Acoustics: How does sound travel?

In this lab, you will learn about where sound comes from, how it travels, and what changes the loudness of a sound or the pitch of a sound. We will do this using a slinky and a rubber band guitar.

Download the labs!
Student Version
Student Advanced Version

Teacher Version

Recommended Prerequisites:
  • Good for most students
  • Advanced version has an extra section on tuning instruments
Key Concepts:
  • Sound comes from moving objects. Sound is made of vibrating molecules that push against one another.
  • Molecules don’t travel across the room to get the sound to us; they vibrate in a very small space and transfer sound energy by collisions.
  • The harder the molecules push each other, the louder the sound we hear.
  • The faster the molecules push each other, the higher the pitch we hear.
  • STUDENT ADVANCED ONLY: Sound reflects off of dense objects as an echo. In a musical instrument, reflected sound is trapped to form standing waves, which we hear as tones.
  • a large plastic tub, 6 inches or deeper
  • water
  • a cereal bowl
  • a ping pong ball
  • a pencil
  • Slinkies, or one very large Slinky
  • Length of rope (1/4 to 1/2 thickness, at least 6 feet long)
  • Shive Wave Machine (special demo – not readily available)
  • Shoebox or tissue box
  • 4 to 6 rubber bands, of varying lengths and thicknesses
  • Craft sticks
  • plastic drinking straws, thin
  • 6 plastic drinking straws, thick
  • hole punch
  • scissors
We want your feedback! Please leave a reply below with your comments, questions, or suggestion to help us improve the lab.

15 Replies to “Acoustics: How does sound travel?”

  1. Very interesting. This method of learning the properties of sound is very progressive. I have already graduated from a technical university, but it was interesting for me to read your material. Children and students should be very informative.

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