CCST9014 Science, Technology and Big Data
Science and Music

This course is under the thematic cluster(s) of:

  • Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth (SCCE)
  • Creative Arts (CA)


[This is a certified Communication-intensive (CI) Course which meets all of the requirements endorsed by HKU’s Senate, including (i) the teaching assessment of written and visual communication ‘literacies’; and (ii) at least 40% of the course grade is assigned to communication-rich assessment tasks.]

Course Description

The course aims at an appreciation of the close connection between music and science that has existed historically from Pythagoras into modern times. The essential physics of musical sound production and analysis will be provided in order to facilitate the elementary principles behind wind, string and percussion instruments and their characteristic timbre. The development of scales from fundamental principles will be dealt with leading to an appreciation of some of the subtle differences between Chinese and Western music. Contemporary music and science interactions will focus on electronic music and the working principles of modern instruments such as the electric guitar. Finally, some scientific understanding of musical appreciation will be given by looking at the factors that make music pleasing.

Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate appreciation of the close ties there have been between the study of music and science over the centuries, and how in the modern era close ties still exist but for various reasons are largely ignored.
  2. Explain the production of musical tone and timbre in musical instruments using the scientific principles and understanding of sound propagation, waves and harmonics.
  3. Apply simple mathematics to the construction of different musical scales (just, equal, meantone) and appreciate the historical development of scales in both Europe and China.
  4. Realize and discuss coherently the philosophical issues at the science and music interface.
  5. Demonstrate academic research capabilities by carrying out a research project on topics relating science and music.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)

Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 8
Reading / Self-study 50
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 20
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 15
Assessment: In-class test (incl preparation) 20
Total: 137

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
In-class test 40
Project 30
Group project presentation 30

Required Reading

Selections from:

  • Chen, C. (1996). Early Chinese work in natural science: A re-examination of the physics of motionacoustic, astronomy and scientific thoughts. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University
  • Press.Parker, B. (2009). Good vibrations: The physics of music. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Powell, J. (2010).  How Music Works: The Science and Psychology of Beautiful Sounds, from Beethoven to the Beatles and Beyond.  Little, Brown and Company.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr T.T. Luu
Department of Physics, Faculty of Science
Tel: 3917 2364
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr T.T. Luu
Department of Physics, Faculty of Science
Tel: 3917 2364