Vernier Software and Technology
Vernier Software & Technology

Sound Waves and Beats

Figure from experiment 32 from Physics with Vernier


Sound waves consist of a series of air pressure variations. A Microphone diaphragm records these variations by moving in response to the pressure changes. The diaphragm motion is then converted to an electrical signal. Using a Microphone and an interface, you can explore the properties of common sounds.

The first property you will measure is the period, or the time for one complete cycle of repetition. Since period is a time measurement, it is usually written as T. The reciprocal of the period (1/T) is called the frequency, f, the number of complete cycles per second. Frequency is measured in hertz (Hz). 1 Hz = 1 s–1.

A second property of sound is the amplitude. As the pressure varies, it goes above and below the average pressure in the room. The maximum variation above or below the pressure mid-point is called the amplitude. The amplitude of a sound is closely related to its loudness.

In analyzing your data, you will see how well a sine function model fits the data. The displacement of the particles in the medium carrying a periodic wave can be modeled with a sinusoidal function. Your textbook may have an expression resembling this one:

y = A sin (2 \pi f \text{ }t)

In the case of sound, a longitudinal wave, y refers to the change in air pressure that makes up the wave, A is the amplitude of the wave, and f is the frequency. Time is represented by t, and the sine function requires a factor of 2π when evaluated in radians.

When two sound waves overlap, air pressure variations will combine. For sound waves, this combination is additive. We say that sound follows the principle of linear superposition. Beats are an example of superposition. Two sounds of nearly the same frequency will create a distinctive variation of sound amplitude, which we call beats.


  • Measure the frequency and period of sound waves from a keyboard.
  • Measure the amplitude of sound waves from a keyboard.
  • Observe beats between the sounds of two notes from a keyboard.

Sensors and Equipment

This experiment features the following Vernier sensors and equipment.

Additional Requirements

You may also need an interface and software for data collection. What do I need for data collection?

Standards Correlations

See all standards correlations for Physics with Vernier »

Physics with Vernier

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1Graph Matching
2ABack and Forth Motion
2BBack and Forth Motion
3ACart on a Ramp
3BCart on a Ramp
4ADetermining g on an Incline
4BDetermining g on an Incline
5Picket Fence Free Fall
6Ball Toss
7Bungee Jump Accelerations
8AProjectile Motion (Photogates)
8BProjectile Motion (Projectile Launcher)
9Newton's Second Law
10Atwood's Machine
11Newton's Third Law
12Static and Kinetic Friction
13Air Resistance
14Pendulum Periods
15Simple Harmonic Motion
16Energy of a Tossed Ball
17Energy in Simple Harmonic Motion
18AMomentum, Energy and Collisions
18BMomentum, Energy and Collisions
19AImpulse and Momentum
19BImpulse and Momentum
20Centripetal Accelerations on a Turntable
21Accelerations in the Real World
22Ohm's Law
23Series and Parallel Circuits
25The Magnetic Field in a Coil
26The Magnetic Field in a Slinky
27Electrical Energy
28APolarization of Light
28BPolarization of Light (Rotary Motion Sensor)
29Light, Brightness and Distance
30Newton's Law of Cooling
31The Magnetic Field of a Permanent Magnet
32Sound Waves and Beats
33Speed of Sound
34Tones, Vowels and Telephones
35Mathematics of Music

Experiment 32 from Physics with Vernier Lab Book

<i>Physics with Vernier</i> book cover

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