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Musical Instruments part 1

Developed by W.K. Adams

Students experiment with various sound sources, including straw instruments and water bottles, to gain an understanding of the connection between sound and vibration.

Science Topics
Comparing Frequency

Process Skills
Scientific inquiry

Grade Level

Complete the Sound and Music lesson before this activity.

5 minutes

35-45 minutes

5 minutes

Learning Goals
Students will be able to…

• describe how sounds are produced with vibrations
• describe how tones can be varied by changing the length of a resonant cavity
• list some of the instruments found in the woodwind, brass, and string families

Materials in Kit
Straw Instruments (built in Music and Sound Lesson)

Materials Not in Kit
Water bottler – 1 per group
Water (to add to bottles)*
Scissors – 1 per group

Optional Materials
Extra straws
Extra water bottles

*You will want a source to refill the water bottles (sink, extra containers of water, etc.)

Gather materials and arrange them so they can be easily distributed to students during class.

Introduce the Activity
Begin with a short pre-assessment, where students complete three questions making predictions about the upcoming activity. Students will answer questions 1-3 in their worksheets. After the students have answered 1-3, they should discuss their answers in small groups before moving on.

Doing the Activity
More with Straw Instruments

1. Students will need to use their straw instruments from the Sound and Music lesson to create sounds.

a. If you need to create new straw instruments, review the directions below and read the instructions from the Sound and Music lesson

• Model the building of the instrument for the class and explain safety procedures to the
• Cut the tip of the straws into a point
• Gently chew on the straw to soften the tip
• Blow really hard into the pointy end to create a sound

2. With their straw instruments, students should answer questions 4-5.

3. For questions 6 and 7, students will need to modify their straw instruments by removing the white straw. They will then cut a small a 1-inch section off the red straw and blow on it, and note how the pitch has changed. They will continue to cut their straws down, writing down how much the pitch changes with each change in length. They should cut the straws down until there is nothing left to use.

NOTE: If you have extra straws, students can create new straw instruments instead of cutting their straw trombones.

4. Question 8 expects the students to have heard about resonance previously. If they did the Sound and Music lesson, they will have heard a definition before in the pasta/raisin demonstration.

Water Bottles

1. For question 9 and 10, one student should blow over the top of the water bottle until he or she makes a tone.

2. To figure out where the resonance is happening and to answer questions 12-13, students should try to make a new tone by add or removing water.

NOTE: Make sure students take turns blowing over the top of the water bottle!

The straw instruments create sound when the reed (cut tip of the straw) vibrates. The cavity in the straw allows the vibrations in the air to resonate. This not only defines the pitch of the straw but also makes it loud.

The water bottle makes a higher tone the more water is in it. This is the same general principle as the straw instrument. The sound waves resonate in the air space of the bottle.


Key Lesson Terminology
Crest – the top of the wave
Trough – the bottom of the wave
Wavelength – the distance between two successive, identical parts of the wave. Ex. Crest to crest, or trough to trough.

Hard of hearing students can feel vibrations with their hands and mouths.

Visually impaired students can be assisted when cutting and descriptions of visual attributes can be given in detail.

If the class does not have access to a computer for each student:

→ The last question can be completed as homework
→ If there are limited computers, students can work in small groups.

For question 13, students can go to the website and go to Listen By Instrument to help determine what kind of instrument the straw instrument and water bottle can be classified as.

Students can create a vocabulary sheet to keep track of the terms used in the lesson.

Students who play a woodwind instrument can bring their instruments to lass to show how the learning translates to real life.