Educational Resources Lets Talk Science Challenge participants

Rattle drum

Rattle drum (©2018 Let’s Talk Science)

Design & Build a Musical Instrument

Let's Talk Science

Summary

Students will use their predicting skills to design and build a musical instrument that is able to change sounds.

Overview

Timing
30-45 minutes

Setting the Stage

Prior Skills and Knowledge

To successfully participate in this Design & Build, students should be able to identify and describe percussion instruments. They should be able to use basic cutting tools and fasteners for construction. It is highly recommended that students conduct the lesson Sound Travels prior to participating in this Design & Build lesson.

Context

There are many different types of musical instruments all over the world. Percussion instruments produce sound when they are shaken, struck or rubbed. Strings instruments are plucked or bowed. Brass and woodwind instruments are blown into.

Students will work on their predicting skills while designing an instrument that can make more than one sound. They will need to build and test their instrument. Then, as a class or in groups, they practice the musical composition they would like to prepare for a class or school demonstration.

In this Design & Build challenge, students will design and build a musical instrument that is able to change sounds.

This design and build could begin from:

  • questions and/or comments that arise after showing students images or videos of different types of musical instruments (see the Supporting Media section). 
    • “How do you think these instruments make sounds?”
    • “What found objects have been used to make music?”
    • “What part of the body is used to make the sounds?”
Assortment of musical instruments
Assortment of musical instruments (Source: Michael Lucan [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons).
  • exploring photos of musical instruments, people making music, etc. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “What materials do you think would make the best sounds?”
    • “Can you use parts of your body to help make different sounds?”
Clapping hands
Clapping hands (Source: Niek Verlaan via Pixabay).
  • Reading a book such as Drum City by Thea Guidone. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “What everyday items were people in the book able to use as an instrument?”
    • “Do you think that their instruments sounded similar or different?”
Cover of Drum City by Thea Guidone
Cover of Drum City by Thea Guidone (Source: Open Library).

Design Criteria

As a class, students brainstorm criteria that their prototype musical instruments must meet. Educators may choose to add other criteria that are curriculum-specific, such as using joiners/fasteners, measuring, using specific materials, etc.

Design criteria examples:

  • Instrument must be able to make at least two different sounds (high and low)
  • Instrument must be able to be used by one’s hands (not blown into)
  • Instrument must only use the materials provided

Details

Materials
  • Plastic container or coffee cans
  • Cardboard tubes
  • Plastic jugs
  • Buckets
  • Pots
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Dish detergent bottles
  • Marbles
  • Rice
  • Pom-poms
  • Plastic Easter eggs
  • Plastic spoons
  • Objects for striking (e.g., unsharpened pencils)
Suggested materials
Suggested materials (©2018 Let's Talk Science).


 

Materials
  • Plastic container or coffee cans
  • Cardboard tubes
  • Plastic jugs
  • Buckets
  • Pots
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Dish detergent bottles
  • Marbles
  • Rice
  • Pom-poms
  • Plastic Easter eggs
  • Plastic spoons
  • Objects for striking (e.g., unsharpened pencils)
Suggested materials
Suggested materials (©2018 Let's Talk Science).


 

Preparation
  • Collect an assortment of recycled and new materials that students will use to construct the musical instruments.
  • Set up material sourcing stations, organized by type of material. Alternatively, organize an assortment of materials to be provided to each student or work group.
Preparation
  • Collect an assortment of recycled and new materials that students will use to construct the musical instruments.
  • Set up material sourcing stations, organized by type of material. Alternatively, organize an assortment of materials to be provided to each student or work group.
What to Do

Students develop Design & Build skills as they design, build and test a prototype musical instrument that can make at least two different sounds (pitch).

Students will follow the steps of the Design & Build process:

  • identify the problem to be solved/need to be met
  • brainstorm criteria that the prototype must meet
  • share their questions and ideas for a solution to the problem/need
  • discuss the pros and cons of each in order to select a potential solution to test
  • visualize what the solution might look like
  • identify the tasks or key steps involved in developing the solution
  • make decisions about tools and materials that will be needed
  • build/develop the design idea based on their sketches and design plan
  • test their prototypes based on the design criteria
  • modify the prototype and retest it against the design criteria as necessary
  • identify things that could improve the prototype
     
What to Do

Students develop Design & Build skills as they design, build and test a prototype musical instrument that can make at least two different sounds (pitch).

Students will follow the steps of the Design & Build process:

  • identify the problem to be solved/need to be met
  • brainstorm criteria that the prototype must meet
  • share their questions and ideas for a solution to the problem/need
  • discuss the pros and cons of each in order to select a potential solution to test
  • visualize what the solution might look like
  • identify the tasks or key steps involved in developing the solution
  • make decisions about tools and materials that will be needed
  • build/develop the design idea based on their sketches and design plan
  • test their prototypes based on the design criteria
  • modify the prototype and retest it against the design criteria as necessary
  • identify things that could improve the prototype
     
Assessment

Observe and document, using anecdotal comments, photos and/or video recordings, student’s ability to:

  • Work Collaboratively –  students work collaboratively to complete a task and evaluate their group processes throughout the Design & Build process
  • Generate Ideas –  students use idea generation skills and strategies, such as brainstorming, to identify possible solutions as well as make decisions about the pros and cons of each solution
  • Communicate –  students communicate their thinking and learning in words, sketches, photos, videos, etc. (e.g., in identifying the problem, in design plans that include 2D design sketches and key design steps/tasks, in lists of materials/equipment/tools)
  • Work Safely –  students demonstrate safe practices when using a variety of tools and materials while prototyping
  • Test – students use skills of observing and recording data as they test their prototypes
  • Reflect – students reflect on the results of their prototype testing and suggest things that they might do differently to improve their prototypes
Assessment

Observe and document, using anecdotal comments, photos and/or video recordings, student’s ability to:

  • Work Collaboratively –  students work collaboratively to complete a task and evaluate their group processes throughout the Design & Build process
  • Generate Ideas –  students use idea generation skills and strategies, such as brainstorming, to identify possible solutions as well as make decisions about the pros and cons of each solution
  • Communicate –  students communicate their thinking and learning in words, sketches, photos, videos, etc. (e.g., in identifying the problem, in design plans that include 2D design sketches and key design steps/tasks, in lists of materials/equipment/tools)
  • Work Safely –  students demonstrate safe practices when using a variety of tools and materials while prototyping
  • Test – students use skills of observing and recording data as they test their prototypes
  • Reflect – students reflect on the results of their prototype testing and suggest things that they might do differently to improve their prototypes
Co-constructed Learning
Students:
Saying, Doing, Representing
Educator:
Interactions: Responding, Challenging
Identify and refine the problem to be solved/need to be met.
  • “What is the purpose of your musical instrument?”
  • “How can instruments make different types of sounds, like high sounds and low sounds?”
Brainstorm and record criteria for the musical instruments.
  • “What words can we use to describe some of the features that the musical instruments must have?”
Make observations and decisions about the available tools and materials.
  • “What materials might you use to create sounds though percussion?”
  • “What tools might you need for building your musical instrument?”
Visualize and sketch a prototype.
  • “Why do engineers label all of the parts of their design sketches?”
  • “How are you going to represent each part of the musical instrument in the design sketch?”
Construct and test a prototype of the musical instrument.
  • “Which of the design criteria does your prototype meet? Which ones does it not yet meet? Why do you think this happened?”
Modify the prototype and retest it against the design criteria as necessary.
  • “What problems did you have when you re-tested your musical instrument?”
  • “What changes in your model might improve your results?”
  • “How would it change your design if you had to make more than two different sounds?”
Present and demonstrate their finished musical instrument to the class.
  • “What materials worked best? What materials did not work as well?”
  • “What challenges did you face when making your musical instrument?”
  • “What do you like about your musical instrument?” 

 

Co-constructed Learning
Students:
Saying, Doing, Representing
Educator:
Interactions: Responding, Challenging
Identify and refine the problem to be solved/need to be met.
  • “What is the purpose of your musical instrument?”
  • “How can instruments make different types of sounds, like high sounds and low sounds?”
Brainstorm and record criteria for the musical instruments.
  • “What words can we use to describe some of the features that the musical instruments must have?”
Make observations and decisions about the available tools and materials.
  • “What materials might you use to create sounds though percussion?”
  • “What tools might you need for building your musical instrument?”
Visualize and sketch a prototype.
  • “Why do engineers label all of the parts of their design sketches?”
  • “How are you going to represent each part of the musical instrument in the design sketch?”
Construct and test a prototype of the musical instrument.
  • “Which of the design criteria does your prototype meet? Which ones does it not yet meet? Why do you think this happened?”
Modify the prototype and retest it against the design criteria as necessary.
  • “What problems did you have when you re-tested your musical instrument?”
  • “What changes in your model might improve your results?”
  • “How would it change your design if you had to make more than two different sounds?”
Present and demonstrate their finished musical instrument to the class.
  • “What materials worked best? What materials did not work as well?”
  • “What challenges did you face when making your musical instrument?”
  • “What do you like about your musical instrument?” 

 

Cross-curricular Connections

Literacy

  • Ask questions (e.g. “How do percussion instruments make sound?” “How do instruments make sounds of different loudness and pitch?”)
  • Communicate thoughts, feelings and ideas (e.g. brainstorm criteria for their instrument)
Three percussion instruments
Three percussion instruments (Source: xylophone by Łukasz Cwojdziński via Pixabay, tambourine by Southern California Brass Consortium via Pixabay, and piano by Free-Photos via Pixabay ).

Mathematical Thinking

  • Measure the volume of material used inside a shaker

Visual Arts

  • Sketch, represent, model their instrument
  • Create a new musical composition
Children’s drawing of people singing and playing musical instruments
Children’s drawing of people singing and playing musical instruments (Source: czarny_bez via iStockphoto).
Cross-curricular Connections

Literacy

  • Ask questions (e.g. “How do percussion instruments make sound?” “How do instruments make sounds of different loudness and pitch?”)
  • Communicate thoughts, feelings and ideas (e.g. brainstorm criteria for their instrument)
Three percussion instruments
Three percussion instruments (Source: xylophone by Łukasz Cwojdziński via Pixabay, tambourine by Southern California Brass Consortium via Pixabay, and piano by Free-Photos via Pixabay ).

Mathematical Thinking

  • Measure the volume of material used inside a shaker

Visual Arts

  • Sketch, represent, model their instrument
  • Create a new musical composition
Children’s drawing of people singing and playing musical instruments
Children’s drawing of people singing and playing musical instruments (Source: czarny_bez via iStockphoto).
Extending the Learning

If your students are interested in learning more, the following may provoke their curiosity:

  • Have students listen to various percussion instrument examples in videos (see the Supporting Media section). 
  • Then have students discuss how percussion instruments have been used throughout history and how we continue to use them today. Drums have been found in every culture dating back to before 6000 BCE. They have been used as ceremonial and symbolic in meaning and continue to inspire people.
  • Have the students find out what would happen if they were to mix materials in a shaker.
American Indian-style drums
American Indian-style drums (Source: Quadell [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons).
Extending the Learning

If your students are interested in learning more, the following may provoke their curiosity:

  • Have students listen to various percussion instrument examples in videos (see the Supporting Media section). 
  • Then have students discuss how percussion instruments have been used throughout history and how we continue to use them today. Drums have been found in every culture dating back to before 6000 BCE. They have been used as ceremonial and symbolic in meaning and continue to inspire people.
  • Have the students find out what would happen if they were to mix materials in a shaker.
American Indian-style drums
American Indian-style drums (Source: Quadell [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons).
Supporting Media

Books

Cover of Drum City by Thea Guidone
Cover of Drum City by Thea Guidone (Source: Open Library).

Drum City
by Thea Guidone
One child's beat on a kettle becomes contagious, spreading throughout the neighbourhood.
ISBN: 9780553523508

Videos

  • Stomp! (2007) Kekecanberk -- Excerpt from a Stomp! performance video (4:02 min.). The group uses a wide variety of found objects as percussion instruments.
  • Stomp with Kids (2008) Youthfulmother -- Video of kids performing a Stomp-like number they have created (1:36 min.) .
  • Stomp - Stomp Out Loud (2007) Stomp Out Loud -- Video of a performance by the Stomp! percussion group in which they use plastic and tin garbage bins as instruments (3:47 min.). 
  • The Drum Calls Softly (2010) David Bouchard -- Video of a cultural book that David Bouchard wrote with his friend Shelley Willier (8:28 min.). Together with Jim Poitras and Northern Cree, Shelley and David share the beauty of the popular Round Dance. Readers hear the book read in English and Cree. They also hear Steve Wood and Northern Cree drum and sing their hugely successful Round Dance song. And readers are blessed with the spectacular art of Cree friend Jim Poitras.

Interactives 

  • Percussion Instruments Brain Pop Junior (2019) -- Webpage with demonstrations of the sounds of musical instruments. 
Supporting Media

Books

Cover of Drum City by Thea Guidone
Cover of Drum City by Thea Guidone (Source: Open Library).

Drum City
by Thea Guidone
One child's beat on a kettle becomes contagious, spreading throughout the neighbourhood.
ISBN: 9780553523508

Videos

  • Stomp! (2007) Kekecanberk -- Excerpt from a Stomp! performance video (4:02 min.). The group uses a wide variety of found objects as percussion instruments.
  • Stomp with Kids (2008) Youthfulmother -- Video of kids performing a Stomp-like number they have created (1:36 min.) .
  • Stomp - Stomp Out Loud (2007) Stomp Out Loud -- Video of a performance by the Stomp! percussion group in which they use plastic and tin garbage bins as instruments (3:47 min.). 
  • The Drum Calls Softly (2010) David Bouchard -- Video of a cultural book that David Bouchard wrote with his friend Shelley Willier (8:28 min.). Together with Jim Poitras and Northern Cree, Shelley and David share the beauty of the popular Round Dance. Readers hear the book read in English and Cree. They also hear Steve Wood and Northern Cree drum and sing their hugely successful Round Dance song. And readers are blessed with the spectacular art of Cree friend Jim Poitras.

Interactives 

  • Percussion Instruments Brain Pop Junior (2019) -- Webpage with demonstrations of the sounds of musical instruments. 
Learn More

Sound Travels (Lessons)

Students explore how sound travels using a variety of materials.

What is sound and how do we hear it? (Backgrounder)

What exactly is sound, and how do we hear it?

Sound vs. Noise (Article)

What is the difference between sound and noise? How do they affect your hearing? And is noise always a bad thing?

 

Learn More

Sound Travels (Lessons)

Students explore how sound travels using a variety of materials.

What is sound and how do we hear it? (Backgrounder)

What exactly is sound, and how do we hear it?

Sound vs. Noise (Article)

What is the difference between sound and noise? How do they affect your hearing? And is noise always a bad thing?