LEARN NC

Sounds can be made by tapping (percussion instruments), plucking (stringed instruments) or blowing air (wind and brass instruments) across an object or instrument. Each of these actions causes vibration. We hear sound when a moving object makes the air vibrate. The vibrations travel through the air in waves and are detected by our ears as sounds.

Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • show how sound is caused by vibrations.
  • identify two animals that use objects in their environments to create a specific sound.

Teacher planning

Time required

One 60-minute period

Materials needed

  • tuning forks, one per pair of students
  • a piano or guitar
  • science notebooks
  • yarn
  • metal coat hangers
  • 3 or 4 coffee cans, large-mouth cups, or other containers
  • rubber bands
  • assortment of wax paper, cellophane, and aluminum foil
  • salt
  • toilet tissue tubes
  • several small bowls of water
  • computer capable of playing audio clips of frog and bird songs

Pre-activities

You will need to set up four activity centers for this lesson before class. See the Activities section of this lesson for descriptions.

Activities

This lesson uses the 5E instructional model, which includes five phases: engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate.

Engage

As a class sing the following familiar songs.

  • Mary Had a Little Lamb
  • Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
  • Happy Birthday to You

Show the class how to alter the starting pitches of these songs and have the students sing along with you. Sing one song in the normal voice range, one extremely high, and one extremely low. Have students feel their throats as they are humming or singing the songs. Discuss what they feel as they make sound. Explain the word vibration.

Explore

Show students a tuning fork and ask if they know how to utilize this percussion instrument. Explain that you strike the tuning fork against a surface to produce sound. Have students work in pairs and provide them with one tuning fork each. Encourage students to strike the tuning fork on their hand, on a rubber-soled shoe, and on a chair to make a sound. Allow students time to explore these sounds. Visit each group and discuss what they have noticed about their tuning forks. Ask students to touch the tuning fork and encourage them to make observations using the senses of sight, touch, and hearing.

Explain

Discuss with students what causes the tuning forks to make a sound. Ask students what their throat and the tuning fork have in common. Students should recognize that both vibrate when sound is created. Have students hypothesize about what made these objects vibrate.

Elaborate

Establish that the vibrating mechanism inside of the throat is the larynx:

Many people call the larynx their voice box. The larynx houses the vocal chords. During speech, the vocal cords are stretched across the larynx. As air pushes between the cords, they vibrate and produce sound. Various muscles adjust the tension and space of the vocal cords, which causes varying of pitch in the sounds produced.

Extend and pluck a large, then a small, rubber band to simulate the varying vibration of the vocal chords. Have students strike their tuning forks again to remind them of its vibrations. Establish that the tuning fork vibrates because it is made out of metal. Explore the musical dynamics of the tuning fork by striking it against hard and soft surfaces. Classroom examples include composition notebooks, carpet squares, bongos, tambourines, tile floors, file cabinets, etc.

Discuss how some animals make sounds in ways that are similar to humans and use these sounds to communicate with other members of their species. Explain that while the voice box in humans is called the larynx, in birds it is called a syrinx. Explore the similarities and differences of the larynx and syrinx.

Discuss amplification. Strike the tuning fork against a hard surface and place it on the soundboard of a piano or guitar. Lead a discussion on what students hear. The piano and guitar amplify the sound similar to an electronic speaker.

View the PowerPoint Human Vocal Production: How We Produce Sound.

Divide students into groups and send each to a center (described below) to further investigate the vibrating tuning forks. They will record similarities between objects in centers and compare events that happen in the centers.

Center one

This center contains metal coat hangers and yarn. Students take a meter-long piece of yarn and place it through a metal coat hanger. They place each end of the yarn around their ears like glasses. They swing the hanger and hit it against a wall. In their science notebooks they should answer the following questions:

  • How is this similar to the tuning fork?
  • What is this medium?

Center two

This center contains three or four coffee cans (or large mouth cups or containers), rubber bands, wax paper, cellophane, aluminum foil, salt, and tuning forks. Students cover the top of the can with wax paper and secure it with a rubber band. They pour salt on the wax paper and strike the tuning fork close to the salt. They should repeat this process with the cellophane and aluminum foil, then answer the following questions in their science notebooks:

  • What happened?
  • What are the mediums?

Center three

This center contains toilet tissue tubes, rubber bands, and wax paper. Students make a kazoo by securing the wax paper over one end of the tissue roll with a rubber band. They pucker the lips and blow/toot into the tube. They should feel the wax paper, then answer the following questions in their science notebooks:

  • What were the similarities with the tuning fork?
  • What is this medium?

Center four

This center contains several small bowls of water. Students strike the tuning fork and record what happened when it is placed in the water. They run their fingers around rim of bowl to see if they can make a sound. In their science notebooks, students should answer the following question:

  • What is this medium?

Center five

Students will learn how the Bornean tree-hole frog and white-headed woodpecker use hollow trees to communicate.

The male Bornean tree-hole frog adapts the pitch of its song to get a volume boost from a small cavity in a tree with a little bit of water. He uses this song to attract a mate. Provide students with information, images, and audio about the Bornean tree-hole frog from the NPR article “Wooing Mates with Acoustic Tricks” or other sources.

The white-headed woodpecker nests in the hollow cavities of trees. Both the male and female incubate the eggs and often communicate by soft drumming from both inside and outside the nest cavity. Information, images, and audio about the white-headed woodpecker can be found at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website.

Evaluate

Students will create a Venn diagram for three centers.

Modifications

Centers can be adapted depending on size of class.

Critical vocabulary

percussion instrument
a musical instrument that is sounded by striking, shaking, rubbing, or scraping; includes instruments such as drums, maracas, tambourines, and bells
string instrument
a musical instrument that produces sound by means of vibrating strings through bowing, plucking, or striking; the most common instruments in the string family are the guitar, violin, viola, cello, double bass, banjo, mandolin, and ukulele
woodwind instrument
a musical instrument that produces sound when the player blows air against the mouthpiece causing air to vibrate within a resonator; most of these instruments were originally made of wood, but some, such as the saxophone and most flutes, are now commonly made of other materials such as metals or plastics
brass instrument
a metal musical instrument with a tone that is produced by vibration of the lips as the player blows into a tubular resonator; includes trumpets, tubas, trombones, and French horns
vibration
the back and forth motion of an object; mechanical oscillations about an equilibrium point
larynx
organ of voice in mammals, commonly known as the voice box

It is a tubular chamber about two inches high, consisting of walls of cartilage bound by ligaments and membranes, and moved by muscles.

syrinx
the vocal organ of birds located at the base of a bird’s trachea, which produces sounds without the vocal cords of mammals

Sound is produced by vibrations caused by air flowing through the syrinx. Unlike the larynx of mammals, the syrinx is located where the trachea forks into the lungs, and because of this some songbirds can produce more than one sound at a time.

tuning forks
an acoustic resonator in the form of a two-pronged fork with the tines formed from a U-shaped bar of elastic metal
amplification
an increase in the magnitude or strength of a sound

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Music Education (2010)
      • Grade 5

        • 5.CR.1 Understand global, interdisciplinary, and 21st century connections with music. 5.CR.1.1 Understand how music has affected, and is reflected in, the culture, traditions, and history of the United States. 5.CR.1.2 Understand the relationships between...
        • 5.ML.1 Apply the elements of music and musical techniques in order to sing and play music with accuracy and expression 5.ML.1.1 Illustrate independence and accuracy while singing and playing instruments within a group or ensemble. 5.ML.1.2 Illustrate blending...
      • Grade 6

        • 6.CR.1 Understand global, interdisciplinary, and 21st century connections with music. 6.CR.1.1 Understand music in relationship to the geography, history, and culture of world civilizations and societies from the beginning of human society to the emergence...
        • 6.ML.1 Apply the elements of music and musical techniques in order to sing and play music with accuracy and expression. 6.ML.1.1 Use steady tone when performing music. 6.ML.1.2 Recognize the fundamental techniques necessary to sing and play an instrument....
      • Science (2010)
        • 6.P.1 Understand the properties of waves and the wavelike property of energy in earthquakes, light and sound waves. 6.P.1.1 Compare the properties of waves to the wavelike property of energy in earthquakes, light and sound. 6.P.1.2 Explain the relationship...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Music Education (2001)

Grade 4

  • Goal 1: The learner will sing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
  • Goal 8: The learner will understand relationships between music, the other arts, and content areas outside the arts.
    • Objective 8.02: Identify ways in which the principles and subject matter of other content areas taught in the school are related to those of music.

Grade 5

  • Goal 1: The learner will sing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
    • Objective 1.01: Sing with pitch and rhythmic accuracy.
    • Objective 1.02: Match pitch within a developmentally appropriate vocal range, using head tones.
  • Goal 8: The learner will understand relationships between music, the other arts, and content areas outside the arts.
    • Objective 8.02: Identify ways in which the principles and subject matter of other content areas taught in the school are related to those of music.