Frequency of Sound

in Physics

The term “pitch” is used to describe the frequency of a sound. The outstanding recognizable difference between the tones produced by two different keys on a piano is a difference in pitch. The pitch of a tone is proportional to the number of compressions and rarefactions received per second, which in turn, is determined by the vibration frequency of the sounding source. A good example of frequency is the noise generated by a turbofan engine on a commercial airliner. The high tip speeds of the fan in the front of the engine creates a high frequency sound, and the hot exhaust creates a low frequency sound.


When a bell rings, the sound waves spread out in all directions and the sound is heard in all directions. When a bell is struck lightly, the vibrations are of small amplitude and the sound is weak. A stronger blow produces vibrations of greater amplitude in the bell, and the sound is louder. It is evident that the amplitude of the air vibrations is greater when the amplitude of the vibrations of the source is increased. Hence, the loudness of the sound depends on the amplitude of the vibrations of the sound waves. As the distance from the source increases, the energy in each wave spreads out, and the sound becomes weaker.

As the sound wave advances, variations in pressure occur at all points in the transmitting medium. The greater the pressure variations, the more intense the sound wave. The intensity is proportional to the square of the pressure variation regardless of the frequency. Thus, by measuring pressure changes, the intensities of sounds having different frequencies can be compared directly.

Figure 3-49. Sound intensity from different sources.

Figure 3-49. Sound intensity from different sources.

Measurement of Sound Intensity

Sound intensity is measured in decibels, with a decibel being the ratio of one sound to another. One decibel (dB) is the smallest change in sound intensity the human ear can detect. A faint whisper would have an intensity of 20 dB, and a pneumatic drill would be 80 dB. The engine on a modern jetliner, at takeoff thrust, would have a sound intensity of 90 dB when heard by someone standing 150 ft away. A 110 dB noise, by comparison, would sound twice as loud as the jetliner’s engine. Figure 3-49 shows the sound intensity from a variety of different sources.