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This is a lesson plan that engages students in engineering practices as they design, construct, and test a musical instrument that will repeat a pattern of three sounds. Students first examine the construction and operation of the recorder, then work in groups to build instruments from common household items. The driving question of the lesson: How do engineers design musical instruments that will reliably produce notes, tones, and patterns of sound?

The lesson follows a module format that includes objectives and learner outcomes, problem sets, student guides, recommended reading, illustrated procedures, worksheets, and background information about the engineering connections. The lesson plan and student worksheets are available for download. This collection is part of TryEngineering.org, a website maintained by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Editor's Note: This lesson initiates with an examination of the recorder, a type of open-ended column wind instrument. Recorders are easier to study than the better-known transverse flute:  they are cheaper to acquire and the dynamics are far less complex. This lesson is appropriate for the upper elementary grades, but can also be adapted for older students by introducing concepts of standing waves and fundamental frequency. See Related Materials for content support in teaching the physics of music.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Education Practices
- Active Learning
Oscillations & Waves
- Instruments
= Air Column Instruments
- Wave Motion
= Standing Waves
Other Sciences
- Engineering
- Elementary School
- Middle School
- High School
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Laboratory
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Student Guide
- Audio/Visual
= Image/Image Set
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- Laboratory
- Assessment
- New teachers
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© 2010 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
applied physics, engineering activity, engineering lessons, engineering practices, harmonics, musical instruments, physics of music
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created July 26, 2012 by Gnana Subramaniam
Record Updated:
August 10, 2020 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
December 4, 2010

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

1. The Nature of Science

1C. The Scientific Enterprise
  • 3-5: 1C/E1. Science is an adventure that people everywhere can take part in, as they have for many centuries.

3. The Nature of Technology

3B. Design and Systems
  • 3-5: 3B/E1. There is no perfect design. Designs that are best in one respect (safety or ease of use, for example) may be inferior in other ways (cost or appearance). Usually some features must be sacrificed to get others.
  • 3-5: 3B/E2. Even a good design may fail. Sometimes steps can be taken ahead of time to reduce the likelihood of failure, but it cannot be entirely eliminated.

4. The Physical Setting

4F. Motion
  • K-2: 4F/P3. Things that make sound vibrate.
  • 6-8: 4F/M4. Vibrations in materials set up wavelike disturbances that spread away from the source. Sound and earthquake waves are examples. These and other waves move at different speeds in different materials.

8. The Designed World

8B. Materials and Manufacturing
  • 6-8: 8B/M1. The choice of materials for a job depends on their properties.

12. Habits of Mind

12C. Manipulation and Observation
  • 3-5: 12C/E1. Choose appropriate common materials for making simple mechanical constructions and repairing things.
  • 6-8: 12C/M5. Analyze simple mechanical devices and describe what the various parts are for; estimate what the effect of making a change in one part of a device would have on the device as a whole.
12D. Communication Skills
  • 3-5: 12D/E2. Make sketches or diagrams to aid in explaining procedures or ideas.
  • 3-5: 12D/E7. Write a clear and accurate description of a real-world object or event.
  • 6-8: 12D/M8. Explain a scientific idea to someone else, checking understanding and responding to questions.
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AIP Format
(Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2010), WWW Document, (https://tryengineering.org/teacher/engineered-music/).
TryEngineering: Engineered Music (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2010), <https://tryengineering.org/teacher/engineered-music/>.
APA Format
TryEngineering: Engineered Music. (2010, December 4). Retrieved May 26, 2024, from Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers: https://tryengineering.org/teacher/engineered-music/
Chicago Format
International Business Machines. TryEngineering: Engineered Music. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, December 4, 2010. https://tryengineering.org/teacher/engineered-music/ (accessed 26 May 2024).
MLA Format
TryEngineering: Engineered Music. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2010. 4 Dec. 2010. International Business Machines. 26 May 2024 <https://tryengineering.org/teacher/engineered-music/>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {TryEngineering: Engineered Music}, Publisher = {Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {26 May 2024}, Month = {December 4, 2010}, Year = {2010} }
Refer Export Format

%T TryEngineering: Engineered Music %D December 4, 2010 %I Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers %U https://tryengineering.org/teacher/engineered-music/ %O application/pdf

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %D December 4, 2010 %T TryEngineering: Engineered Music %I Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers %V 2024 %N 26 May 2024 %8 December 4, 2010 %9 application/pdf %U https://tryengineering.org/teacher/engineered-music/

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TryEngineering: Engineered Music:

Is Supplemented By Standing Waves and Musical Instruments

This tutorial for teachers explains how various musical instruments generate standing waves to produce tones with a particular pitch. Includes animations of single wave reflection and standing waves to assist with visualization.

relation by Caroline Hall
Is Supplemented By The Physics of Music and Musical Instruments

A cost-free online textbook that integrates the physics of waves with sound, music, and musical instruments. Designed for teacher content support or for use in the high school physics classroom.

relation by Caroline Hall

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