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Making music: whether its thinking about how we hear sounds, record and play back music, or make musical instruments, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has a role to play

Whether it’s thinking about how we hear sounds, record and play back music, or make musical instruments, STEM has a role to play. This activity was inspired by Mark Bush, a STEM Ambassador.

During this session students will model musical instruments, and investigate the musical notes they produce. How close can they get to the notes produced by real instruments?

If your school does not already have it, you can download sound recording and editing software. There are lots of different types available online, such as Audacity – a free, open source programme for recording and editing sounds.

The activity

What you need

  • A computer and a microphone (some laptop computers may have an integrated microphone)
  • A selection of recycled materials: cardboard tubes, plastic boxes/tubs, plastic bottles, biscuit tin
  • Different width elastic bands / elastic
  • G clamp
  • Masking tape
  • Balloons
  • Rulers
  • Scissors
  • Drinking straws
  • Greaseproof paper
  • String, cord or steel wire, a pulley and masses

What to do

Part one - Students will record and investigate various sounds, then make their own musical instruments.

Part two - Groups record and investigate the notes they have made.

The more successful instruments could be built at diferent pitches and used to play some music, whilst investigating pitch, amplitude, and attack and decay.

Engineering is ...

Being creative to solve a problem is what engineering is all about. In this activity students are required to manufacture their own musical instruments and use IT to test their accuracy.

Acoustics, audio and sound engineering are offered at many universities. These degrees will often require STEM A levels (Advanced Highers in Scotland) including mathematics and preferably physics too. Alternatives include STEM-related Advanced Diplomas (or BTEC National Extended Diplomas) plus appropriate qualifications in mathematics and possibly physics too. See www.ucas.com for more information.

There are many engineering opportunities for apprenticeships, which cover a wide range of business sectors. For more information, in: