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Learning Resource Type

Learning Activity

Sound Experiment with Rulers

Subject Area

Arts Education




Students will explore sounds using rulers to simulate a barred instrument. Students will experiment with the vibration of sounds by pulling up on the rulers to make them vibrate and create sounds. They will change the ruler's length to create different pitches. Finally, students will work with a partner to create a melody on their barred instrument.

This activity was created as a result of the Arts COS Resource Development Summit.

    Science (2015) Grade(s): 1


    Conduct experiments to provide evidence that vibrations of matter can create sound (e.g., striking a tuning fork, plucking a guitar string) and sound can make matter vibrate (e.g., holding a piece of paper near a sound system speaker, touching your throat while speaking).

    Unpacked Content



    • vibrations/vibrate
    • matter
    • sound
    • evidence
    • experiments
    • conduct
    • create


    Students know:
    • Sound can cause matter to vibrate.
    • Vibrating matter can cause sound.


    Students are able to:
    • Conduct investigations to provide evidence that sound makes matter vibrate and vibrating matter makes sound.
    • Make observations that can be used as evidence about sound.


    Students understand that:
    • Sound can cause matter to vibrate.
    • Vibrating matter can cause sound.
    • There is a cause/effect relationship between vibrating materials and sound.

    Scientific and Engineering Practices

    Planning and Carrying out Investigations

    Crosscutting Concepts

    Cause and Effect
    Arts Education (2017) Grade(s): 1 - Music


    Create musical ideas for a specific purpose.

    Unpacked Content



    • Quarter note, quarter rest, paired eighth notes
    • Strong/ weak beat
    • Steady beat/ rhythm
    • Allegro/ adagio
    • Pitch set: Mi, So, La
    • Steps/ skips/ repeated notes
    • Melodic direction
    • Modified staff
    • Line notes and space notes
    • Rhythmic ostinati
    • Simple bordun
    • AB, ABA
    • Legato, staccato
    • Piano (p), forte (f)
    • Classroom instrument classifications
    • Clarinet, trombone, cello, drum
    • Orchestral music: ballet
    • Non-Western music celebrations
    • Proper singing posture
    • Age-appropriate pitch matching (C4 -C5)1
    • Mallet/ drumming technique — hands together

    Essential Questions

    EU: The creative ideas, concepts, and feelings that influence musicians' work emerge from a variety of sources.
    EQ: How do musicians generate creative ideas?

    Skills Examples

    • Perform original rhythmic compositions containing quarter note, quarter rest, paired eighth notes.
    • Perform original melodic compositions containing quarter note, quarter rest, paired eighth notes and using the pitches mi/so/la.
    • Improvise 4-beat melodic phrases containing mi/so/la, both vocally and on pitched percussion instruments.
    • Construct 4-beat rhythmic patterns using manipulatives, such as note cards, popsicle sticks, or blocks.
    Reading/ Writing
    • Read 4-beat melodic phrases on a modified staff on which mi is indicated.
    • Notate from dictation 4-beat rhythm phrases using manipulatives such as note cards, popsicle sticks, or blocks.
    • Identify melodic patterns on a modified staff when played on a pitched instrument.
    Responding/ Evaluating
    • Create rubric for evaluation of peer compositions.
    • With guidance, apply peer suggestions to personal compositions. Select an original composition for performance.

    Anchor Standards

    Anchor Standard 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.


    Learning Objectives

    Learning Objectives

    Students will experiment with sound by making barred instruments that transmit vibrations whenever a bar is pulled up. Students will create different pitches on their instrument by manipulating the bar's length. The students will work with a partner to create a melody on their barred instrument.

    Activity Details

    The students will create sounds and change the pitch to higher or lower by changing the length of the ruler.

    1. Show video Vibrations of Sound as a review or introduction to sound waves.
    2. Demonstrate the activity by placing a ruler on the edge of a flat surface so that part of the ruler is on the surface and the rest is extended past the edge of the surface. Hold the ruler steady with one hand by placing it over the part of the ruler that is on the surface and pressing down. Using your other hand, lightly pull up on the tip of the ruler up that is extended over the edge and listen to the sound it makes as it vibrates. Show the students how to adjust the length of the ruler hanging off the edge by sliding it in and out so that more or less of the ruler hangs off the edge. Lightly pull up on the ruler again. Call out the length in inches of the part of the ruler that is hanging off the edge, and ask students to predict how the sound will change. Stress the importance of pulling up instead of down. Pushing down will sometimes cause the ruler to break if there is too much force.
    3. Pair off students and pass out rulers. Allow students to experiment with the rulers by changing the length of the ruler that is hanging off the edge of the surface as they pull up on the tip of the ruler. Remind them that to hold firmly the section of ruler that is on the flat surface, and pull up lightly on the tip that is extended over the edge of the surface.
    4. Ask students which length sounds the lowest and why. Highest? Why? Discuss how the length affects the sound.
    5. As students do the activity they will often begin to remark about how they can feel the vibrations in their hands as they pull up on the ruler. Ask them how the vibration feels when the length of the ruler is short. How does it change when it is long? Why do you think this happens? Discuss how sound waves are bigger for low sounds, creating slower vibrations, and smaller for high sounds creating quicker vibrations.
    6. Have students work with a partner, to create a simple melody on their barred instrument and perform for the class.
    Assessment Strategies

    Assessment Strategies

    Ask students to play their lowest pitch. Ask them how they know this is the lowest. Continue with highest. Ask students what needs to be done in order to change the pitch. Ask them to show you how to make it lower. Continue with how to make it higher.

    Variation Tips

    I often use this activity as a bridge to understanding high and low sounds on barred instruments like the xylophone. If you have barred instruments, demonstrate how sounds change based on the length of the bars just like the sound changed based on the length of the rulers. Have students identify the lowest and highest sounding bars. Ask them to explain why the bars sound low or high.

    I use wooden rulers because they are sturdier, but plastic rulers could be used as well. Some students struggle with pulling up on the wooden rulers, so plastic rulers might be a better option for students with less dexterity, just remind them not to pull too hard.

    Background and Preparation

    Background / Preparation

    Make sure you have enough space for students to manipulate rulers effectively on a table, bench, or bookshelf. Remove the metal edge from 12" rulers so they are easier to pull up.

    Digital Tools / Resources