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Music and Sound by Maxine and Hannah

Maxine and Hannah here! We caught the Omni theater movie "STOMP: Worldbeat" at the Science Museum of Minnesota. STOMP is a musical group that finds rhythm everywhere. They make music with anything and everything from drumming barrels to sweeping brooms. STOMP not only had us tapping our feet, they inspired an important science question. We're curious: How can we make our own musical instruments from simple objects?

What did we do?
We went to the Experiment Gallery at the Science Museum of Minnesota. We plucked the strings of a cello, played with a tuning fork, and checked out the giant wave machine. Then we got busy, creating a musical instrument of our own. We used some leftover plastic plumbing tubes, some cardboard wrapping paper tubes, and some copper tubing. We cut the tubes at different lengths and dropped them to see what kinds of sounds they made. The longer tubes made low pitch sounds and the shorter tubes made high pitched ones.

What did we find out?
We spent some time with our trusty tuning fork, matching lengths of tubing to notes on a scale. We created scales for the plastic tubing and the cardboard tubing, but when we tried copper metal tubing, it made a clang which made it hard to tell what note we were matching. We discovered that the length of every single tube is the same for each musical note. It doesn't matter what type of material it's made out of-the length is what matters. It also doesn't matter what diameter the pipe is. But they sure don't sound the same, even if they are playing the same note.

What can you do?
  • Collect a bunch of old food cans, peel off the wrappers, wash them up, and start picking out the ones you need to make a musical scale. Tap them with a metal spoon, and start arranging them in order of the note they make. Don't use the cans that are "out of tune". Make a kind of homemade xylophone, and start practicing!
  • Make a reed instrument out of a regular drinking straw. Read how by going to the Do It section of the DFTV website. Learn about straw oboes by clicking here.
  • Use this sound investigation as a science fair project idea for your elementary or middle school science fair! Then tell us about it!
more resources
Properties of Sound

Go to the DFTV Boards, and tell us about your science investigation.
whiz quiz
What was the first man-made invention to break the sound barrier?

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