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Plink Plank Plunk

Grades: 5
Author: Joy Vocke, Carolyn Kepler, Debra Boles, Yolanda Wiley, AGPA Staff
Source: Original


Students will design musical instruments from provided materials to understand the following properties of sound: frequency and pitch


What should students know as a result of this lesson?

  • Students will understand frequency and pitch, which are properties of sound
  • Students will understand factors that affect the pitch

What should the students be able to do as a result of this lesson?

  • Students will be able to explain frequency and pitch
  • Students will be able to make modifications to an instrument to change the pitch


  • Plastic cups for making instruments
  • Alternatively, you can have students bring in empty tissue boxes for making the instruments
  • Rulers
  • Rubber bands of various thicknesses
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Glass bottles filled with various amounts of water
  • For Elaboration:
    • Aluminum pans
    • String
    • Other materials for creating instruments



  1. During this phase, begin a discussion of sound and instruments. Begin by tapping or blowing on glass bottles that are filled with different amounts of water.
  2. Have the students make observations and discuss their thoughts on sound properties, such as low notes and high notes.

Assessment: Monitor the students' understanding of pitch and frequency, not necessarily using these terms. The assessment is informal at this time and can be used to understand misconceptions that the students may have.


  1. Tell the students that they will be making musical instruments to investigate high and low notes (pitches).
  2. Working in groups, have the students make instruments using the materials provided. Note: Safety goggles should be worn since rubber bands are used during experimentation.
  3. Have the students observe and record what affects the pitch using either their original instruments or by making modifications to their original instruments.

Assessment: Make sure students are handling the supplies properly and following proper procedures. Monitor the students to be sure they are recording information properly.


  1. Students should report their findings of what affected the pitch to the entire class.
  2. Introduce and define the terms frequency and pitch (see Content Knowledge). Tuning forks can be used during the explanation. Online tuning forks and information can be found at:

Assessment: The students should have an understanding of why the pitch changed.


  1. Again, in groups, have the students make new instruments with additional materials provided, such as aluminum pans, strings, or alternatively, have students bring their own materials to create new instruments. Tell the students that they will need to have a range of pitches with their new instruments.
  2. Have the students attempt to play songs with their instruments.

OR: A similar, more in-depth lesson plan "String Instruments and Pitch" can be found at

Assessment: Each group presents their instrument, explains the design, and plays the instrument for the class.



Best Teaching Practices

  • Hands-on/Minds-on Learning
  • Inquiry Approaches

Alignment with Standards

NGSS Standards:

  • MS-PS1-3 Gather and make sense of information to describe that synthetic materials come from natural resources and impact society.

Common Core Standards:

  • 5-PS1-3 Make observations and measurements to identify materials based on their properties.
  • 3-5-ETS1-1 Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • 3-5-ETS1-2 Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • 3-5-ETS1-3 Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

National Standards:

  • Science as Inquiry Grades 5-8
  • Physical Science Grades 5-8

Ohio Standards:

  • Grades 3-5: Physical Science Benchmark F

Content Knowledge

Understanding sound properties is necessary. Frequency is the rate of vibration of a sound wave. A sound wave with a low frequency is heard as a low pitch (or note). Higher frequencies are heard as a higher pitch (or higher note).

The following websites are useful:

Information about tuning forks can be found at:


  • Goggles are needed because of rubber bands.
  • Instructions should be provided on handling all materials, in particular the rubber bands.


We are surrounded by sounds daily with varying pitch. In addition, students that are interested in studying music, need to understand sound properties.


Have students create cartoons that explain different pitches or have the students write a short paragraph explaining how a guitar player makes various sounds.

Other Considerations

Grouping Suggestions: Be aware of students' abilities and ethnic backgrounds when choosing groups. Students should be placed in groups of 4.

Pacing/Suggested Time: The lesson should take 3 days.

  • Day 1: Build and record observations
  • Day 2: Finish observations and share
  • Day 3: Elaboration and overall assessment

Printable PDF Worksheets