"You can Tune a piano but you can't tuna fish" (REO Speedwagon 1978)

Several years ago, I purchased a violin with the intent to learn how to play.  I liked the portability of the instrument.  My reasoning at the time was that there was no excuse not to practice; I could take it anywhere.   I am a fan of the Irish pop group The Corrs (Forgiven not Forgotten) and also love listening to classical violin performed by Hilary Hahn (Barber & Meyer Violin Concertos).  When the violin is in the hands of a master, there is an incredible range of tones that sympathetically vibrate to each other, producing resonances that always evoke an internal response from me.  My inner core loves music – I can burst in to song in reaction to what someone says or when experiencing an event; the song just pops out of my mouth and is not always appreciated by the unlucky person next to me.  (I have been told that maybe my voice would sound better in a choir.)  As for the violin, I love the feelings of happiness and sadness that can be produced from what I considering a very sexy looking instrument.

As for my violin playing, I found a teacher and was prepared to learn.  After one particularly discouraging lesson, I walked into the main studio area located off the hall where the small lesson rooms were.  There was a man and a young girl (perhaps 6 years old) seated on the couch waiting for her lesson to begin.  She was holding her violin case in her lap, her hands clasped the handle and she had that eager look of youth – all hope and bright prospect.  Knowing that they probably heard my excruciating performance and expected a four year old to walk out of the lesson room, I could not resist saying, “If you practice hard, you too will be able to play like me.”  The little girl’s eyes opened wide (perhaps in fear) but her father laughed.  His booming guffaw eased my disappointment at how lousy I was.  At least I could make someone laugh at the humor of the situation - a 50 year old woman trying to play “Lightly Row” and not doing very well at the task.   

What does this remembrance have to do with physics (the topic this year that I am using as my writing prompt)? 

This past week, I took exam number two in the introductory physics course I am taking; part of the content covered was a brief overview on simple harmonic motion relating to the swing of a pendulum and the oscillation of a spring.  (I put a lot of work into plotting mass against time and mathematical predictions of potential energy and kinetic (motion) energy).   In the lab and with my home experimenting, I could not help but understand that the curve on a graph of the vibration, created by the oscillations, repeats itself regularly and, if there are no frictional forces, the movement would go on indefinitely.   I find these formulae and patterns to be amazing and, hopeful, because in physics there is also restoration.   Gravity is the restoring force for the pendulum – pull it to one side and gravity pulls it back to the center.  Or in the case of a mass attached to a spring (for example, a block of wood),  it is the elastic motion of the spring that moves the wood and once the movement is slowed to a stop, I can pull back on the spring to restore the potential energy. 

This week I read that on a piano (specifically in western music) songs created are based on twelve tones – only twelve arranged in different patterns give rise to the repertoire of songs I like to belt out.  I can play the note ‘B’ (494 oscillations) and a ‘B flat’ (466) and nothing in-between.  I can’t produce a note that is say 475 oscillations; it is not possible on a piano.  (Roger S. Jones)   In contrast, I can play an infinite number of tones produced from the strings of a violin; although, in my case, the listener may want to cover their ears while I am undertaking the job.  

For me, I see a similarity in life, I need restoration and I like knowing that in the natural world, as I learned in physics this week, there is continuity, a pattern, and restoring forces … in one sense, an ability to be tuned.  Writing this blog is my attempt to rewind myself, to tweak my writing with the hope that I can offer something helpful to those I interact with.  I know that even if a piano is tuned perfectly the twelve tones can be combined to produce sounds painful to hear – that is not my goal.  As for the fish (in my title), to my way of thinking, I agree.  A fish does not have to be tuned; if life didn’t interrupt, it would keep on swimming.   But, then … there is always the possibility of that darn old worm dangling at the end of a lure both camouflaging the nasty hook.   

*Jones, Roger S.  Physics for the Rest of Us.  New York: Fall River Press, 2011 edition.

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