Understanding Oscillation and Waves

Oscillation and Waves is one of the most important topics in Physics and hence it is advisable that students taking Physics tuition pay as much attention to this topic as they give to the others. Before we dive into the topic, let us at first discuss what Oscillation and Waves actually mean.


Oscillation can be defined as a periodic motion or movement at a definite distance about any equilibrium position and replicating that motion repeatedly for a particular period. There are two types of oscillations – Harmonic Oscillation and Non-harmonic Oscillation.

 Simple Harmonic Oscillation or periodic Oscillation

 Harmonic Oscillation or Simple Harmonic Oscillation can be defined as a specific type of oscillation, wherein the restoring force involved is directly proportional to the related displacement. At the same time, it also acts in a direction that is opposite to the direction of the said displacement within a specific time interval. One of the most common examples of SHM or Simple Harmonic Motion or oscillation is as a spring system, simple pendulum, swings kids, rocking chairs, tuning forks and so on.

 Non-harmonic or non- periodic oscillation

This is the type of oscillation or motion, which does not repeat itself at specified intervals of time, unlike Simple Harmonic Motion. The most apt practical replicas of non-periodic oscillation are the bouncing of a ball and the movement of Earth in its orbit.


Physics define waves as a single disturbance or a string of disturbances, which transfer energy over space or other matters, with little or no mass transport associated. Instead, waves are made up of oscillations or vibrations on any physical medium or any other filed, around locations that are relatively fixed. There are two types of waves – electromagnetic and mechanical.

Electromagnetic waves

Electromagnetic or EM waves are created because of vibrations between a magnetic and an electrical filed. In other words, EM waves are made up of oscillating magnetic and electrical fields, which results when an electric field comes in contact with the magnetic field. The magnetic field of the EM waves and the directions thereof are perpendicular to the electrical field.

 Mechanical Waves

Mechanical Waves are created because of oscillation of matter and hence, they transfer energy through a medium. These waves can travel great distance, though the movement of the transmission medium is rather limited. Because of this, the oscillating material will not move very far from its preliminary position of equilibrium. There are 3 types of Mechanical Waves – Longitudinal waves, Transverse waves and surface waves.

Longitudinal Waves – Longitudinal waves are caused when the medium vibrates parallel to the wave direction. It is made up of rarefactions and compressions.

Transverse Waves – Waves that results in the medium to vibrate at 90 degrees or a right angle to the direction of the generated energy or wave that is being fetched by the medium are called Transverse Waves. It has two parts – Crest and Trough with Crest being the highest part and Trough the lowest.

Surface Waves – The waves that travel along the surface connecting two different media are called surface waves. One very practical example of surface wave that Physics tuition classes give, is the string of waves that is created on the surface of a pool or ocean.