Monday, July 27, 2015


Sound Science Experiments: Vibrations & Violins!

Sound science is SO fun!  Today we're sharing activities, science experiments, and a book to talk about how vibrations create the sound in violins, guitars, and other stringed instruments! Your kids are going to love these science projects.

This month's theme for Poppins Book Nook is Composers.  My daughter has a favorite composer.  This composer is pretty young, and incredibly fun to watch perform because she creates captivating videos where she plays the violin while dancing.  Each video tells its own kind of story and many of them are a collaborative effort with other musicians.  She also studied filmography in college.  And, we've used her as an example of someone who keeps trying: when she first proposed her violin and dance ideas, she was told there was no market for it.  A few short years later, she is an amazingly successful composer and performer!  Do you know her?  Her name is Lindsey Stirling.  Click here for one of our favorite videos from her (with a Skyrim theme)!

Since Lindsey plays a violin, we decided to learn more about how stringed instruments (like violins) work, how the vibrations make sound, and you can change the sound that violins (or other stringed instruments) make by changing their length, thickness, and tension.  Unfortunately we do not actually have a violin, but we have several guitars, so we used those for our little sound experiments.

Here are  10 short sound experiments  to use to talk about vibrations and sound and how you can change vibrations to create and change sound!

Experiment #1: Vibrations Create Sound

Hold a plastic ruler on the edge of a counter and press down quickly.  (I know we used wood.  That works fine.  Plastic works better!)  The ruler will vibrate up and down, creating sound waves that travel to your ear.  Try to create slower or faster vibrations.  What happens to the sounds pitch?  (Slower vibrations create a lower pitch.)

Experiment #2: Your Ear Collects Sound Waves

Vibrations travel through the air (and other mediums) as sound waves.  Your ear collects those sound waves.  Try cupping your hand around your ear as someone else talks or sings.  You should be able to hear more (louder) sounds because your hand helps funnel the sound waves into your ear.  Your ear drum and the little bones in your ear send those vibrations into your ear canal, where they are picked up by tiny hairs inside your ear and transferred into an electrical signal that is sent to your brain.

Experiment #3:  Violin and Guitar Strings Create Vibrations

Pluck a string on the violin or guitar!  Watch how it vibrates and talk about how that vibration sends sound waves into the air.  The sound is also amplified as it vibrates inside the guitar or violin.

Experiment #4:  String Length Changes Sound

Pluck one of the strings on your violin or guitar.  Then use a finger to press down on the string about half way down the string.  How does the sound change?  (The shorter string creates a higher pitch.)

Experiment #5:  String Tension Changes Sound

Pluck one of the strings on your violin or guitar.  Most violins have four strings and most guitars have six strings.  Follow the string up to the peg head.  Turn the corresponding peg.  Does it make the string tighter or looser?  Is the pitch higher or lower?  (Tighter strings make a higher pitch.  Looser strings make a lower pitch.)

Experiment #6: String Thickness Changes Sound

Pluck a thin string on your violin or guitar.  Then pluck a thick string.  Which makes a higher pitch?  (the thin string)

Experiment #7:  Change the Tension, thickness, and Length in Your Voice Box

You can change the tension, thickness, and length of the "strings" (or vocal folds) in your larynx (voice box) too!  Try singing a note, and then singing a higher pitch note.  As you make the note a higher pitch, you shorten and tighten the folds in your larynx.

Experiments #8-10:  Air in Your Voice Box and Mouth

You moved the strings on the violin and guitar with your fingers.  What moves the vocal folds in your larynx?  You move air across your vocal cords by pushing your diaphragm against your lungs.  Air leaves your lungs and travels across your larynx, up your throat, and out your mouth.  You can change the sound again by changing the shape of your mouth and tongue.  Try singing a note and feeling your voice box vibrate as the air moves through your vocal folds.  Just put your fingers on your throat!  Then try tapping the top of your chest as you sing a note and see what happens to the sound!  Finally, continue to sing a note while covering and uncovering your mouth.  Both tapping your chest and covering your mouth interrupt the sounds coming out from your lungs, across your vocal cords, and through your mouth!

Since we've had such a love lately for violins, we have also really enjoyed reading Frederico, the Mouse Violinist as part of our sound science projects and activity lessons.  It's an adorable story about a mouse who sneaks into the lab of one of the great Italian luthiers, Stradivari.  It also spends a lot of time teaching the parts of the violin and (at least our version!) has large print for young readers! It makes the perfect addition to sound science experiments.

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As you read the story, you can find the same parts on your own violin...if you have one! If our obsession with violins lasts much longer, we may have to buy one (instead of just comparing to guitars!) and start lessons for my daughter!

Anyways, as I mentioned, this month's theme for Poppins Book Nook is Composers!

Be sure to stop by these other blogs for more great ideas for play, education, and more all about composers:

And be sure to visit these other awesome Poppins Book Nook hosts!

Enchanted Homeschooling Mom – 3 Dinosaurs – ABC Creative Learning – As We Walk Along the Road – Brain Power Boy – Chestnut Grove Academy – Embracing Destiny –Every Bed of Roses – Farm Fresh Adventures – Growing in God’s Grace – Kathys Cluttered Mind – My Bright Firefly – Peakle Pie – Preschool Powol Packets – Pray Species– SAHM I am – Stir The Wonder – Sunny Day Family – Sweet Silly Sara – Teach Beside Me – To the Moon and Back – Tots and Me – Tree Valley Academy – Witty Hoots

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I may share at any of these parties!

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Unknown said...

Awesome, I will have to try this out with my 5 year old. Except, we don't have a violin yet either, or a guitar lol. Oh well, I'll dig something up. I know in the past we did some science experiments on vibration and we used elastics to make a make-shift stringed instrument, so I'll probably just use something like that for now.

Carla at Preschool Powol Packets said...

Melanie, I should have mentioned that! You can totally stretch rubber bands across a shoe box (or a cereal box with a hole cut out of it) and do all the same experiments! Works even better if you have a thin rubber band and a thick one to compare!

Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

Erika said...

I'd never heard of Lindsey Stirling, but we looked her up and both my daughter and I are fascinated. Thanks for sharing :)

Carla at Preschool Powol Packets said...

Erika, her videos *are* fascinating! There are a couple that my daughter things are "scary" but my son thinks they're awesome. My daughter has a Lindsey Stirling Pandora station that she listens to for hours at a time!

Thanks for stopping by!!

MyBright Firefly said...

Anything can be used to create music, even a plastic ruler! Love these experiments!

Sheila said...

What a great idea. My son and I used to play sound games when he was younger. I think we will have to do that again. Love the video you shared of Lindsey Stirling. I am most certainly showing this to my son. Thanks!

Carla at Preschool Powol Packets said...

So true Laura! And often my kiddos and I have different ideas of what constitutes music, lol! :D

Brain Power Boy, I hope he loves it! Thanks for sharing!!

Leah Courtney said...

Combining music and science- a great idea! Thank you for sharing these experiments.

Ashley said...

What fun experiments! Featured you on Mom's Library this week!