The Science of Sound in Elementary Music Class: Lesson Ideas

My 5th graders are obsessed with our science of sound unit. I’ve taught a science of sound unit every year of my teaching career. My 5th grade science teachers love me for it (it’s part of the VA SOLs) and the kids get such a kick out of it!

Sound is an integral part of our daily lives, but have you ever stopped to think about how it works? Teaching the science of sound to elementary school students can not only help them understand this fundamental concept, but also create explicit connections between the arts and sciences.

There are a few key concepts to cover when teaching the science of sound to elementary school students:

  1. Sound is a type of energy that travels through the air as waves. These waves are created when an object vibrates, causing the air molecules around it to vibrate as well.
  2. Sound waves have different properties, such as frequency and amplitude. Frequency refers to how many vibrations occur in a given time period, and is measured in Hertz (Hz). Amplitude refers to the strength or intensity of a sound wave, and is measured in decibels (dB).
  3. The pitch of a sound is determined by its frequency. Higher frequency sounds have a higher pitch, while lower frequency sounds have a lower pitch.
  4. The volume of a sound is determined by its amplitude. Louder sounds have a higher amplitude, while quieter sounds have a lower amplitude.
  5. Sound waves can be absorbed, reflected, or transmitted through different materials. Absorption occurs when a material absorbs the energy of a sound wave, while reflection occurs when a sound wave bounces off a surface. Transmission occurs when a sound wave passes through a material.

That sounds like a lot of work – but it doesn’t have to feel like work! Here is the overview of how I structure my unit:


Sometimes, students will already know a bit about the science of sound. They may have a general idea that sound travels in waves, but not know the difference between frequency and amplitude. I let the 5th grade teachers take formal pre-test data; I just get a quick whole-class overview using self-checking slides. When you click the wrong answer, it turns red; when you click the right answer, it turns green!

Sound Science Experiments

Science experiments? In music class? You bet!

The idea is to allow students to construct their own knowledge about the science of sound through these experiments. Of course, we go over them together later – but making them think about and experience why phenomenon happen makes the learning that much more meaningful.

There are so many experiment options out there, which means there are options regardless of your class situation – whether you’re on a cart, have your own room, have 1:1 laptops, or what have you!

Online Sound Experiments:

Hands-On Sound Experiments

  • Instrument experimentation stations
  • Water xylophone
  • Slinky sound waves
  • Rubber band strings
  • Rice bowl ear drum
  • Coin drop
  • Soup can echoes

I like to split these experiments up into stations. Depending on how much time you have, you could have anywhere from 3 to 6 centers running at once. This also means you really only need to have 1 or 2 devices available, which is great if you’re not a 1:1 Chromebook or iPad school!

My kids’ favorite experiment might be the decibel meter experiment. In this experiment, we take an iPad throughout the school and record how loud it is in various parts of the school. It’s always eye-opening how loud it is – even in places like the halls, which are supposed to be quiet! It makes a great excuse to review school expectations on top of an engaging way to really understand how volume is measured.

Lesson Time! (And a Board Game!)

The students have had a blast with the experiments, but it’s time to make sure we’re all on the same page! When we come back together as a class, I make sure the kiddos have all their papers from the centers with them so that they can refer back to them. The look in their eyes when they finally connect a concept – like states of matter and the Chrome Music Lab experiments – makes my day every time!

If you have the time, this is also a great opportunity to show the Bill Nye science of sound episode. Yes – even today’s kids know and love Bill Nye!


My wrap-up for the science of sound unit is two-fold. The main part is our build-your-own-instrument project! Students start by planning out their instruments, including what instrument family it would belong to, what should vibrate to produce a sound, how they plan to change pitch and volume, and how they’re going to build them. After they’ve built the instruments, students compose a piece for their instrument and perform it for the class. (Or you could have them record their compositions in Flip!) Some follow-up writing prompts provide another way for students to show me that they understand the connection between what they made and the science that we’ve learned throughout the unit.

I like to prove a point about how much they’ve learned by re-doing the pre-check now that they have all of this science of sound knowledge. I always have a couple kids complain that “we’ve done this already!” but once I point out how they did it accurately in 2 seconds flat this time, they tend to brighten up a little bit!

Finally, we have a blast playing a science of sound digital board game. I usually split the class into groups of about four so that everyone in the group stays involved. You can use digital dice (my kids love “throwing” them with the SMARTboard) or physical, real-life dice (my jumbo Styrofoam dice were a hit!).

This unit is a lot to set up, but it’s so worth it! I know as elementary music teachers, we’re short on time as-is, so I’ve taken my science of sound unit and put it all in one pretty package with a bow – so all you have to do is print and go! (Yes, I did mean to rhyme there!)

The unit includes:

  • Lesson slides (PowerPoint)
    • Self-checking pre-/post-test
  • Lesson plans
  • Worksheets
    • 10 station/center companions
    • 2 activity worksheets
    • video guide
  • Reading passage
    • Two versions: Lexile ~600-800 and ~800-1000, discreetly marked
  • Posters (6)
  • Interactive Google Slides board game

All parts are editable except where exempt by copyright (including the Google Slides game).

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