Car board game.

CareerStart lessons: Grade six

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

Learning outcomes

  • Students will explore concepts of sound, including frequency, amplitude, loudness, and how sound travels through different materials.
  • Students will conduct investigations to build an understanding of the nature and properties of sound.
  • Students will learn how these concepts can be applied to careers in music.

Teacher planning

Materials needed

  • Student handouts:
    • “Student Study Guide: Nature of Sound, Properties of Sound, and Combining Sound Waves”
    • Data recording handout (For ease of use, copy the table on the front of the page and the questions on the back.)
  • Three identical glass bottles for each group of three students
  • Water
  • One ruler for each group of three students
  • Masking tape
  • Marking pen
  • Pencil

Time required for lesson

Approximately 80–90 minutes
The time needed for this lesson is relatively flexible. Preparing each lab station ahead of time will save 10–15 minutes of student work. See “Lab Procedure” below for more detailed information. Homework time may also be added to reduce classroom time.

Advance preparation

  • Students should have prior knowledge of the properties of sound and how it relates to musical instruments. Critical vocabulary (defined on the handout “Student Study Guide: Nature of Sound, Properties of Sound, and Combining Sound Waves”) should be discussed prior to this lesson. This handout can be used as a review just before the lab or used earlier in the week as an introduction to a unit on the properties of sound.
  • To familiarize yourself with careers in the music industry, visit the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook page, “Musicians and Singers.”


  1. Write this question on the board: “Why does someone with a job in music need to understand the elements of sound?”
  2. Explain to the students that they are going to conduct a hands-on lab to look at the real world of music, the people who make it happen, and how they can create their own music using sound waves. Start the discussion by talking about the music they listen to on the radio and who makes this music. Have them create a bubble map on the board with all the different jobs that might be involved in creating their favorite music. (You may need to guide students in this.) Job map might include:
    • Music performer — vocalist, rapper, instrumentalist
    • Composer
    • Lyricist
    • Songwriter
    • Instrument tuner
    • Equipment manager — controls musical mixers and computers
  3. Remind students that all of these jobs involve the understanding of several different properties of sound including beat, acoustics, timbre, dissonance, pitch, frequency, resonance, decibels, intensity of sound waves, and, of course, amplitude and loudness. (You might want to have students refer to the student study guide at this time.) Explain that the following experiment will help them understand how music happens and let them apply what they’ve learned about sound.

Lab procedure

  1. Break students into groups of three with each group having three bottles of water. Each bottle should be the same shape in every way but should contain a different amount of water. Bottle A is one-fourth full, bottle B is half full, and bottle C is three-fourths full. (You might want to label each bottle A, B, C, and fill bottles appropriately beforehand. Students can do this in order to teach the importance of following directions in an experiment, but it will increase the time needed for the lesson.)
  2. Pass out the data recording worksheet to each student. Explain to your students that each student must record the results of the group. (This will make certain that there are no idle hands.)
  3. Have each group measure the distance from the top of each bottle to the surface of the water. Then measure the height of the water in each bottle. Have students record their measurements.
  4. Ask the students to predict the difference in pitch you will hear if you blow across the top of each bottle in turn. Students should give reasons for their predictions and record them on their handout.
  5. Instruct students to test their prediction by blowing over the top of each bottle. Let each member try this in the group. Tell each student to listen to the sound that he or she produces. Have students describe each sound in terms of its pitch — low, medium, or high — and record the pitch of each sound.
  6. Have the students predict if the sound of a pencil tapping the bottles will produce a different sound. Ask them if it will be similar or different than blowing across the top of each bottle. Have the students explain the reasons for their predictions and record their results again.
  7. Instruct the students test their prediction by tapping on the side of each bottle with a pencil. Have them record the pitch of each sound.
  8. Have the students finish the rest of the handout in their groups. All students should turn in their handout at the end of the class, after final discussions. Students can take the handout home to finish for homework if too much class time is being used, but be sure they have looked at question #8 as a group.

Discussion questions

Following the lesson, have students discuss aloud the final question on the handout about creating music in the real world. Ask them:

  • Has your greater knowledge of how musical sounds are created inspired you to work in the music industry? Why or why not?
  • If it has, what job would you want to pursue? Is it related to playing a particular instrument? Or is it a more behind-the-scenes job, such as a music producer?

Extension activity: Can you become a hip-hop beatboxer someday?

For extra credit, have students create their own beat using their mouth. This is also called “beatboxing” — producing drum beats, rhythm, and musical sounds with the mouth. Beatboxing is popular in hip-hop, rock, and rap music, so many students will be familiar with it.

Give the students a night to go home and create their own beatbox sound that lasts for at least 20 seconds. Let them know that to receive extra credit they must use their mouths to make sounds, and they must perform in front of the class the next day for at least 20 seconds. Remind them that many songs are more than two to three minutes in length, so 20 seconds is just a small sample. This extension will be a lot of fun for your students. It should take no more than 15 minutes in class, and offers a modern, engaging twist on teaching sound in your science classroom.


Optional resources for more information on the topics covered in this lesson

neoK12: Sound
Videos on the science of sound and hearing reviewed by K-12 teachers.
Careers in Music
The National Association for Music Education’s brochure on careers in music, including salary ranges, personal qualifications, knowledge and skills, precollege training, and required education.
Musical Career Interviews
Interviews with four music professionals: a conductor, a composer, an opera singer, and a performer.
Interactive Sound Waves
NASA’s interactive software to investigate how sound waves travel through the air.
Accidental Scientist: The Science of Music
A website for kids to explore the science of music, including interactive “exhibits” to create music and several movies.

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Music Education (2001)

Grade 6

  • Goal 8: The learner will understand relationships between music, the other arts, and content areas outside the arts.
    • Objective 8.02: Describe ways in which the concepts and skills of other content areas taught in the school including English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies are related to those of music.

Science (2005)

Grade 6

  • Goal 6: The learner will conduct investigations and examine models and devices to build an understanding of the characteristics of energy transfer and/or transformation.
    • Objective 6.03: Analyze sound as an example that vibrating materials generate waves that transfer energy.
      • Frequency.
      • Amplitude.
      • Loudness.
      • How sound travels through different material.
      • Form and function of the human ear.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Music Education (2010)
      • 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...
      • 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...