Skip to ContentGo to accessibility pageKeyboard shortcuts menu
OpenStax Logo
College Physics for AP® Courses 2e

Connection for AP® Courses

College Physics for AP® Courses 2eConnection for AP® Courses

Photograph of an old tree in a forest that had fallen some time ago.
Figure 17.1 This tree fell some time ago. When it fell, atoms in the air were disturbed. Physicists would call this disturbance sound whether someone was around to hear it or not. (credit: B.A. Bowen Photography)

In this chapter, the concept of waves is specifically applied to the phenomena of sound. As such, Big Idea 6 continues to be supported, as sound waves carry energy and momentum from one location to another without the permanent transfer of mass. This energy is carried through vibrations caused by disturbances in air pressure (Enduring Understanding 6.A). As air pressure increases, amplitudes of vibration and energy transfer do as well. This idea (Enduring Understanding 6.A.4) explains why a very loud sound can break glass.

The chapter continues the fundamental analysis of waves addressed in Chapter 16. Sound waves are periodic, and can therefore be expressed as a function of position and time. Furthermore, sound waves are described by amplitude, frequency, wavelength, and speed (Enduring Understanding 6.B). The relationship between speed and frequency is analyzed further in Section 17.4, as the frequency of sound depends upon the relative motion between the source and observer. This concept, known as the Doppler effect, supports Essential Knowledge 6.B.5.

Like all other waves, sound waves can overlap. When they do so, their interaction will produce an amplitude variation within the resultant wave. This amplitude can be determined by adding the displacement of the two pulses, through a process called superposition. This process, covered in Section 17.5, reinforces the content in Enduring Understanding 6.D.1.

In situations where the interfering waves are confined, such as on a fixed length of string or in a tube, standing waves can result. These waves are the result of interference between the incident and reflecting wave. Standing waves are described using nodes and antinodes, and their wavelengths are determined by the size of the region to which they are confined. This chapter’s description of both standing waves and the concept of beats strongly support Enduring Understanding 6.D, as well as Essential Knowledge 6.D.1, 6.D.3, and 6.D.4.

The concepts in this chapter support:

Big Idea 6 Waves can transfer energy and momentum from one location to another without the permanent transfer of mass and serve as a mathematical model for the description of other phenomena.

Enduring Understanding 6.B A periodic wave is one that repeats as a function of both time and position and can be described by its amplitude, frequency, wavelength, speed, and energy.

Essential Knowledge 6.B.5 The observed frequency of a wave depends on the relative motion of the source and the observer. This is a qualitative measurement only.

Enduring Understanding 6.D Interference and superposition lead to standing waves and beats.

Essential Knowledge 6.D.1 Two or more wave pulses can interact in such a way as to produce amplitude variations in the resultant wave. When two pulses cross, they travel through each other; they do not bounce off each other. Where the pulses overlap, the resulting displacement can be determined by adding the displacements of the two pulses. This is called superposition.

Essential Knowledge 6.D.3 Standing waves are the result of the addition of incident and reflected waves that are confined to a region and have nodes and antinodes. Examples should include waves on a fixed length of string, and sound waves in both closed and open tubes.

Essential Knowledge 6.D.4 The possible wavelengths of a standing wave are determined by the size of the region in which it is confined.

Order a print copy

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


This book may not be used in the training of large language models or otherwise be ingested into large language models or generative AI offerings without OpenStax's permission.

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at
Citation information

© Jan 19, 2024 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.