Update browser for a secure Minnesota Orchestra experience

It looks like you may be using a web browser version that we don't support. Make sure you're using the most recent version of your browser, or try using of these supported browsers, to get the full Minnesota Orchestra experience: Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Edge.


Science of Sound Young People’s Concert: At-Home Activities

Collage of homemade instrument photos

The Minnesota Orchestra’s online Science of Sound Young People’s Concert, presented in partnership with the Science Museum of Minnesota and Twin Cities PBS, explores the physics behind sound production and reveals the physical impulses that our brains translate, like magic, into the music we hear and love. Watch the program to see Minnesota Orchestra musicians and Science Museum educators demonstrate concepts like soundwaves, frequency, amplitude, consonance and dissonance and timbre. Then keep the discoveries coming with these at-home activities!

Feel free to tailor each activity to the items you have around the house, and to fit your children’s ages and interests.


Homemade Kazoo – Explore Soundwaves

Kazoos have all kinds of fun possibilities for making sounds—using your own voice!

You will need:

  • A cardboard tube: The tube inside a toilet paper or paper towel roll is the perfect size.
  • Wax paper: A 5-by-5-inch square of common wax paper used for kitchen needs will work well.
  • Rubber-band: You can use any rubber-bands that you find around the house.
  • Pencil
  • Optional art supplies for decorating your kazoo.  

How to make it:

  1. Take the wax paper and cover one end of the cardboard tube. Hold the wax paper in place by looping the rubber-band around the part of the tube with the wax paper on it.
  2. Using the sharp pencil or other sharp item, carefully make a few small holes along the side of the tube.
  3. Decorate the outside in any way you choose to express your personality.
  4. Play the instrument by placing the uncovered end over your mouth by humming or making sounds like “do,” “wee” or “nay”! Put a free hand on your throat to feel your vocal cords vibrating. These vibrations create soundwaves that ripple through the air and into your ears!

Glass Bottle Xylophone – Explore Pitch/Frequency and Timbre

A xylophone is an instrument in the percussion family. A musician produces different sounds on the xylophone by using a special stick, called a mallet, to tap wooden bars of different sizes. You can make a similar instrument with glass bottles at home! 

You will need:

  • Six glass bottles or jars: Find six clean glass bottles or jars around the house. If your glass items are the same size and shape, the sound will be more similar than if they are all different. You can also use more than six!
  • Metal spoon: The metal spoon will be used as the mallet, meaning you will tap the glass items gently with the spoon.
  • Water: Water from the sink will partially fill the glass items.

How to make it:

  1. Put a different amount of water in each glass item. Less water will make a lower-pitched sound (low frequency with longer wavelengths), and more water will make a higher-pitched sound (high frequency with shorter wavelengths).
  2. Line up the glass items so that the lowest sounds are on the left and the highest sounds are on the right. If all the glass items are the same size, then the item with the least amount of water will be on the far left and the item with the most water will be on the far right.
  3. You can try putting more or less water in the glass items to change the sounds.
  4. Play the instrument by gently tapping it with the metal spoon! Interested in getting a different timbre, or sound quality? See how the sound of a wooden or plastic spoon compares to a metal one.

Rhythm Shakers – Explore Dynamics/Amplitude and Timbre

There are many kinds of shakers found all over the world, like the maracas and egg shakers used in Latin and Caribbean music, or the rainsticks found in Southeast Asia, Africa and Australia. You can make your own version of this at home!

You will need:

  • A cardboard tube: The tube inside a toilet paper or paper towel roll is the perfect size.
  • Durable tape: Good options include packing tape, masking tape or electrical tape.
  • Small, round items: About one cup of light pasta, beads, beans, etc. will go inside the shaker to make sounds as they bump into each other. If you have different materials to choose from, pay attention to the timbre of each item. How would you describe these timbres? Choose the sounds you like best for your shaker.
  • Optional art supplies for decorating your shaker.  

How to make it:

  1. Using the tape, completely cover one end of the tube.
  2. Pour the small, round items into the other end of the tube.
  3. Using the tape, completely cover the other end of the tube.
  4. Decorate the outside in any way you choose to express your personality.
  5. Play the instrument by shaking the tube back and forth in whatever rhythms you choose. See how you can vary the amount of force you are using to create different dynamics—from soft (short soundwaves with a low amplitude) to loud (tall soundwaves with a high amplitude).

Movement Activity – Explore Consonance and Dissonance

The Science of Sound concert explores the ideas of consonant intervals, where notes are closely related and blend together well, and dissonant intervals, where notes are distantly related and do not blend together as well.

A lot of music has both consonant and dissonant intervals. See if you can notice these intervals in the Minnesota Orchestra’s performance of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Four Novelletten. What happens when you move to the music? Are you moving differently when you hear consonant or dissonant intervals? Maybe you are leaning forward when you hear the dissonant intervals—like your body is waiting for them to become consonant again before it can relax. Maybe you are on your tiptoes for dissonant intervals and then put your whole feet on the ground for consonant intervals. Maybe you are doing something completely different. There are no right or wrong ways to feel or move!

Interested in more sound activities?

Try some of these sound activity recommendations from our friends at the Science Museum of Minnesota.