Good Vibrations – Learning About Sound

Recently Jay Hopp, a middle school science teacher told me he was going to teach a unit on sound and asked me if GarageBand might be a good tool to use to help the students understand sound better. I had no idea what he was teaching about, so I borrowed a text book and read the chapter. An important part of the unit is sound waves, so an obvious use of GarageBand is to record sounds and analyze the waves. I thought that it would be an interesting idea to record various types of instruments and analyze the pattern they make. The other 8th grade science teacher, John Patrick (J.P.), and I borrowed ten different instruments to test record and see what happens. What I found when I recorded the instruments was that most created a very distinct pattern when recorded in GarageBand.

The idea I came up with was to print out each of the sound waves and give them to the students and have them record the instruments (the same way we did) and try to match the instrument with the sound wave that we printed out for them.

At the start of class we demonstrated how to play and record each of the instruments, and then in groups the students had to look at the cards and predict which cards went with which instruments before recording any. Once they were done with their predictions they began recording instruments and discussing which sound waves they thought matched. They had great discussions both during their predictions and the recording stages, and it was interesting to listen to them “negotiate” about which instrument matched which wave. The groups averaged 80% correct matches.

Mr. Hopp demonstrating the instruments.

Making predictions.

During the activity I suggested to Jay that we should look for more distinct sounding (pattern producing) instruments, but after the students did so well, I don’t think that is necessary. Something that JP did seemed to helped the students with their predictions. After giving them a few minutes to struggle with the predictions, we played each instrument again. Their attention was much more focused on the task this time. We think we could improve the activity by creating a movie showing us playing each of the instruments, without sound of course, so they could refer back to it. This would make it easier for them to reproduce each sound more accurately. Another way would be to do another movie as the “answer key,” to play at the end of class.


Recording the instruments.

Recording the instruments.

Comparing sound waves.


Below are the handouts that Jay, J.P. and I created for the lesson. Feel free to use these materials under Creative Commons license. We would love to hear your feedback if you use this lesson.

  Sound Lesson Handouts

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