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Developed and hosted by Yvonne Caruthers Performed by National Symphony Orchestra members Yvonne Caruthers, cello Natasha Bogachek, violin Stephen Dumaine, tuba

What do science and music have in common? More than you might think! In music, you can find real-life examples of concepts you might have learned in science class. And musicians can perform better thanks to the discoveries and understandings of science. So put on your lab coat and get ready to take a scientific—and fun!— look at music.

David and Alice Rubenstein are the Presenting Underwriters of the NSO.


Science + Music



Let’s Examine Some Ways S The Sounds of Science Sound Waves What is sound, anyway? Thanks to science, we know sound happens when an object vibrates (moves back and forth quickly). For example, when your finger plucks a string, the string vibrates and disturbs the air around it, making an invisible sound wave. You hear the sound when the wave travels through the air to your ear.

Here are two sound wave frequencies during the same moment of time. Which has the higher pitch?

WAVE IT short wavelength

long wavelength

In music, we hear what happens at different frequencies. The pitch of a note—how high or low it sounds—depends on the frequency of the sound waves. The higher the frequency, the higher the pitch; the lower the frequency, the lower the pitch.

Light vs. Sound A different type of wave, called electromagnetic, produces light. During the performance, discover which has a greater range—light or sound.

Ahhh or Ouch?

Answer: The white one.

Different sounds have different wavelengths. A wavelength is the distance between the high point of one wave to the high point of the next wave. The number of high points per second is called the frequency. If many sound waves pass in one second, the frequency is high. If only a few sound waves pass in the same second, the frequency is low.

Sound also varies by how loud or soft it is. Scientists measure that intensity in decibels, or dB. From studying the human ear, they can tell us how loud is too loud. When you speak in a normal voice to a friend, it is about 60 dB. Sitting in the front row of a rock concert, you’re likely hearing 110 dB, something that could hurt your hearing if you did it often. And hold it right there, because sound at 160 dB (too loud!) could cause permanent damage to your ear. Musicians must be extra careful, particularly if they are exposed to loud music on a regular basis. To protect their hearing, some even wear earplugs while they are performing.

Visible light is a part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Radio Waves

Microwaves Infrared VISIBLE Radiation LIGHT

low frequency

Ultraviolet Radiation


Gamma Rays

high frequency

* BTW *

International Noise Awareness Day is April 24, 2013.

Science and Music Connect String Instruments String instruments like the violin and the cello are usually constructed of wood, with strings made of synthetic (man-made) materials and metal. The strings vibrate when they are plucked or when the musician draws a bow across a string. The bows are usually made of wood and horsehair. Old bows were often decorated with ivory. CELLO strings fingerboard



Before or after the performance, test your own resonating chamber. Take a rubber band and a small plastic water bottle with a cap. First, fill the bottle with water and close the cap. Stretch the band around the bottle and pluck the band with your finger. Then remove the cap, empty the water, and reattach the cap. Pluck the band again. Is the sound different? If so, how? What does your experiment tell you about resonating chambers? The answer is below. d. create a deeper and stronger soun

A vibrating string does not produce much sound. The instrument’s hollow body creates a resonating chamber that amplifies (enlarges) the sound waves of the vibrating strings.




Brass Instruments Instruments like the tuba are normally made from brass, a yellowish metal. To make a sound on a brass instrument, musicians “buzz” their lips against the instrument’s mouthpiece. During the performance, you’ll learn the special technique of “buzzing.”

bers Answer: Resonating (hollow) cham

The Construction of Instruments

Greener Instruments Efforts to protect endangered or threatened species affect musicians. Take for example, the materials used to make bows. First, the tips of older bows feature ivory, a material banned to protect endangered African elephants. During the performance, you’ll learn about one surprising substitute for ivory. Second, deforestation (the widespread clearing of trees) has made the preferred wood—called pernambuco (per-nuhm-BOO-koh)—for bows scarcer. Some bow makers have substituted carbon fiber, a synthetic material (thank you, chemistry!) stronger than steel. And some instrument makers discovered carbon fiber makes great instruments, too.

Getting Physical It’s not just the instruments that make music, but also the people who play them. Musicians need to understand how their bodies work to perform better.

Speed Racer Musicians must teach their muscles to hold and play their instruments. And just like a runner training for a race, musicians must practice hard to train their arms, hands, and fingers —and even their lips and tongues— to play better and faster. What do you think is the world speed record for playing a musical instrument? During the performance, listen carefully to see how fast the performers can play!

Take a Deep Breath Remember the last time you blew up balloons? Did you start to get dizzy after a few? That might happen the first time you play a wind instrument, too. And that’s why musicians train their lungs and stomach muscles—so they can breathe longer and stronger and play their instruments for hours.


If a grownup says it’s okay, try taking a slow deep breath. Have a friend count how long you can keep blowing out the air through pursed lips. During the performance, compare your time with how long Stephen can play a note on the tuba.

David M. Rubenstein Chairman Michael M. Kaiser President Darrell M. Ayers Vice President, Education

Christoph Eschenbach Music Director

Additional support for Performances for Young Audiences is provided in part by Adobe Foundation; The Clark Charitable Foundation; Mr. James V. Kimsey; The Macy*s Foundation; The Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.; The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation; Park Foundation, Inc.; Paul M. Angell Family Foundation; an endowment from the Ryna and Melvin Cohen Family Foundation; U.S. Department of Education; Washington Gas; and by generous contributors to the Abe Fortas Memorial Fund, and by a major gift to the fund from the late Carolyn E. Agger, widow of Abe Fortas.

Music to Your Ears At the performance, you will hear:

“Dance of the Elves” (excerpt) by David Popper Zigeunerweisen (excerpt) by Pablo de Sarasate (sa-ra-SAW-tay) Freq-y Wave by Lynda Williams Etude No. 34 for solo violin by Rodolphe Kreutzer (KROY-tser) Caprice No. 1 for solo cello by Alfredo Piatti (pee-AH-tee) Etude No. 8 for solo tuba by Phil Snedecor Ziganotchka, a traditional Ukrainian folk song

Cuesheets are produced by ARTSEDGE, an education program of the Kennedy Center. Learn more about Education at The Kennedy Center at The contents of this Cuesheet do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government. © 2013 The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

A Good Audience… ■ ■ ■ ■

Stays seated Stays quiet Watches and listens carefully Claps at the end

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Connections: Science + Music  
Connections: Science + Music  

What do science and music have in common? More than you might think! In music, you can find real-life examples of concepts you might have le...