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Teaching the Science Behind Sounds Through Music



Have you been looking for a fun, natural way to introduce science into your curriculum? Try music! Children and infants are surrounded by music every day and respond enthusiastically to it. Family members and caregivers hum to calm babies and help them sleep, older babies are fascinated by banging objects together to make sound, and children watch TV shows with catchy tunes.

Try these activities from Exploring the Science of Sounds: 100 Musical Activities for Young Children by Abigail Flesch Connors to introduce children to what sound is and where it comes from.

Sounds Are Vibrations

What You’ll Need

  • 1 tuning fork, at least 7’’ long for the best effect
  • A mallet, such as a glockenspiel mallet

Activity To Try

  1. Show the class the tuning fork. Can they guess what it is? Listen to the children’s ideas.
  2. Tell them it’s called a tuning fork and that it’s a special device used by musicians. The tuning fork always makes the same clear tone, so they can make sure their instruments sound right. Scientists use tuning forks too, to study how sound works. It’s made of metal and it vibrates, or moves quickly back and forth, when you hit it, playing a musical tone.
  3. Hit the tuning fork hard with a mallet. Ask the class whether they can observe it moving. (They’ll say no and wonder how it’s making the sound.)
  4. Explain that even though you can’t see it, the tuning fork vibrates when you strike it—it moves back and forth really, really fast, like this (hold up your forearm and vibrate it quickly). It vibrates so fast that it makes the air vibrate. The vibrations keep moving through the air, so our ears hear the sound.
  5. Go around the circle to show each child how the tuning fork works. For every child, hit the fork, then hold it next to the child’s ear so she can hear how the sound continues for quite a while. While the fork is still ringing, let her touch the end of one of the tines. She’ll feel a small but very noticeable buzz—a zapping, tingling feeling. It’s the tuning fork vibrating.
  6. Remind the children that we hear that tone and feel that buzz because when we hit the tuning fork it makes music by vibrating. (You can demonstrate with your forearm again.) Those vibrations are what music is made of—all sounds come from vibrations.

Questions to Ask

  • What did the tuning fork feel like when it was vibrating?
  • Do you think that there’s any way we might be able to see the vibrations of sound?
  • Does the tuning fork vibrate by itself?
  • What has to happen for it to start vibrating and making sound?

Discoveries to Make

  • A tuning fork is an instrument used by musicians and scientists that always produces the same clear tone.
  • Striking the tuning fork causes it to vibrate, or move back and forth very fast. This creates the ringing tone.
  • The vibration of the tuning fork is so strong, we can feel it “buzzing” when we touch it.

Keep the Learning Going!

Over the next few days, keep the tuning fork with you and show your class how striking it and touching the ringing fork to various objects produces sounds. Guitars, drums, and other hollow items will be particularly resonant, but lots of things will have interesting sounds. Have children compare the various sounds. Bring out the tuning fork occasionally during free-play time and let children use it (always with supervision).

 

Let’s Vibrate

  • What You’ll Need
  • Tambourine or other loud instrument

Activity to Try

  1. Ask the children to stand in a circle or spread out if you have enough room.
  2. Tell them that when you tap a beat on the tambourine, they can move any way they want, but without vibrating. When you stop tapping and shake the tambourine, that’s their signal to stand still and make their arms vibrate. Demonstrate how to vibrate.
  3. Play the game. Tap and shake the tambourine, keeping the “vibrating” parts short. Vibrating is fun but tiring!
  4. Ask the children to sit down.

Questions to Ask

  • Do you remember how sound moves? Does it move in a lot of ways, or does it just vibrate?
  • Is vibration a pattern? What do you think?
  • How is vibrating different from other kinds of movement?

Discoveries to Make

  • Vibration is a repeated back-and-forth motion, different from other kinds of movement.
  • Vibration is a pattern—back/forth, back/forth, and so on.

Tip

  • When children are familiar with this game, it makes a great transition activity. Children can take turns leading the activity, tapping the tambourine to signal that children should move without vibrating, and shaking it when it’s time for all the children to vibrate.


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