Integrating Sound with Math

Time to rethink my integration of science with math. My attempts to connect proportions of the human body with measurement went down in flames in my entry last year, so I’m focusing on Systems, Order, and Organization related to sound this time.

I know sound, math, and science are all suuuuuuper tight. What I don’t know is how to adequately organize my sound unit so it includes great inquiry-based investigations. My guiding framework is an annnnncient curriculum from the National Science Resources Center (published when I was in junior high) that has such profound extension activities as the one featured below:

Ugh. Not helpful. It’s worth noting that there are a whopping two math extension activities in this entire unit.

The wise and enthusiastic Katie Weichert gave me some great ideas to chew on and think about. I wish I saw her more often. But in her absence, I had to get a move on.

So I started trolling the Internet.

This Aztec music lesson seems compelling.

I’m also interested in harmonics, but I don’t know how to build this into a full lesson. My students already use harmonic series as a procedure to line up from music class, so I wouldn’t need to go over the basic musical idea of third and fifth intervals.

THIS could be useful. It appears to be a sound generator. Could I have kids compose a song using fractions and then convert them to their frequencies? Speaking of composing music…

I imagine I could show snippets from Donald in Mathmagic Land and have students generate questions from that? Yesssssss, I could totally do that… That way the learning would be authentic and related to the curriculum we already have in place!

My only concern remains starting with a video. I want to make sure I’m looking for an introduction that inspires perplexity, not just engagement. After the 27-minute video was released in 1959, Walt Disney admitted:

“The cartoon is a good medium to stimulate interest. We have recently explained mathematics in a film and in that way excited public interest in this very important subject.”

(emphasis is my own) Now in looking at moving from merely interest to investigation…… I suppose that recording student questions will take care of that fear, right? Then having their questions shape the following lessons?

Hmmmmm. Of course, there are a wealth of videos available on sound and math, but much of the information is so complex that I can’t figure out how to simplify it.



I’m also interested in looking at the materials used in instrument strings and the number of strings included in different instruments. How do the number of notes an instrument is capable of producing related to its system? Can systems be different sizes? Is a larger system necessarily “better” or more “complete?”

Anyway. Let’s see how this goes.

Tuning Forks and Bells

We experimented with tuning forks today, and our class had a lot of great insights. Because I’m not allowed to post student first names on our site, I have identified students by the first letter of their first names.

  • It sounds like it’s humming… It sounds like it’s someone screaming, like “oooooh” (X)
  • It sounds like a fan, when you’re close to it. (A)
  • It sounds like a well when you call into it. (R)
  • I can feel it vibrating (R)
  • It’s like when you’re at the hospital and you can see the graph on the screen going up and down (E)
  • It sounds like a bell when you hit it on your shoe (L)
  • The big one makes a different sound from the little on (K)
  • The small one sounds louder and the big one sounds deeper (E)
  • When you look at it it looks blurry (L)
  • The big one is different because it’s taller (P)
  • It sounds like a vibrating coin going down a well (R)
  • It sounds like when you hit the bell at a hotel (X)

Here’s a video of handbells, which are kind of like tuning forks with megaphones to make them louder. :)

You can see a tuning fork in super-slow motion here:

And here’s “Ode to Joy” in tuning forks.