The rhythms, melodic and harmonic patterns of music speak the language of each generation, albeit in different dialects and styles. A musical instrument sound science project lets you dive into the science behind the music you enjoy. A collection of recyclables and common household items are all it takes to create some simple homemade instruments that allow you to test instrument features and configurations that affect the output pitch.
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Things you need
- Electronic chromatic tuner (available at many music shops)
- Wine glasses
- Liquid measuring cup
- Drinking straws, paper or plastic
- Rubber bands
- Old newspapers
- Packing foam
- Wooden spoon, stick or drumstick
- Long cardboard tube
- Tin cans
- Pots and pans
- Centimetre ruler
- Duct tape
- Collection of narrow-necked glass bottles of many sizes and shapes, matching and non-matching
- Piano or electronic keyboard (optional)
Fill wine glasses and bottles with varying amounts of water. You will have to experiment with water levels to find each exact pitch during the experiment.
Cut V-shapes opposite one another in one end of several straws, leaving two reed flaps. Flatten this end. Set aside.
Stretch rubber bands around a box to make a rubber band guitar. Make several of these with different size boxes to compare pitches during the experiment.
Collect boxes of different sizes and shapes. Fill them with different amounts of packing foam or old newspaper strips.
Making the instruments
Refer to a chart of musical sound frequencies, such as the one provided online by Michigan Technological University (see Resources). Turn on the chromatic tuner and set it near the instruments.
Wet your finger and lightly run it around the rim of a wine glass until it begins to sing. Read the resulting pitch on the tuner. Adjust the amount of water until it produces a middle C. Repeat this process with each glass to create an eight-note scale in the key of C. You may choose to add in the sharps as well so you can play a chromatic scale.
Blow gently over the rim of a water bottle, adjusting the airflow until a musical note sounds. Read the pitch on the tuner and add or subtract water from the bottle to create the middle C pitch. Do this for each bottle to create an entire scale.
Insert the reed end of the straw oboe lightly between your lips. Blow through the straw to produce a musical note. Adjust the straw position as necessary to obtain the clearest note possible. Check the pitch on the tuner. Refer to Georgia State University Physics department's tool on calculating the length of the tube to produce the correct frequency for each note in the scale (see Resources). Trim and test each straw to produce each pitch. Lay the straws out side by side from shortest to longest and strap them together with duct tape so you can easily hold and play them together.
Stretch rubber bands over a small opening in several sizes and shapes of boxes. Attach a cardboard tube to one end of the box with duct tape for a guitar neck. Pluck each string and check the tuner for pitch. Try different rubber band sizes and thicknesses. Experiment with stretching them tighter and looser to discover how tension and string sizes affect pitch.
Strike a box with a stick or wooden spoon and read the pitch. Test different size and shape boxes with varying types and amounts of fill material as well as tin cans, pots and pans and wood blocks to create a variety of pitches. Try to find a collection of household items that you can line up to play a percussion scale.
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