Sound and Vibration Lesson 2

Click here to see my lesson plan for Sound and Vibrations Lesson 2: Membranophones. Click here for the accompanying PowerPoint.

A Quick Note on Learning Objectives/Learning Targets

With this lesson, as with every other lesson I plan, I took a careful look at my learning objectives. It’s not enough to just have an educational standard as the foundation of your lesson, although meeting educational standards is critical. Beyond that, it is essential to also have individual learning objectives, along with strategies for teaching and tools for assessing those standards, for each and every lesson. Learning Objectives, Strategies, and Assessments are an educator’s bread and butter. In the school district where I am working, Educators are asked to supplement Learning Objectives with Learning Targets, or simplified standards given in age-appropriate language that the children themselves can actually use to evaluate their own learning and help them stay on task. I have included both traditional LO’s and Learning Targets for each lesson, which can be seen on my lesson plans.

For this unit on Sound and Vibration, I wanted to go deeper than a standalone lesson covering the basics. Using the Hornbostel-Sachs four families of instrument classifications, I developed a series of lessons in which the first graders could explore the way each instrument family vibrates.

Review and Intro to Instrument Families

The lesson began with a short review. I structured each lesson to begin this way, both to establish a routine and to help connect each lesson to the others in this unit. In my last lesson, I noticed from my formative assessment that most of my questions were being answered by the same handful of students. This clearly tells me what they are understanding, but doesn’t give me much information on the rest of the class. Today, I solved that problem by using popsicle sticks with students’ names on them to get answers from a wider sampling of students. Before pulling a popsicle stick, I posed a question and gave the students about 30 seconds to turn and talk with a neighbor and discuss the answer. This gave the children a chance to teach each other, or to refresh their memories if they had forgotten or fill them in if they were absent at my last lesson.

“Last week we looked at how ukulele strings vibrate, we made a piece of paper vibrate, and we felt our voices vibrate, too. Vibration is SO important to instruments that we can group ALL instruments by the way they vibrate! Some instruments have vibrating strings, some have vibrating air, and so on. These are the four kinds of instruments. Today we will focus on the first one: Membranophones.”


I showed the students two drums provided by Mrs. Nelson, one very large and one smaller. “These are two examples of membranophones. Raise your hand if you know what these membranophones are called.” Hands shot up everywhere.


“A membranophone means an instrument with a vibrating membrane, or drum-skin, like this. The -phone part at the end of the word means “what is vibrating”. There are lots of different kinds of drums- some you play with your hands, some with mallets or drumsticks- but they all make sound by a vibrating membrane, which makes them membranophones.” Some teachers might be hesitant to use a big word like “membranophone” with first graders, but I believe that with a clear, simple definition and some practice, there is no reason why first graders cannot use a word like that appropriately. I don’t believe in “talking down” to children.

I showed the students a slow-motion video a snare drum being played with drumsticks. The clip came from a video publicly available on YouTube. It was pretty fascinating to watch the clear, slow-motion ripples across the drumhead as it vibrated.

Each student had the chance to strike one of the drums and feel it vibrate, both by touching the side and the actual head of the drum.

Identifying Membranophones

I deliberately chose membranophones as the first instrument family to explore because it is the simplest. Other than a few outlying instruments like the kazoo, everything in the membranophone family is a drum of some kind. I wanted to help the students understand that there are more different kinds of drums than just the ones we had in class, and to correctly distinguish membranophones from other instruments. Using a PowerPoint with simple images like these was a simple and effective way to teach those concepts.

Larger is Lower

The final concept in this lesson is one that I only briefly mentioned here, but I plan to refer back to it in other lessons as well. Comparing the large drum to the smaller one, I asked the students which drum made a lower sound. They correctly identified it as the larger one. “The larger drum makes a lower sound because it is larger, and that makes it vibrate more slowly. Remember that as we look at other kinds of instruments: larger is lower. That will come back in future lessons!”

Sarah Earl

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