|MadSci Network: Physics|
To understand why the pitch of the sound varies you must first understand what exactly sound is and how is it produced. So, what is sound? In the Collins English Dictionary one can find this definition: "anything that can be heard". But what does our ear do? Like every sense organ it transforms some kind of energy into electrical energy of the nervous influx which reaches the brain. But we don't discuss here biology. The question is what kind of energy does the ear transform? It is mechanical energy; because sound consists of some ordered movement of (air) particles. Surely you have felt this when listening to music at high volume. In physics a 'simple' sound is a mechanical wave at one frequecy, roughly between 50Hz and 20KHz. As opposed to a more 'comples' sound which have a spectrum of frequencies, that is, it is a combination of some 'simple' sounds. For the rest of this answer by "sound" I mean "'simple' sound". How is it produced? In matter (as opposed to void) every local mechanical perturbation such as a vibration will propagate. This is a mechanical wave. So anything which vibrates is a source of sound, as long as it vibrates with the right frequency. A very important point is that every elastic body (and all bodies are a combination of elastic and plastic) have a NATURAL frequency, which depends only upon its internal properties. For exemple in the case of the mass-spring ideal elastic body the expression of this natural frequency is: niu = sqrt(k/m) / (2*pi) where niu is the frequency, k is the elastic constant (force per displacement) of the spring and m is the mass. You can find details about this in any textbook about oscillations (e.g. A.P. French's "Vibrations and Waves") ----- You can see from this equation that if an elastic body opposes more to deformation (big k) it has a bigger natural frequency, that is a higher pitch. ----- When does an elastic body oscillates? To answer this question yourself you must think to the simplest exemple of elastic body, that is the spring-mass system. So, why does hitting two solids (rigid) produces a sound? Because hitting means deformation, and deformation means vibration. If you would like more details please don't hesitate to write me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Physics.