Where do sounds come from?
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Hello. I’m Lin.

This is my big sister, Sato.

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Sato is in a band with her friends.

They keep their instruments in our garage.

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I wondered, “How is it making that sound?”

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I reached out to touch the strings as Sato played.

I wanted to see how they felt.

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stop & talk

Stop & Talk

Lin is about to touch the guitar strings.

What do you think will happen to the music?

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Sato said, “Don’t touch the strings. It makes the sound stop.”

“Let me try again,” I said. “I’ll be so gentle!”

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Sato strummed her guitar.

I put my hand on the strings so softly…but the same thing happened. No music!

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“Why did the sound stop?” I asked.

“Did you feel the strings wiggling?” Sato asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Then they stopped.”

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“The strings were wiggling really fast,” she said.

“Those wiggles are called vibrations. You need vibrations to make sounds.”

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get up & move

Get Up & Move!

Stand up, hold a sheet of paper between your hands, and keep very still.
Does the paper make any sound?
Now wiggle the paper really fast.
Do you hear anything now?

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Sato picked up Ben’s bongo drum.

“Do you want to try again with Ben’s drum?” she asked.

“Yes!” I said.

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Sato played a rhythm on the bongos.

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After a minute, I put my hand on top of the drum.

Sato kept playing, but the drum made a new sound.

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“If you change the vibrations,” Sato said, “you change the sound.”

“But drums don’t have strings,” I said. “What’s vibrating?”

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Sato smiled and tapped the top of the drum. I could see it was stretched tight.

“The top of the drum vibrates when you hit it,” she said.

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stop & talk

Stop & Talk

Where does the sound come from when you talk?
Gently put your hand on your throat and quietly hum a low note.
Do you feel any vibrations?

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“Let’s do Emmie’s cymbals,” I said.

“There are no strings. Nothing is stretched tight. Maybe I’ll be able to feel them better.”

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Sato picked up Emmie’s cymbals.

“Ready?” she asked.

Then she banged the cymbals together.

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I put out my hands and gently touched the edges of the cymbals.

“I can feel the vibrations!” I cried.

The sound slowly died away.

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Just then, Ben and Emmie came in.

“What are you guys doing?” they asked.

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“Playing with vibrations,” I answered.

“That’s what music is all about!”

THE END

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Recommended Activity: Head Harp

This simple sound experiment from San Francisco's Exploratorium lets your students experiment with sound—without making a lot of noise. Students work in pairs. Each pair will need a piece of string or yarn that’s at least 3 feet (1 meter) long.

Follow the instructions here. Encourage students to experiment to figure out how to change the sound. (They can make it higher by pulling the string tighter and lower by loosening the string.)

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Extensions

Below are ideas for extending this topic beyond the activity & exploration you just completed.
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Activity

If you enjoyed Head Harp and want to continue experimenting, here are two more simple sound experiments from San Francisco's Exploratorium.

  • Secret Bells makes sounds only you can hear! You'll need string, scissors, and an unpainted wire clothes hanger.

  • Set your classroom buzzing with Bee Hummer, a simple instrument that sounds like a swarm of bees.

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Print Prep
Activity Prep

Switch to narrated voiceover

In this Read-Along Mystery, Lin explores the sounds made by different kinds of instruments, and discovers what happens when vibrations start—and when they stop. The Mystery includes a short exercise where students experiment with a piece of paper to make the connection between vibrations and sound. You can extend the lesson with the optional activity, Head Harp, where students make simple musical instruments using only their heads and string.

Preview optional activity

Number of students:
Thin String
Yarn also works.
Details
3 feet per student
Prep Instructions

We recommend a simple sound experiment from San Francisco's Exploratorium that lets your students experiment with sound—without making a lot of noise. Follow the instructions here. Encourage students to experiment to figure out how to change the sound. They can make it higher by pulling the string tighter and lower by loosening the string.

Extensions
Download this Mystery to your device so you can play it offline: