Whether you hear rain dropping, dogs barking or music playing, the science of sound is all around us. But you may wonder, how is sound even produced?

Sound occurs when an object vibrates the air around it, and this vibration is represented as a sound wave that travels through solids, liquids and gases. Our brains process these vibrations as sounds, and they are characterized by three physical qualities:

  • Frequency - The speed of the sound wave vibrations, and it determines the pitch of the noise.
  • Amplitude - The strength of the vibrations as they move through the air, and it determines the loudness or softness of the sound.
  • Timbre - The quality of a sound, and it helps the human ear distinguish between sounds that have the same pitch and loudness.

Students can explore the science of sounds, or acoustics, through a range of engaging and hands-on activities. Exploring the Science of Sounds by Abigail Flesch Connors provides 100 activities to help young students explore sound through easy-to-find materials. They can create sound with their bodies, discover the qualities of sound, create musical instruments and more.

Below are three quick activities that you can use to explore the science of sound with your students:

1. Straw Pan Flute

Pitch is determined by how quickly the sound wave is making the air vibrate. In this fun experiment, students will have a chance to create their own instrument while learning how length can impact the pitch of sound waves.

What You Need:

What to Do:

Line the straws side-by-side and tape them together.
Cut the straws at an angle from the top.
Have students blow through the straws. Which straws make higher and lower pitches and why?

Try this simple activity: Identifying Sounds to Practice Active Listening

2. Bee Hummer

Some objects create interesting sounds when moved a certain way. With this experiment from Exploratorium Teacher Institute, students can use a stick, rubber band and index card to recreate the sound of buzzing bees. How does it work? Moving air makes the rubber band vibrate, and the sound is produced by those vibrations. The index card is used to amplify the sound.

What You Need:

  • Popsicle or craft stick
  • Two pencil cap erasers
  • Index card
  • Scissors
  • Heavy-duty stapler
  • String or yarn
  • Wide rubber band

What to Do:

Place a cap eraser on each end of the craft stick.
Trim an index card so it fits in the space between the two erasers on the stick.
Staple the card to the craft stick. It should stick out about 2 inches from one side of the stick.
Cut enough string (about 2 feet) to safely swing the Bee Hummer. Then tie the string next to one of the erasers, making several knots so it’s secure.
Once the string is tied to your Bee Hummer, stretch the rubber band around the craft stick from one eraser to the other, and make sure it’s snugly in place.
Have students move to a clear area, hold the end of the string and swing their Bee Hummers in a circle. It should sound like a swarm of bees buzzing!

Check out these 3 Tuning Fork Experiments to Explore Sound with Students

3. Visible Sound Waves

We can often feel sound vibrations as they travel through air, water and even solid objects. But have you ever seen an actual sound wave? With this activity, students can make sound more visible by observing how objects react to sound vibrations.

What You Need:

  • Empty clear mixing bowl
  • Plastic wrap
  • Large rubber band
  • Sugar crystals

What to Do:

Cover the top of the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and ensure it’s pulled tightly. Then secure it with the large rubber band.
Place a few sugar crystals in the middle of the plastic wrap.
Ask students to move close to the sugar crystals and say something loudly. What happens to the crystals? Do they move or remain still?
Experiment with louder or softer words and even longer sentences to observe how the sugar crystals react to the sound vibrations.

What other ways can you explore the science of sound with students? Share your activity ideas with us below!