Developing Synthetic Materials for Percussion Instruments


  • Sarena Bemis


There is a need for new, sustainable materials to make wooden percussion instruments. Many of the woods used in producing these instruments are exotic or endangered woods. Some companies have switched to fiber-reinforced (glass or carbon) plastics or polymers, but these instruments do not always have the desired sound. Without the necessary desired sound and an increasing need to replace wood, attention must be given to studying and experimenting with other materials. Research shows that the properties of different woods are critical when selecting which materials to use in which instruments. The Young’s Modulus, hardness, density, grain direction, and adaptability to moisture are the properties that determine the speed and color/tone of the sound of the instrument. Data was collected to determine what types of sounds and responses musicians favor in percussion instruments. With that in mind, analyzing the frequency response of different materials are key. Vibrational analysis of soundwaves using a vibrometer, to study the frequency difference between a reference laser and a beam testing a surface, was performed to quantify the difference in the sound of traditional wood instruments along-side synthetic material made instruments. Such information reveals the properties desired and responses that must be replicated when designing new synthetic materials for instrument making. Using the data collected, production of a sustainable prototype materials can begin.