Sound and Vibration Lesson 1

The Sound and Vibration Curriculum

For this year’s Arts Bridge project I have designed a curriculum based around the state of Utah’s new Science with Engineering Education (SEEd) standards. Understanding and designing lessons according to state standards is a vital part of an educator’s job. Designing this curriculum with both music and science standards in mind- along with the Four Structures from Lois Hetland’s research- was quite a feat! It was well worth the effort, however; I am committed to honoring the inherent value of both music and science within these integrated lessons. I believe that experiential learning becomes almost automatic when cross-discipline integration is used in the classroom, and this promotes deeper learning within the students as well as retention of that learning.

The Standard upon which this curriculum is based is SEEd 1.3.1:

Plan and carry out an investigation to show the cause and effect relationship between sound and vibrating matter. Emphasize that vibrating matter can make sound and that sound can make matter vibrate. (PS4.A)

Utah Science with Engineering Education (SEEd) Standard 1.3.1

Thus, this unit on Sound and Vibration. This first lesson introduces the concepts mentioned in the standard; subsequent lessons will explore the topic in more depth by examining the relationship between sound and vibrating matter in each of the four instrument families classified by Hornbostel and Sachs.

Lesson 1: Introduction

Click here to view my lesson plan for Sound and Vibration, Lesson 1: Introduction.

This lesson began with a quick review from my last visit, reminding the students what they experienced with Observation. Good observation skills will be very useful in this lesson, and I wanted the students to learn right away that these different lessons will all connect to one another.

Ukulele: Vibrating Strings

Mrs. Nelson had a ukulele that was a big part of this lesson. I had taken it off the shelf before I started. “Raise your hand if you know the name of this instrument.”

A girl called out “Ukulele!” Another student raised his hand; I called on him instead. “Thank you for raising your hand. Do you know the name of this instrument?”

“Ukulele,” he said. “That’s right. Raise your hand if you know how the ukulele is played.”

The girl who had called out before raised her hand this time. “Thank you for raising your hand,” I told her, indicating that she had permission to continue. “You strum the strings,” she said. Implementation of classroom procedures in the right way is so important! In this instance, I didn’t make evaluative judgements, but what I said and did reinforced the policy that you must raise your hand to speak. The girl noticed that and responded to it very well. No reprimanding or wasting time needed.

“Right, you strum the strings with your fingers like this-” I did so, “-and that’s what makes sound. I want to show you guys a close-up look at what is happening when I strum these strings.” I pulled up a video clip I had prepared. It’s a pretty great clip- very close up, slow, and a clear visual of what strings look like as they vibrate. The kids were very impressed. I head a couple of “Wow!”s and “That’s so cools!” come from my little audience.

“What do you see?”

“The strings are wiggling really fast.” It was exactly the response I was hoping for.

“Exactly! If you could get right up close to this ukulele, that’s exactly what you would see. The strings wiggle really fast when I pluck them. That fast wiggling is called vibration.” I heard a couple noises of comprehension or familiarity come from the students. “Raise your hands if you’ve heard this word before.” About half of the students, maybe a bit more, raised their hands.

“Vibrations are what makes sound happen,” I said. “That wiggling of the strings is what’s causing the sound. It’s not just strings that can vibrate to make sound- we’re going to experience that by using a piece of paper.”

“Vibrating” Paper Activity

Mrs. Nelson helped all the kids get a piece of paper. Rather than hand them out, she placed them on a nearby table and had the kids get up (half the class at a time), to retrieve their own papers. I think this was probably faster; it kept them from all sitting bored while she came to them one by one. When everyone had their papers, we all stood in a circle and stood still. Getting that many young children to hold still was the most challenging part; telling them what to do doesn’t work very well. You have to show them. Once I modeled for them, the first graders figured it out.

“Does your paper make any noise when you hold it so still?”


“That’s right. But when we wiggle our paper really fast, like vibrations…” Everyone did so.

“Now can you hear noise?”


We went back and forth like that a couple times, then I sat them back down on the rug. “So we just learned that it’s not just strings that can vibrate. Any kind of vibration produces sound. Your voice works the same way. Place two fingers on your throat and hum. What do you feel? That buzzy feeling, that’s vibration inside your throat!”

“What other things vibrate?” I asked.

One kid talked about how if you swipe a stick through the air really fast, it makes a humming sound. “Right. In that case, it’s the air that’s vibrating,” I said. “We’re going to talk more next week about different kinds of vibrations, so you can have more time to think about that.”

“What do you think would happen to this ukulele string if I touched it while it were vibrating?” This is where I gave the kids a chance to use what they had experienced with the paper- holding it still to make no noise and shaking it to make noise- to make a prediction abut the ukulele string. A girl raised her hand “The vibration would stop.”

“That’s exactly right. And if the vibration stops-” I strummed the uke strings and then put my fingers against them- “the sound stops. No vibration means no sound.”

To further reinforce the kinesthetic learning modality, I went around the circle of students and gave each one a chance to pluck the ukelele strings while placing a hand on the side or back of the instrument. This allowed them to feel the sensation of the vibrations without cutting them off by touching the strings, which they did next, and felt the corresponding cessation of vibration.

We finished the lesson with a quick review of the concepts of sound and vibration, with me asking simple questions like, “What is it called when a string wiggles really fast to make sound?” and “What happens when vibrations stop?” The children all answered correctly by raise of hands. It might seem simple, but doing a quick review of the basic concepts at the end of a lesson can help young children quite a lot to connect what they’ve seen and experienced back to your learning objectives. It also gives a good formative assessment, so that I as the teacher can be aware of any points I need to revisit next time before moving on.

Sarah Earl

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