Thongaphone

An orange and blue exhibit table with a white information panel laying flat on the top, two rows of 20 millimetre pvc piping rising up from the table top, and a blue thong attached to an orange cord hanging over the table side.
An orange and blue exhibit table with a white information panel laying flat on the top, two rows of 20 millimetre pvc piping rising up from the table top, and a blue thong attached to an orange cord hanging over the table side.

Air vibrates at different frequencies to generate low or high pitched sounds.

How it works

Use the rubber shoe to strike the open ended pipes and play a musical tune.

Things to try or ask around the exhibit

  • Which tube creates the highest pitch note?
  • Which tube creates the lowest pitch note?
  • How are these tubes different?

Background

Sound is made when something vibrates. Slower vibrations produce lower pitched sounds. Faster vibrations produce higher pitched sounds. Hitting the end of a pipe with a thong makes air inside the pipe vibrate to produce sound waves. Longer pipes produce longer sound waves (lower notes). Shorter pipes produce shorter sound waves (higher notes).

Finding the science in your world

The thongaphone is a percussion instrument. A percussion instrument is any object that makes a sound by being struck, rubbed, scraped and shaken. People in some Pacific nations make music by dropping bamboo pipes of different lengths on to their ends, which causes the air inside to vibrate.

Percussion instruments are often split into two groups: one group make a definite pitch, and play a melody (e.g. thongaphones) and the second group do not produce a definite melody, but are usually used as 'rhythm keepers' in a band.