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SCIENCE TEACHER

Light and sound


Sound: Musical sounds LP-PHY-INT-0015

Objectives of the lesson


• To describe what is meant by noise.
• To state the normal frequency range of hearing in humans.
• To introduce the terms ‘pitch’, ‘loudness’ and ‘quality’ in the context of sound.

Teaching methods
• Discussion of what is meant by noise.
• Demonstration to determine the range of hearing in humans.
• Demonstration of pitch, loudness and quality for different musical instruments.

Expected outcomes
• Students able to describe what is meant by noise.
• Students able to state the normal frequency range of hearing in humans.
• Students able to explain the meaning of pitch, loudness and quality in the context of sound.

Student pre-knowledge required for this lesson


• Sound is a longitudinal wave.
• The meaning of the terms ‘amplitude’, ‘wavelength’, ‘frequency’ and ‘period’.

Materials & resources required


Time required
40 minutes for the lesson.
Equipment list
Signal generator, loudspeaker, two or more tuning forks of different frequencies, microphone,
oscilloscope, a range of different instruments.

Teaching the lesson


Introduction
Invite students to suggest how we can describe ‘music’ and ‘noise’.
Explain that we are subjected to a wide range of sounds every day. Some of the sounds we hear have
meaning for us, such as speech or music. We can describe ‘music’ as a pattern of sounds that we find
harmonious. Sounds that have no meaning for us we can describe as ‘noise’. Too much noise may be
described as noise pollution. Noises that are very loud can damage hearing.

1 Explain to students that we hear different frequencies of sound waves as sounds of different pitch. We
can hear a range of frequencies, generally from about 20 Hz to about 20 kHz (20 000 Hz). The upper limit
of hearing decreases rapidly with age; only very young children are able to hear the highest frequency
sounds.

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2008


SCIENCE TEACHER
Use a signal generator connected to a loudspeaker to test the range of frequencies audible to the
students.
Ask students to stand up. Start in the middle of the audible range and gradually increase the frequency of
the sound produced by the loudspeaker. Students should sit down as soon as they can no longer hear the
sound.
Repeat, starting in the middle of the audible range and decreasing the frequency.

2 Connect a microphone to an oscilloscope. Hold a vibrating tuning fork close to the microphone. Explain
that the oscilloscope screen shows a transverse wave with the same frequency as the longitudinal sound
wave produced by the tuning fork.
Compare the waveforms produced when a low-pitched tuning fork and a high-pitched tuning fork are
made to vibrate close to the microphone.
If an oscilloscope is not available sketch a low-frequency wave and a high-frequency wave for
students to compare.

Low frequency High frequency

3 Ask a student to whistle a note close to the microphone.


The louder the note the more energy it transfers. Compare the waveforms produced when the whistle is
quiet and when it is loud.
The bigger the amplitude of the wave the louder the note.
If an oscilloscope is not available sketch a small amplitude wave and a large amplitude wave for
students to compare.

Small amplitude Large amplitude

4 Produce a note, close to the microphone, on a tuning fork. A tuning fork produces a pure note of only
one frequency. Ask students to look at the waveform.
Play the same note on different instruments and ask students to look at the waveforms.
Other instruments produce additional frequencies, called overtones, at the same time to give a different
waveform and so a different sound. We say that different instruments produce notes of different quality.
If an oscilloscope is not available sketch different waveforms for students to compare.

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2008


SCIENCE TEACHER

Conclusions and summary


• Sounds that do not have meaning for us are called noise.
• The audible range of frequencies is from 20 Hz to 20 kHz.
• We hear different frequencies of sound as different pitches.
• The louder a sound the greater the amplitude of the sound wave.
• Different instruments produce notes of different quality.

Assessment
The following questions could be used as the basis of a class discussion or as an exercise to test
understanding.
1 Describe the difference between music and noise.
2 What does the pitch of a note depend on?
3 What does the loudness of a note depend on?
4 Why does the same note sound different when played on different instruments?
5 Sketch the waveform that might be seen on an oscilloscope connected to a microphone when a tuning
fork is sounded nearby. If the tuning fork is replaced by one with twice the frequency sketch the new
waveform.

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2008