Personal Project

What if we could optimize the shape of a xylophone bar based on desired harmonics?

Computational Geometry + Woodworking

One day, I woke up and decided to build a xylophone. There wasn’t a whole lot of rhyme or reason to this decision — it just seemed like a fun project to occupy a month-long lull in my schedule, and easy enough for a woodworking beginner.

Early in the research process, I discovered that not only the fundamental frequency of each xylophone bar has to be tuned accurately, but also the next couple harmonics. Usually this tuning involves many tedious rounds of removing small bits of wood from the underside and checking the resulting frequencies on a computer.

I decided to use MATLAB's Finite Element Analysis package to find the resonant frequencies of a 3d model of each xylophone bar, and set up an optimization problem to iteratively carve the bar until it reached the desired frequencies.

I wrote a blog series describing the physics, computations, and woodworking process in detail. The first installment of the xylo-saga can be found here.