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Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Science of Sound in Elementary Music

I recently got the chance to design a few brief lessons on the science of sound for my 6th graders and I am really excited about the resources I found to share with students! I'm hoping to expand these lessons more in the future, but today I wanted to share some of what I used in my lessons.

I have done a few one-off lessons here and there, but for the most part I haven't really ever taught my students specifically about the science of sound. This year I happened to have a couple of lessons between units so I decided to throw it in, and it went really well! 

We started off by learning about Evelyn Glennie, the Scottish percussionist who is hard of hearing. After watching her perform a concerto, I explained to students that she mostly plays by feel rather than by hearing! She has some wonderful videos talking about how she feels vibrations, and we watched a short excerpt of this video to help students see what that's like. After talking about their prior knowledge around soundwaves, vibrations, etc we watched the first half of this video, and I asked students to look for examples of soundwaves in the video as they watched:

After discussing some of the phenomena they saw in the video, we got out the ukuleles that they learned to play in the fall and watched the strings vibrate when they pluck them, thought about how the tuning pegs work, why the note changes when you press the frets, and noticed that you can feel the strings vibrating under your fingers when you press down on them and play.

The next lesson, we started off by watching this video about the science of hearing:

It was interesting for the students to think about not just how sound is produced but how it is then received and interpreted by humans to hear it. Most of the students had some familiarity with the concept of soundwaves before but they hadn't really thought or learned about how the body hears! 

After discussing the points from the video we got out the tubanos and tried to mimic what Evelyn Glennie demonstrated to feel vibrations on the drums. We reviewed the different hand drumming techniques they learned previously (bass, tone, and slap) to get different sounds from the drum, and discussed how that works. Then we talked about listening- not just hearing, but listening. I split the class into small groups and had each group take turns improvising together, pointing out the importance of listening to each other to not only stay together in the groove but also to fill in some gaps, step back when someone else is filling in, and try to give everyone space to shine. It really got them thinking and listening in a way they hadn't before!

Obviously there is so much more we could do with this, but I was really happy with the discussions and experiences we had through these lessons, and it was a great way to get my older students to actually listen to each other- something they are not particularly inclined to do this time of year! If you have other lesson activities or resources you've used to teach the science of sound in elementary music I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

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