The Secret Sounds of the Oven Shelf

30 July 2006


Action Shot of the oven shelf



An oven shelf (make sure it's not hot!)                    

2 pieces of string, each about 1 metre long

Wooden spoon, or pen

A friend to help you


Ovenshelf fingers1 - Take one piece of string and tie it to one corner of the oven shelf. Do the same with the other piece of string on an adjacent corner. If you hold onto the loose ends of the string, it should hang like a picture on a wall.               

                                                                                                                                               2 - Take the loose ends of the string and wrap one round each of your index fingers. As your friend to hit the oven shelf with the wooden spoon. What does it sound like?                                                                                                                                                                                                                      3 - Put your fingers in your ears. The oven shelf should now be hanging down directly in front of you, as though you're hanging a picture from your eardrums!

Oven Shelf action shot4 - Ask your friend to run the wooden spoon across the front of the oven shelf while it's hanging from your ears. What do you hear now?

5 - Let your friend have a go!


When you listen to the oven shelf being hit normally, you can hear a ringing sound. However when your fingers are in your ears, the sound you hear is much lower - a bit like a huge gong - and really nothing like an oven shelf usually sounds.


Listen to the oven shelf normally
Listen to the oven shelf through the string



First of all we have to understand that sound is all about vibrations. When somebody speaks, their voicebox vibrates, and this makes the air around it vibrate. These vibrations carry information about what someone has just said. When these vibrations reach your ear, they make your eardrum vibrate and this is processed by your brain as sound. The amount of energy (or the volume of the sound) that manages to make the journey from voicebox to ear depends on what the sound is travelling through and what kind of sound it is.

In the case of speaking to a friend or when you listen to the oven shelf, the vibrations must travel through air. Air is really sloppy, fluid and not very stiff. Water is quite similar - if you put your hand in water and slowly move it around, the water feels very soft and fluidic. However, if you slap the water then it suddenly feels very hard and stiff. This is because the water doesn't have time to get out of the way so it has to form waves. Although it is not quite so obvious, this is the same for air. If you move something through it very quickly, the air feels stiffer and it's much harder to move through it, so high frequency vibrations will transfer more energy intto the air.


Low Frequency Vibration

In order to hear the low frequencies, you need to create a stiff connection between the oven shelf and your ears. The string wrapped around your fingers provides this connection. The string is taut and stiff and can transmit both high and low frequencies. When you add the high and low frequencies together, the oven shelf suddenly sounds like a gong.


What about in the real world?


This is why your voice sounds different to everyone else and when you hear it recorded. Everyone else just hears you though the air, but you hear yourself through the bones in your skull as well, so different pitches will reach your ears than other people's.

Bone Conduction


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