Andy is an instructional coach and curriculum specialist. He's working on a Masters of Educational Leadership and is also an aspiring author for kids.
Close your eyes and imagine you're at the symphony. Can you hear the violins and cellos playing? What about the clarinets and flutes? And you can't forget about the tuba! What if I told you all those instruments sound different because of vibrations?
Musical instruments come in all shapes in sizes and are put in families, or groups, depending on how they create sound. Each group has a unique way of manipulating sound waves through vibrations that give them a distinctive way of being played and creating the sound that we hear.
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The string family is a really popular group to see playing at fancy events like weddings. As you can imagine, this includes all instruments that use strings, like the harp, the guitar, and the violin.
The string instruments work like this. When the string is plucked on a guitar, it causes a vibration. That vibration is amplified, or made louder, by the air inside of the guitar.
All string instruments use the strings to create vibrations, but they do it in different ways. For the violin and cello, a bow is gently pulled across the strings to create the flowing sound, whereas many other string instruments are plucked.
The woodwind family is a group of instruments that are usually hollow tubes and, a long time ago at least, were made out of wood. They produce sound by blowing into either a mouth piece or small hole, and the air vibrates through the tube. This includes flutes, clarinets, and the saxophone.
Most instruments in the woodwind family have a little reed that is inserted in the mouth piece and will vibrate when air goes across it. So when you blow on it, the reed sends vibrations through the instrument.
You can change the sound it makes by using the key holes on the side, which change how much air is getting out. They either open up the tube or close it, changing the size of the air column the instruments create and drastically changing the sound.
The brass family are big instruments with lots of tubes that run throught the instrument. These are instruments like the trombone and trumpet. The vibrations from this instrument are all from the player's lips. When the player vibrates their lips, it's amplified in the instrument.
All those tubes also serve a purpose as paths that the air could take. By pressing different keys, they're changing the distance the air is travelling through the instrument and the note it produces.
These instruments are often associated with a low, almost rumbling sound, like the tuba and trombone, but some trumpets have been created smaller to give a higher pitch.
The percussion family is the drum group. Anything you hit to make sounds belongs in this family! The sound is produced from hitting a material that is tightened over the drum. The person playing this instrument can change sounds by hitting different spots, changing the frequency, or rate, of the vibration.
Okay, let's take a minute to review what we've learned. Whether you're plucking away on a string instrument, hitting a percussion instrument, blowing compressed air into a big brass instrument, or maybe using the reed in a woodwind instrument, you're using vibrations, or manipulating sound waves, to make sound.
We learned that the string family, unsurprisingly, includes all instruments that use strings; that the woodwind family is a group of instruments that are usually hollow tubes and, a long time ago at least, were made out of wood; that the brass family are big instruments with lots of tubes that run through the instrument; and that the percussion family is the drum group.
Based on their family groups, there are different ways these instruments turn vibrations into beautiful music. Now if it was only this easy to learn how to play all these instruments!
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Musical Instruments Lesson for Kids: Types & Sounds
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