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What Makes a Musical Note Higher or Lower?

What makes a musical note higher or lower? Here are some simple ways you can demonstrate the physics of sound. Video demos of activities you can do at home, and examples of more ways to explore music at home at the end of the post.

Learn what makes musical notes high and low with these videos and hands-on activities.

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Lessons from Julliard & Oberlin Musicians at Virtu.Academy

The Way Things Work Now is one of my favorite resources for raising kids who think. Scientific concepts are explained using woolly mammoths. The resulting text is easy to understand and a lot of fun to read!

Perusing the pages on musical instruments started a discussion in our family about what makes musical notes higher or lower. This is actually a physics question! The faster the vibration, the higher the note. The slower the vibration, the lower the note.

There are different ways to make a vibration faster or slower. The thickness of the material matters, as does the tension. Changing the length of a musical string also changes the pitch. Here are some fun hands-on activities to help kids understand.

Exploring the Science of Pitch: What Makes a Musical Note Higher or Lower?

I found three great YouTube videos that explain the science of pitch. They include follow-up activities you can do at home!

Experiment #1: Changing the Length of a Rubber Band to Make a Note Higher or Lower

This is a very simple activity you can do to explore the science of pitch. All you need is a cardboard box, a rubber band, and pencils or markers! As you move the markers/pencils closer together, the pitch is higher. Move them further apart, and the pitch is lower.

Experiment #2: Make a Shoebox Harp

This shoebox harp is a slightly more sophisticated experiment for exploring the relationship between rubber band length and pitch. You need the same materials, but more rubber bands. You can also use a Kleenex box for this experiment – then you don’t have to cut an opening – just use the opening that comes with the box. Do you see how the pencil is slanted so that the length between the rubber band and the side of the shoebox opposite the opening is shorter for the higher notes and longer for the lower notes?

Our Super Simple Harp

Exploring the physics of sound with kids

I cut the top half off a plastic berry container to make this very simple harp. As you can see, Anna had a lot of fun adjusting the rubber bands to make all sorts of different sounds. Anna played with this toy the entire time I wrote this post! She is currently off searching for more rubber bands, because apparently she needs a 29 rubber band “harp”.

Experiment #3: Exploring Pitch Using Different Instruments

The science of musical pitch for kids: What makes musical notes high or low?

I love the way this video demonstrates the physics of changing pitch using a water bottle, guitar, xylophone, and wooden rulers. You can see how the shorter length of a xylophone tile makes a higher pitch, and also how the guitar pitch gets higher as you shorten the string using your fingers. The rulers and water bottle are great examples of how we have all sorts of musical instruments in our homes without even realizing it.

More Ways to Explore Music with Kids

Our family loves music! Here are some more fun ways to explore music with kids:


Today’s post is part of the Storybook Science series hosted by my friend Trisha. You can find more fascinating scientific activities inspired by children’s books here:


Do you have a music themed book or activity you think we will enjoy? How about another experiment on what makes a musical note higher or lower for us to try? Please share any ideas you have about how children can help with conservation on my Facebook page, or tag me on Instagram

MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

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