Engineering and… Music?

Music and engineering seem like two of the last two fields of study to go together, right? Acoustical engineering is a branch of engineering that deals with sound and vibration. Anyone who has taken high school physics knows that sound is a wave. Acoustical engineering just takes that one step further- it looks at the design, analysis and control of sound through physics. Although acoustical engineering has many different applications in real life, from architecture, to noise control, musical acoustics is also an applicable field of study, and is what this post will focus on.

So… what is musical acoustics?

Musical acoustics is a field of study that combines physics with music theory. Just as a basic introduction on the theory, sound is a longitudinal wave with air molecules compressing and expanding periodically. The frequency of the sound wave is what directly changes the pitch or note. For example, the standard note, A4, is a sound wave with frequency 440Hz. Musical acoustics studies the relationships of the frequencies in various chords, to create euphonious harmony. For instance, if you take the frequency of any note and multiply it by 3/2, you get the frequency of the note a perfect fifth above the first note. These fundamental ideas are then applied to the job of acoustical engineering.

Transverse and Longitudinal Waves
Sound as a Wave
Source: HyperPhysics

What would an acoustic engineer do?

As described above, there are many types of acoustic engineers. One that specialized in music would care most about engineering objects that create or manipulate music. For example, you could look at designing and creating music instruments- pianos, flutes, violins, each instrument has to be specifically designed in order to produce the appropriate notes. Sometimes, an instrument can be altered to extend its range. For instance, my clarinet teacher designed an extension to his instrument that is attached to the bottom of his instrument and allows him to play 2 extra notes.

Perhaps you could design a concert venue with great resonance. There’s a lot of thought that goes into designing a musical venue with the proper materials and shape. Oftentimes, the type of venue differs based on the type of music. If you’re designing a venue for a string quartet- as opposed to a rock band- there are certain features that must be considered.

Jack Singer Concert Hall | Arts Commons
The world class Jack Singer Hall in Calgary has been designed specifically for symphonies and orchestras
Source: Arts Common

If you’re more interested the electrical side of things, there are also various paths to follow. One possibility is working with a record label to produce and manage equipment for artists. There’s a lot of consideration that goes into creating sound system equipment for any purposes. There’s a lot of diversity with this job, and as previously mentioned, your knowledge can be applied to situations that aren’t necessarily music related. Perhaps you could design noise cancelling headphones, or study speech recognition.

Education and career outlooks

Does acoustical engineering sound like something you’re interested in? Here’s what you need to know so that you can pursue this career later on. Your high school courses need to keep you on track so you can enter university with a major in engineering. Most universities don’t have specific programs for acoustical engineering, but usually electrical engineering is a recommended field of study and will set you up for success. Furthermore, it would be helpful to take courses on acoustic physics- topics such as architectural acoustics, sound reinforcement, and vibrations. A masters degree, although not required, will definitely help you stand out when applying for jobs.

There is some licensing requirements that you will likely need to partake in, this necessity will vary by nation. In the US, acoustical engineers who work with the general public will need a license. Requirements for a license are an accredited bachelors degree, 4 years experience in the field, and the completion of a standardized exam.

In 2018, the median salary for an acoustic engineer is $52,390 USD. The field is expected to grow 8% over the next 10 years. Although the job outlook isn’t as strong as with other fields of study, if you work hard, you will experience success.

Above statistics have been provided from

Hope this post helped you out!


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