A Cup of Sound: Sound Investigation

Students participate in a series of activities related to sound. They investigate variables that affect the pitch produced by a simple noise maker made from a variety of materials. One activity demonstrates how the throat changes as the voice changes in pitch. Students also investigate how sound travels through air, solids, and water, in order to explain why sound is an effective means of communication.  

Standards & Objectives

Essential and guiding questions: 

How are a guitar and a violin like the instrument you just made? What other musical instruments use vibrations to make sounds? 

How can you make a stringed instrument sound louder?

How do different materials for the sound device change the instrument’s sound?

What materials produce the most pleasing sound?

What kinds of strings work best for low notes? For high notes? 

Lesson Variations

Extension suggestions: 

For Grades 6-12:

Design a data collection sheet you can use throughout the activity. As you investigate, carefully record what you did and what results you got in a format that is easy to follow and can be shared with others.

Students design a new sound-producing device applying previously learned concepts. Ask your students to outline the way in which an idea begins and then evolves. Working in their cooperative learning groups, students will examine the instruments they have created, focusing on the physical creation of the instruments. One or two members should be selected by each group to illustrate the "manufacturing" process by diagram, computer graphics, drawings, videotapes or charts. At the completion of the project, the groups will display their creations to the class. 

For Grades K-5:

Set up student groups of three to four students, and provide each group with a meterstick or yardstick. Ask each student group to carry out investigations to answer the question, "What sounds are produced when you vibrate the stick at different lengths?" For example, ask the class to compare the sound produced by vibrating a 15 cm. (6 inch) length to one that is 30 cm. long. Help the students to observe that the greater the length of the vibrating stick the lower the frequency. The differences in frequencies are perceived as sound of different pitches.

Follow-up this activity by providing each student group with some type of string instrument (i.e., guitar, violin, cello). Or, bring one or two instruments into class and allow each group the opportunity to study them. Ask each group to come up with an explanation of how different musical notes of varying pitches are produced by the vibrating strings. Another interesting question for students to explore: "What properties of the strings affect the frequency of the vibration?" 

Helpful Hints

Materias Needed:

  • cups of various sizes and materials (plastic, paper, etc.)
  • 2 or 3 kinds of different thicknesses of cotton string
  • 2 or 3 different thicknesses of monofilament nylon fishing line
  • a nail, push pin, or sharpened pencil
  • a paperclip, washer, button, or toothpick
  • paper towel, wax paper, or sponge
  • water
  • scissors
  • materials worksheet
  • discussion questions worksheet