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Straw Music

Who needs a tin flute when you have a plastic straw?

Australian Curriculum links

  • Science > Physical Sciences > Year 1 > ACSSU020
  • Science > Science as a Human Endeavour > Year 1 > ACSHE022
  • Science > Science Inquiry Skills > Year 1 > ACSIS024

You’ll need

  • A straw
  • Scissors
  • Pin
  • Sticky tape
  • Paper

Try this

  1. Flatten one end of the straw. Use the scissors to cut the end of the straw into a pointy triangle shape.
  2. Put the straw into your mouth with the triangle just inside your mouth.
  3. Press your lips down firmly enough to just hold the straw in place.
  4. Now blow through the straw!
  5. You may not get a sound straight away – playing the musical straw takes practice. Try adjusting the position of the straw in your mouth, the strength at which you blow and the pressure from your lips

Further investigation

Once you can make a sound using a musical straw, try the following activities:

  • Cut small holes along one side of the straw using scissors or a pin to create a straw recorder. Cover different numbers of holes with your fingers to play different notes.
  • While playing a continuous note on the straw, ask a friend to cut it shorter and shorter using scissors. Listen to how the sound changes as you reduce the length of the straw.
  • Add a bell to the end of your straw by taping a cone of paper to it, like a trumpet. Compare the sound made with small cones compared to large cones. Try making a giant bell using a cone of newspaper!

What’s happening?

When you blow air through the straw, this makes the two plastic triangles of straw shake back and forth, or vibrate. Vibrating objects produce sound – in this case, the sound of a musical straw.

Slowly vibrating objects produce long sound waves and sounds with a low pitch. Increasing the frequency of the vibrations (or the number of vibrations per second), decreases the wavelength of the vibrations and increases the pitch of the sound.

Changing the length of the straw changes the wavelength and frequency of the vibrations. A long straw creates long, low-frequency vibrations, which create a deep, or low-pitched sound.

Attaching a bell to the musical straw makes it louder (or amplifies the sound of the straw) because it increases the surface area which is vibrating. This larger surface area ‘pushes’ the vibrations or pressure waves out over a larger area, creating a louder sound.