Lectures on Physics has been derived from Benjamin Crowell's Light and Matter series of free introductory textbooks on physics. See the editorial for more information....

A violin

As a violinist draws the bow across a string, the bow hairs exert both a normal force and a kinetic frictional force on the string. The normal force is perpendicular to the direction of motion, and does no work. However, the frictional force is in the same direction as the motion of the bow, so it does work: energy is transferred to the string, causing it to vibrate.

One way of playing a violin more loudly is to use longer strokes. Since W = Fd, the greater distance results in more work.

A second way of getting a louder sound is to press the bow more firmly against the strings. This increases the normal force, and although the normal force itself does no work, an increase in the normal force has the side effect of increasing the frictional force, thereby increasing W = Fd.

The violinist moves the bow back and forth, and sound is produced on both the up-bow (the stroke toward the player's left) and the downbow (to the right). One may, for example, play a series of notes in alternation between up-bows and down-bows. However, if the notes are of unequal length, the up and down motions tend to be unequal, and if the player is not careful, she can run out of bow in the middle of a note! To keep this from happening, one can move the bow more quickly on the shorter notes, but the resulting increase in d will make the shorter notes louder than they should be. A skilled player compensates by reducing the force.

Last Update: 2009-06-21