?

Music and noise

Different wave shapes


A few facts

To make a sound, something must vibrate very quickly.

Vibrations disturb the air, causing shock waves (pressure waves). When these shock waves reach our ears we hear sound, so we call them 'sound waves'.

All sound waves travel through air at the same speed: normally about 350 metres per second (about 780 miles per hour).

Sound waves are invisible because the human eye can't see pressure waves. But an oscilloscope can detect and show the shape of sound waves very accurately.

Different objects vibrate in different ways so they make different waves, which we recognize as different sounds. Computer technology allows us to synthesize just about any sound wave we want.

The screens that follow let you:

  • change sound waves in basic ways
  • see the changes on an oscilloscope
  • hear what effect they have on the sound