Discover Music

The Huntsville Symphony Orchestra Guild‘s 2016 Panoply Interactive

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At the Huntsville Symphony Guild’s Discover Music Interactive, you’ll have a chance to conduct your own experiments and hear a wide variety of sounds different musical instruments can make. But why do instruments sound different? And what is sound, anyway?

Sound is a vibration or wave of air molecules caused by the motion of an object. You must have movement to make sound! Sound coming from a musical instruments is made by the movement and vibration of air within a tube, strings, drum heads, or reeds. To learn more about sound, sound waves, amplitude and sound energy, click HERE.

Musicians have classified their instruments into woodwinds, bras and reed instruments, string instruments, and percussion instruments. Woodwinds include the flute and piccolo, while the clarinet, saxophone and oboe are examples of reed instruments. Trumpets, trombones, tubas and French Horns are all brass instruments, and instruments with strings range from pianos and harps to violins, guitars and ukuleles. Meanwhile, drums, gongs, mallets and cymbals are just a few of the many percussion instruments that musicians can play.

When you experiment with playing a flute, you are working to blow air across the edge of the flute’s mouthpiece. The air gets split when it comes into contact with the mouthpiece and produces a vibration, and we now know that sound is created by that very vibration. In reed instruments, the sound vibrations are made when air travels across a thin piece of wood called a reed – the reed vibrates and sound is created! With a brass instrument like a trumpet or tuba, sound is produced by placing the lips on the mouthpiece and blowing while vibrating the lips. For stringed instruments, sound is made by vibrating the strings, while the vibration of hitting a drum head or cymbal creates sound in percussion instruments. (See Method Behind The Music for more information.)

Once you master an instrument’s basic sound vibrations, you can experiment by lengthening the air columns inside woodwind, reed and brass instruments to hit different notes. On string instruments, you can lengthen or short the strings to produce different notes and pitches. And you don’t have to have a formal instrument to get creative with sound and music at home! You can experiment with different found items such as straws and rubber bands to make your own home-made symphony of sound. Just use your imagination and you can discover music and sound all around.