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STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Be Instrumental

Get your groove on by creating your own DIY instrument!


Materials Needed:

  • Beads, beans, jingle bells, or other shakable objects
  • Cardboard box (e.g., cereal box, shoe box)
  • Cardboard tube
  • Decorations (e.g., pipe cleaners, stickers, etc.)
  • Markers
  •  Paper
  • Rubber bands
  • Scissors
  • Tape


Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Brainstorm different types of instruments. Conduct a quick online search for inspiration!
  2. Sketch a few different versions of your own, original instrument that vibrates air to create sound.
    • Consider the following questions as you generate your ideas:
    • What material might be good to use as a base, container, or body for the instrument?
    • What materials will vibrate the best?
    • Will the material be attached to or inside of the instrument?
    • How might you play your instrument?
    • Will you shake it, strum it, hit it, blow on it, or something else?
  3. Gather the materials and make your prototype.
  4. Try to change the pitch of your instrument. To change the pitch of a guitar, for example, the guitarist presses on the strings to make them different lengths, which changes how fast or slow the strings vibrate.
  5. Have an Invention Concert, celebrating the sweet sounds of creativity and innovation!


In-Classroom Modifications

Explore sound and bring music into the classroom by playing a variety of songs. Tell children that high-pitched sounds, such as a mouse squeaking, are fast sound waves and low-pitched sounds, like a deep lion’s roar, are slow waves. You can demonstrate the difference in sound waves by moving your arms like ocean waves and varying the speed of your movement. Next, have everyone stand up and perform interpretive dances inspired by the types of sound waves they hear in a song. Try these suggestions: walk fast with hands in the air to represent high-pitched sounds, crawl or duck-walk slowly for low-pitched sounds, walk quickly or run to demonstrate fast sound waves, or move in slow motion for slow sound waves.


What Are We Learning?

By strumming and plucking guitars, shaking maracas and banging drums, students experience the science of sound waves in action. By prototyping different instruments, children also have the opportunity to practice their creative problem-solving skills and invent new ways to produce music.

The first solid-body electric guitar was invented by National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee Les Paul. Drawn to music at a young age, Les Paul became fascinated with how to amplify musical instruments electronically. He tinkered with a wide range of techniques in search of a way to produce a pleasing and unique sound. These explorations led to Les Paul’s innovative guitar, and he used simple, available materials to do it! In fact, he called his first prototype of the guitar “The Log” because he created it using a four-foot wooden board.


Keep the Fun and Learning Going!

Discover more fun and educational science activities by visiting our blog or by visiting our Camp Invention®Facebook page.

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