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Vibration of a single normal mode of a circular disc with a pinned boundary condition along the entire outer edge. See other modes.
A flash photo of cup of black coffee vibrating in normal modes


A normal mode of an oscillating system is a pattern of motion in which all parts of the system move sinusoidally with the same frequency and with a fixed phase relation. The free motion described by the normal modes takes place at the fixed frequencies. These fixed frequencies of the normal modes of a system are known as its natural frequencies or resonant frequencies. A physical object, such as a building, bridge or molecule, has a set of normal modes and their natural frequencies that depend on its structure, materials and boundary conditions.

When relating to music, normal modes of vibrating instruments (strings, air pipes, drums, etc.) are called "harmonics" or "overtones".

The most general motion of a system is a superposition of its normal modes. The modes are normal in the sense that they can move independently, that is to say that an excitation of one mode will never cause motion of a different mode. In mathematical terms, normal modes are orthogonal to each other.

The concept of normal modes also finds application in wave theory, optics, quantum mechanics, and molecular dynamics.


Normal mode sections
Intro  Mode numbers  Nodes   Coupled oscillators    Standing waves    Elastic solids    Quantum mechanics   Earth   See also    References    External links   

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