Sound and Oscillation

Different Types of Waves in Physics With Examples

Waves transport energy without transporting matter. The energy transportation is carried by a disturbance, which spreads out from a source. Basically, there are three types of waves. Mechanical waves, electromagnetic waves, and matter waves. Transverse waves and Mechanical waves are examples of mechanical waves.

We are well familiar with different types of waves such as water waves in the ocean, or gently formed ripples on a still pond due to a raindrop. When a musician plucks a guitar string, sound waves are generated which on reaching our ear, produce the sensation of music.

Wave disturbances may also come in a concentrated bundle like the shock waves from an airplane flying at supersonic speed. Whatever may be the nature of waves, the mechanism by which it transport energy is the same. A succession of oscillatory in the vibrating body and propagation of a wave through space is by means of oscillations.

What are the three types of waves in physics

types of waves

Following are the three types of waves:

Mechanical waves

The waves which require a material medium for their propagation are known as mechanical waves

Examples of mechanical waves

  • Water waves
  • sound waves
  • Spring waves
  • waves of the tuning fork

Electromagnetic  Waves

The waves which require no material medium for their propagation are called electromagnetic waves. These waves propagate out in space due to the oscillation of electric and magnetic fields.

Electromagnetic waves examples

  • Light waves
  • Heatwaves
  • radio waves
  • X-Ray waves

Learn more about electromagnetic waves and their types here

Matter Waves

A moving particle carries energy from one place to another in the form of kinetic energy. Since energy is carried by waves, therefore the waves associated with such moving particles are known as matter waves.

Learn about the Difference between electromagnetic waves and matter waves here..

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Progressive waves

Drop a particle in water. Ripples will be produced and spread out across the water. The ripples are examples of progressive waves because they carry energy across the water structure. A wave that transfers energy by moving away from the source of disturbance is called a progressive or traveling wave. There are two kinds of progressive waves – transverse waves and longitudinal waves

Types of Progressive Waves

There are two types of wavesi.e., transverse waves and longitudinal waves.

Transverse Waves

A wave in which particles of the medium move perpendicularly to the direction of the wave is called a transverse wave. Waves that are produced in water are transverse waves. Observes transverse waves produced by the up and down movement of a rope. The highest point of a transverse wave is called the crest, and the lowest point between two crests is called Trough.

Longitudinal waves

A wave in which particles of a medium move back and forth, parallel to the direction of the wave is called a longitudinal wave. If we pull and push one end of the slinky spring continuously, we can produce a longitudinal wave.

longitudinal waves

The part of a longitudinal wave, where particles of the medium are compressed together, are called compressions. The part of a longitudinal wave, where particles of the medium are spread out, are called rarefactions. As the wave moves, compressions and rarefactions are produced due to the back and forth motion of particles of the medium. Sound from a vibrating body produces longitudinal waves in the air. These waves reach our ears and affect the eardrum.

Learn about the difference between transverse and longitudinal waves in detail here

Sound Waves are Longitudinal Waves

A sound wave traveling through air is an example of a longitudinal wave. When a drummer beats a drum, the surface of the drum vibrates and creates a disturbance in the air beside it.

When the drum head moves to the left, it compresses the particles of air and creates a compression. When the drum head moves to the right, the particles of the air on the right move farther apart, create a rarefaction. These compression and rarefaction travel through the air as longitudinal waves. When the disturbance in the air reaches our ears, we hear the sound of the drum.

Learn about the Types and uses of sound waves in detail here.

Properties of waves

The basics terms to understand waves are amplitude, wavelength, frequency, and speed.


A wavelength is the shortest distance between two adjacent crests or troughs of a transverse wave. For longitudinal waves, it is the distances between two adjacent compressions or rarefactions. Wavelength is measured in meters (m).


The amplitude of a wave is the mixture distance of the particles of the medium from the rest position. We can also say that it is the height of the crest or depth of a trough (transverse wave) measured from the rest position. Amplitude is measured in meters (m).



The number of vibrations produced by a vibrating body in one second is called its frequency. Frequency is measured in units called hertz (Hz). When one wave passes in one second its frequency is 1 wave per second or 1 Hertz.



Imagine watching a flash of lightning and thundering of the cloud. First, we see the flash of lighting. A few seconds later we hear thunder. This happens because sound and light travel at different speeds. Light travels much faster than sound. Different waves travel at different speeds. This distance a wave covers in units time are called its speed. Speed is measured in meters per second. Sound travels at a different speed in different mediums.

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  1. your article has a slight error. please refer to the top of the paragraph. You have written
    “transverse waves and mechanical waves are types of mechanical waves” instead of “transverse waves and longitudnal waves are types of mechanical waves”

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