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Title: Location K-4 5-8 9-12 Description Discipline
Strings Scrape & Pluck SoundGarden
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How do string instruments make sound?

Stringed instruments are among the oldest and most popular kind of musical instrument. They include the guitar, violin, lute, lyre, sitar, koto, harpsicord, piano, cello, viola, and bass (just to name a few).

String instruments are often made out of wood. Some clever people have discovered that they could use things like turtle shells, sea shells, or ivory to make into string instruments. To make the strings vibrate you can pluck, scrape, or strike them.


Name That Instrument!

Let's play a brief game called Name That Instrument! Can you tell what kind of string instrument is being played? Can you tell how it makes a sound?

Sound: (12") Instrument #1.

Sound: (12") Instrument #2.

Sound: (12") Instrument #3.

Strings are made out of a variety of materials including steel, nylon, animal gut, and plants.

What type of strings do you think are being used by the instruments in the above examples? Write down each of your answers in your Journal.

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What happens when a string vibrates?

There are many ways to make a string vibrate. You can:

- pluck them with a pick (guitar)
- scrape them using a special stick with hair attached called a bow (violin)
- strike them with a felt-tipped hammer (piano).

String Vibrating


What happens when a string vibrates?

A string vibrates in halves, thirds, fourths, fifths, and so on to create it's unique pitch. Notice that it is secured at both ends, leaving only the points between the ends to vibrate.

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What's the Point?

Every instrument has three parts that combine to create its sound. Though we use some fancy words to desribe these parts, they're really quite simple:

- a Primary Vibrator,
- a Resonant Vibrator,
- a Sound Effuser.

The Primary Vibrator is the part that creates the sound. In a violin, cello, or piano it's the string.

The Resonant Vibrator is the part that makes the sound louder through a process called resonance. In a violin, guitar, or piano it's the soundboard.

The Sound Effuser is the part that focuses and helps to project the sound toward the audience. In a violin it's the f hole, in the guitar it's the sound hole, and in the piano it's the opened lid.

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Hands-On Activity Make your own String Thing!

String Thing

Materials needed:

  • shoe box
  • large paper fasteners
  • 3/8 inch dowel or pencil
  • rubber bands (various thickness and lengths)
  • decorations (feathers, stickers, magic markers, string, etc.)
  • glue
  • tape
  • safety scissors

To Do:

  1. Use your safety scissors to carefully puncture four slots at the bottom. Make sure the slots are pread out evenly.
  2. Carefully puncture four slots at the top, but spread them out so that the lengths from top to bottom get gradually longer.
  3. Carefully puncture four additional slots at the top. Make sure that they are about one inch apart from the second set of holes.
  4. Insert brass fasteners in each slot (12).
  5. Cut four rubber bands (4).
  6. Tie each end of the rubber bands around the fasteners.
  7. Insert the dowel or pencil under the rubber bands at the bottom.
  8. Insert the second dowel under the rubber bands inbetween the two sets of fasteners at the top.
  9. Decorate your instrument with
  10. Fini!

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Try This

TIP: when performing your tests make sure that you conduct a "fair test" by changing just one thing at a time. This way you will always be able to tell the result. Record your results in your journal so you can compare them.

How many different ways can you make a sound?

How many different ways can you make high and low pitches on a single string?

How can you make one of the strings louder or softer?

Try playing one of the strings and notice the sound it makes (is it high or low?). Now try to wrap the rubber band around the paper fastener 4-5 times. What effect does it have on pitch? Does it get higher or lower? Why?

Put a new set of rubber bands on, it doesn't matter if they are smaller or larger, just as long as they are the same kind. Now try the previous experiment. What changes this time? Why?

Get the help of an adult and cut a 4-5 inch hole in the middle. What is the effect? Does it make the sound get louder or softer?

Try lifting the lid off of the shoe box. Strum the strings, is it louder or softer? Why?

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String Thing Journal Reflections

  1. which part is the Primary Vibrator? Why?
  2. which part is the Resonant Vibrator? Why?
  3. which part is the Sound Effuser? Why?
  4. what are the three things that effect pitch of the string (for example, bigger or smaller strings, etc.)?
  5. What things effect the loudness of any string?

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Just for Fun!

Can you create a simple melody? Can you sing or whistle along with it?

Can you create a simple rhythm? Can you sing or hum along with it?

Can you make up a set of lyrics for your song or rhythm?

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"As sweet and musical
As bright Apollo's lute, strung with his hair;
And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods
Makes heaven drowsy with the harmony."

William Shakespeare


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