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Comparison & Contrast of a Plucked String vs. a Struck String

Shyen L. Jackson Franciscan University

PLUCKED STRING VS. STRUCK STRING Introduction There are four methods of activating musical sound: striking, blowing, rubbing, and plucking. In this paper Im going to concentrate on the methods of plucking and striking, which apply to one of the most common media of musical sound, the vibrating string. From research with finite strings and the study of harmonic oscillators we are able to understand vibrations of

objects, such as strings on a guitar. Every string has a resting position, and if it is pulled away or struck down from its resting position (i.e. plucked/struck string), then it will vibrate until friction and other forces cause it to stop. What are the differences and similarities between a plucked or struck string? In this paper we are going to focus on finite strings fixed at their ends to investigate waveforms, vibration modes and sound quality. Keep in mind throughout the paper that this could be a string of any size as long as density of that string is accounted for. We are going to discuss my initial thoughts on the waveforms of both a plucked and struck string. Then we explain the calculation of these waveforms using Fourier Series solution. We will be focusing on stringed instruments, such as a guitar to explain the plucked string and a piano for the struck string. Waveforms What are waveforms? When a taut string is displaced from its position of equilibrium, whether by plucking, striking, or bowing, waves are generated in the string. A waveform is a curve that shows the shape of a wave at a given time. Waveforms are important to study vibrations of strings because strings on a guitar, piano, violin and so on are stretched so tightly and vibrate so fast that we cannot perceive what happens. These waveforms are shown by standing waves, which are made up of nodes, points that do not move or have zero amplitude,

PLUCKED STRING VS. STRUCK STRING and antinodes, where the amplitude is at its maximum. Figure 1, is an image of the first three normal modes. Figure 1 (a) Vibrates at Fundamental Frequency (1st Harmonic) (b) 2nd Harmonic (c) 3rd Harmonic (Jones, 2010)

To interpret the waveforms we will be using Fourier Series solution to express the wave equation of both a plucked string and a struck string. In 1742 Jean Le Rond dAlembert, a French mathematician, was the first to find and solve the one-dimensional wave equation. The wave equation can be derived from Newton's second law ( ), combined with a differential

string element. DAlembert introduced the solution to the one-dimensional wave equation in terms of traveling waves. However, his solution led himself and other mathematicians, like Leonhard Euler and Daniel Bernoulli, to investigate what functions could be the solutions of this equation. In 1749, Euler sought after the solution for a plucked string with the initial condition, has a discontinuous derivative. In 1753, Daniel Bernoulli viewed the solutions as a superposition of simple vibrations, or harmonics with form, where the string extends over the interval [ ] with fixed ends at ,


. We further

explain these formulas later in the paper. Anyway, he theorized that the solution consisted of an

PLUCKED STRING VS. STRUCK STRING infinite series of trigonometric functions. These series expansions were important to French mathematician and physicist, Joseph Fourier and his solution to the heat equation. Fourier investigated how Fourier series and their applications could transform complicated general

functions into sums of simple sine and cosine functions. Therefore, the use of Fourier expansions became an important tool in finding the solutions of linear partial differential equations, such as the wave equation. Fourier transform involves the computation of complex amplitudes called Fourier series coefficients, which we show later in the paper. Vibrational Modes The string's tautness, or tension, makes vibrations possible. What are vibrational modes? Vibrational modes or normal modes are waves that correspond to harmonics. Harmonics are a series of frequencies that cause new nodes to form. Music works because of the manipulation and superposition of harmonic overtones created by these normal modes of vibration (Zimmerman, 2009). As we see later on, the displacement function is a sum of modes or harmonics. The motion of a mode can be described by a harmonic oscillator of plucked string and on. Sound Sound can be considered as a form of energy that is given off by a vibrating body. Sound quality of instruments is important not only to musicians, but to the audience they are entertaining. Pythagorass first series of experiments conducted were on the production of sound emitted by plucking a stretched string. He not only discovered that pleasant sounds to the human ear were linked to rational steps in a scale, but that a note is related to the length of a string. For ( for a

) for a struck string. We discuss the definition of these variables later

PLUCKED STRING VS. STRUCK STRING example, if one string was twice as long as the other, the note it emitted was just one octave

lower (Padmanabhan, 2010). Sound travels by air molecules, which are disturbed when an object vibrates. The louder the sound the taller the waveforms amplitude is. Where the wave crosses the x-axis at the zero point there is no movement of air molecules, thus there is no sound. When wavelengths are close this means that the pitch of the sound is high. Frequency is associated with higher pitches. Plucked vs. Struck String Before we interpret the wave equations solution using Fourier Sine Series, we would like to reintroduce what we are to be focusing on and initial thoughts. Imagine a set of strings fixed at their ends on a guitar as in Figure 2.

Figure 2 (Onvard, 2012)

Now we would like to focus on one string and ignore all other parts on that instrument other than its neck; in other words where the strings begin and end. In just visualizing this one string we would like to predict what the wave equation of a plucked string would initially behave like.


First, focus on that one string and how it would look if we were to pluck it. So for visual purposes, we are taking this string pulling it up to a point, therefore; satisfying the initial conditions of a plucked string having a positive initial displacement with respect to time. A good example of how the string will react to a plucking motion would be to stretch a slinky, fix it at its ends, squeeze several coils together near one end, pull them to a point, and then let them go. You will see the kink or crest travel down the slinky and then return back to you. This can be shown in Figure 3, from a-h.

Figure 3 (Wolfe, March)

In the case of a struck string, imagine a piano string fixed at its end by the hitch pin and agraffe; refer to Figure 4.

Figure 4 (Royal Swedish Academy of Music, 1990)

When a pianist presses a piano key it causes a felt hammer to hit the string with remarkable speed making it vibrate. When the key is pressed, the damper will lift off the string starting a

PLUCKED STRING VS. STRUCK STRING vibration, and remains off until the key is released, which stops the vibration. This case satisfies

the initial conditions of a struck string having an initial displacement of zero with respect to time. Again, a good visual example would be to use the slinky and stretch it out once again, fix it at its ends, but this time you are going to smack the slinky upward with a foam bat. You will see a crest start to build and travel down the slinky. This can be shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5 (Royal Swedish Academy of Music, 1990)

The Wave Equation & Fourier Transform A large amount of interesting mathematics is associated with the one-dimensional wave equation. String equations can be represented with traveling sine waves because sine satisfies boundary conditions of a fixed string with displacement going to zero at its ends, therefore; we can use Fourier Sine Series. The vertical displacement of the string, , is given by the displacement function, equation. , where , and at any time,

, which satisfies the one dimensional wave

PLUCKED STRING VS. STRUCK STRING Before we go in more depth we are going to define some variables that will be used and introduce some physical assumptions. Defining Variables o o o o o o o o end length of string displacement of the string constant tension factor force of tension exerted on the string mass density initial position initial velocity arbitrary constants

Physical assumptions for a string are: 1. The mass of the string is constant and the string is perfectly elastic. 2. The tension of a string is so large that it cancels out gravitational effects. 3. The string only moves vertically. Given a function of for which , find the function that satisfies the

one dimensional wave equation

PLUCKED STRING VS. STRUCK STRING with boundary conditions that reflect the two ends fixed position

with initial conditions

(Tseng, 2012). We can use separation of variables in order to find some solutions to the wave equation. The solution will have form

and when substituted in the wave equation we can form two ordinary differential equations and use initial boundaries to find solutions. So using, , and assuming & Divide both sides by and . ,

Thus, the left side is independent of

and the right side is independent of , which makes both we get,

sides constant. Let both sides equal some constant

, and

PLUCKED STRING VS. STRUCK STRING Now we can impose some restrictions on what can be by using the boundary conditions, , so and we let


. This eliminates the possibility that


The ordinary differential equation for ; therefore,

is to be solved under initial conditions,

The boundary condition of


, and the boundary condition at


We want it must be

, otherwise


, but that would mean there is no wave. Then , so , where is a positive integer

. Sine is equal to zero at

The ordinary differential equation for

has the solution ,

and so with the use of

, solutions to the wave equation have form





are arbitrary constants (Baker, 2013). This equation implies ( ). As x runs from 0 to , the argument of ( ) runs

that each mode is constant times from 0 to , which is

half-periods of sine (Gulla, 2011). and

Using the initial conditions we can solve for the arbitrary coefficients. First, set apply the first initial condition, the initial displacement of the string , we get

Now differentiate

with respect to and apply the initial velocity,


and equate it with

From Fourier Series we know that expansions above exist if continuously differentiable on [ relations:


are piecewise

]. The coefficients are determined by the orthogonality




Plucked String Wave Equation Gary P. Scavone writes that, an ideal plucked string is defined as having an initial displacement and zero initial velocity (Scavone, 2004). In this special case since the initial velocity is zero, , then for all . This leaves us with solving for . Therefore,

the solution for a plucked string will have form,

This equation implies that each mode is constant times seconds, the argument of ( ) increases by

). As t increases from 0 to 1 , we

(Gulla, 2011). In order to solve for

introduce two more terms from Figure 6, which shows the shape of the string at the instant it is being plucked.

Figure 6 (Pelc, 2007)

horizontal pluck distance vertical pluck position

PLUCKED STRING VS. STRUCK STRING These terms mean that when we pluck a string we are removing it from its state of equilibrium by a distance Let, at position .



The above integral can be solved by using integration by parts. Starting with the integral on the interval [ ]. Setting and ( ) we get,




Next we do the integral on interval [

]. Setting


) we get,





)| ]

Finally, we can combine these parts and simplify to get,


Therefore, the displacement function of a plucked string is,

In Figure 7, are the graphs of the first two harmonics and the sum of the first two letting , and interval [ ]. . In Figure 8, are graphs of the first harmonic changing over time on the

Figure 7 Plucked String Waves Blue Fundamental Harmonic Red 2nd Harmonic Black The sum of the first two harmonics. (Blue + Red)



Figure 8 Plucked String 1st Harmonic Over Time Blue , Red , Black , Purple & Green 7,

Struck String Wave Equation Gary P. Scavone also writes that, an ideal struck string involves zero initial displacement and a nonzero initial velocity distribution (Scavone, 2004). In this special case since the initial position is zero, , then for all . This leaves us with solving for

. Therefore, the solution for a struck string will have form,

This equation implies that each mode is constant times seconds, the argument of need to introduce [ ( ) increases by

). As t increases from 0 to 1 we

(Gulla, 2011). In order to solve for

], which is the interval that receives the initial velocity, , from being

struck by the piano hammer. Let, , ( )


We can solve the above integral by moving setting .

out in front of the integral and integrating sine by



)| ]



Therefore, the displacement function of a struck string is,


In Figure 9, are the graphs of the first two harmonics and the sum of the first two letting , and , because at the string is at rest. In Figure 10, are graphs of ].

the first harmonic changing over time on the interval [

Figure 9 Struck String Waves Blue Fundamental Harmonic Red 2nd Harmonic Black The sum of the first two harmonics. (Blue + Red)



Figure 10 Struck String 1st Harmonic Over Time Blue Red Blue , Purple , Purple , 7, &

Conclusion From researching this topic I have learned about the solutions of waveforms, vibration functions, and harmonics. I now know that in order to get the function of a waveform one must satisfy boundary conditions. Sine is the only trigonometric function that satisfies a string at fixed ends for the waveform function. Cosine would satisfy a waveform with one end of the string fixed and the other free. Without vibration functions the solution wouldnt have a motion and we wouldnt hear sound because it controls amplitude. The only reason we hear sound is due to the vibration of the string causing particles to move. I have learned that a plucked string and a struck string have the same waveform function, but different harmonic oscillators. From inspecting the graphs, Figures 8 & 10 on pgs.15-17, one can see that the plucked string already starts at its max displacement in plucking position and eventually returns to equilibrium, but the struck string starts at equilibrium and increases in displacement from the force from the hammer as time increases. After the struck string reaches its max displacement the string returns to equilibrium or rest.



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