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Make a Rubber Band Guitar

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2 reviews

Summary

Active Time
20-30 minutes
Total Project Time
20-30 minutes
Key Concepts
vibration, sound waves, frequency, pitch
Credits
Megan Arnett, PhD, Science Buddies
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies
A rubber band holds two pencils in parallel next to the opening of an empty tissue box

Introduction

Did you know that the modern guitar is an instrument that dates back over 4,000 years? The first guitar music was published in 1546, during a time when guitars still had strings made from animal intestines! While guitars have a long history, they are still extremely popular in modern day music. Have you ever wondered how they make the music you listen to everyday? In this activity we're going to make our own guitars, and experiment with the different sounds we can create.
This activity is not recommended for use as a science fair project. Good science fair projects have a stronger focus on controlling variables, taking accurate measurements, and analyzing data. To find a science fair project that is just right for you, browse our library of over 1,200 Science Fair Project Ideas or use the Topic Selection Wizard to get a personalized project recommendation.

Materials

  • Long tissue box with single hole in the top
  • Assorted rubber bands
  • Pencils or pens (2)

Prep Work

Remove any plastic liner from the hole of the tissue box.

Instructions

  1. Wrap a rubber band around the tissue box so it goes across the hole. Whether you do this length-wise or width-wise depends on the size of your rubber band.
  2. Slide the two pencils under the rubber band, on one each side of the hole.

  3. Pluck the rubber band with your finger.
    Think about:
    What do you hear?
  4. Try adding rubber bands of different lengths and/or thicknesses to your guitar. Pluck them.
    Think about:
    Do they sound different?
  5. After you pluck a rubber band, touch it with your finger to make it stop vibrating.
    Think about:
    What happens?
  6. Try moving the pencils closer together or farther apart.
    Think about:
    How does this change the sound?

What Happened?

When you plucked the rubber band, you made it vibrate. This caused the nearby air molecules to vibrate, creating a sound wave that traveled to your ear. Your brain interpreted these vibrations and you heard the sound. The pitch (highness or lowness) of the sound a rubber band makes depends on several factors. Read the Digging Deeper section to learn more.

Digging Deeper

All sounds are caused by vibrations, or rapid back-and-forth motions of an object. These vibrations can transfer to nearby molecules (usually air, but sounds can also travel through liquids and solids) and ultimately reach our ears. The frequency of the vibration, or number of vibrations per second, determines the pitch that we hear. Frequency is measured in hertz (Hz). One hertz equals one vibration per second. Human hearing is typically in the range of 20 Hz up to 20,000 Hz. Some animals, like dogs, can hear up to around 45,000 Hz!

The frequency of a sound depends on several factors. In general, smaller, lighter things will make higher-frequency sounds than bigger, heavier things. This is why children generally have higher-pitched voices than adults. The pitch of the rubber bands in your guitar depends on how thick they are, how tightly they are stretched, and the length of the vibrating section between the pencils. The thinner the rubber band, the tighter it is stretched, and the shorter the length of the vibrating section, the higher the pitch will be. By carefully manipulating these variables (for example, using rubber bands that are all the same length, but different thickness) you can create a rubber band guitar with multiple "strings" that each have a different pitch.

These concepts all apply to real guitars (and other instruments) as well. If you look at a real guitar you will notice that the strings are not all the same thickness. Thicker strings have a lower pitch. If you press down on a string partway along its length, you shorten the vibrating section, increasing the pitch. This allows you to play a wide range of frequencies with just a few strings.

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For Further Exploration

  • Try using different size boxes or changing the size of the hole in the box. How does this affect the sound?

Lesson Plans

    Lesson Plan Grade: 1st
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    2 reviews
    Young students know that they can hear sounds, but do they know what causes sounds? In this lesson they will learn that sounds are caused by vibrations, and they will build a fun musical instrument of their own. In the Sound and Vibrations 2: Make Sprinkles Dance, students will learn that sounds can also cause vibrations. Read more
    NGSS Performance Expectations:
    • 1-PS4-1. Plan and conduct investigations to provide evidence that vibrating materials can make sound and that sound can make materials vibrate.

Careers

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