We’ve been reading the story of Lentil, by Robert McCloskey. A big part of this story revolves around music, which led us on an entertaining rabbit trail all about music, sound, instruments, and bands. These rabbit trails are my favorite part of homeschooling. As we pursue our interests, the children come alive with delight, and learning is simply a by-product of our experiences.
In the story, when unable to sing, a boy named Lentil saves up his money to buy a harmonica. He then decides to become an expert in it. Becoming an expert in any musical instrument takes years of learning and practice. We learned this quickly when we bought our own harmonica and tried to play a song! It wasn’t very easy!
Lentil found that his harmonica sounded best in the bathtub. This led to many questions while reading, which led to a discussion about sound. We talking about how sound bounces off different surfaces, just like a ball. I found a couple of ways to demonstrate this to the children.
First, we created a sound stick out of a used paper towel tube, a coffee filter and and rubber band. We covered the end of the tube with the coffee filter and secured it in place with the rubber band.
Clark and Luci then took turns singing – or shouting (because that’s what really went down) into their tubes, while placing their fingers gently over the coffee filter on the other end. This way, they were actually able to feel the sound waves. They noticed that it felt different if their voices were higher, lower, louder or quieter. The vibration was also different depending on the size of the tube.
Clark did some extra experimenting, including trying to play the harmonica into the tube. This didn’t work out quite as he would have liked, but he was still able to feel a small amount of vibration.
We know that we can hear the effect of sound waves. And we just discovered that we can feel the effect of sound waves, but is it possible to see the effects of sound waves? Could the vibration of the sound waves actually cause something to move?
This called for a second experiment! We pulled plastic wrap tightly and firmly over a large bowl. Then Luci place some beans on the plastic.
With a wooden spoon, Clark made as much noise as he could by banging an old pan. It was an awful lot of noise, but the beans didn’t move at all. The children took time to hypothesize why the beans were not affected by the sound waves, and decided that maybe the beans were too big and heavy. We replaced the beans with tiny grains of salt, and guess what?
The little grains of salt jumped all over the place when Clark and Luci took turns hitting the metal pan again. They jumped so much that many of them fell off the plastic onto the table.
Now, armed with a little understanding of how sound waves work, Clark and Luci went around the house, testing different surfaces to find the best tone. We even took the harmonica grocery shopping, so that we could test the tone in the entrance of the store. The children concluded that the harmonica sounded the best when surrounded in a hard surface because the sound waves were bouncing off the hard surface.
I grew up in a family who loved to play music. My Grandfather was a professional musician and my Mother was the most incredible piano player I have ever heard. From the time that I was 5 years old, I took piano lessons and this continued throughout high school. Music was an escape for me. It was a way to relax and unwind. I would like to pass this appreciation on to my children.
Since there were several mentions of musical instruments in the story of Lentil, I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about the different types of musical instruments with Clark and Luci. We divided our learning up into 4 parts, one for each of the 4 groups of musical instruments: woodwinds, brass, strings and percussion.
In the story of Lentil, the young boy learned how to play the harmonica, which is actually a woodwind. It is made up of reeds, separated into slots. The sound comes from blowing your breath into the instrument, causing these reeds to vibrate. The reeds can be made of our several different types of material, such as bamboo, wood, metal, or even grass! Instruments with reeds are called woodwind instruments, and include the oboe, bassoon, flute, and saxophone.
The book also mentions a brass band, another group of instruments. These include the trumpet, trombone, tuba, and cornet. The sound in these instruments, comes from the player making a buzzing with their lips, kind of like blowing raspberries.
The next group of instrument group is the Strings. My husband plays the guitar, so we have several of these in our home, along with a piano. We introduced the children to them but they have not shown much interested as of yet. However, we took the time to play with them, so that we could experiment with the vibrating strings. Besides the guitar, these instruments include the piano, violin, cello, and banjo.
Finally the last instrument group that we learned about was the Percussion group. This groups consists of all types of drums, cymbals and tambourines – parents’ least favorite group, I imagine. We’re a crafty family, but I have enough sense not to make homemade drums.
What is your favorite type of instrument?