ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

String Instruments and Pitch

Why does a violin sound different from a cello?


Key Staff

  • Classroom teacher
  • Assistance of music teacher could be helpful

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique


This lesson introduces students to the instruments of the string family. Students learn the types and parts of string instruments, and then create their own "string" instruments. Students explore how pitch is altered based on the width and length of the string, and make and test predictions.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Design investigations to determine factors that affect the pitch of vibrating objects
  • Explore the factors that determine pitch differences among stringed instruments
  • Create and record a meaningful hypothesis as well as accurate data sets reflecting knowledge gained through investigation

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Large or Small Group Instruction
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Hands-On Learning
  • Guided Listening

Assessment Type

Informal Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • Speakers
Required Plugins
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

General understanding of stringed instruments.

General understanding of acoustics

Prior Student Knowledge

  • A basic understanding of sound as waves and as energy.
  • Some familiarity with orchestral instruments.
  • Prior experience with science experiments.


  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


  • Cue up listening passage(s).
  • Lay out art supplies, or have students bring in their own.

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.



1. Review the members of the string instrument family. Distribute the Instrument Families of the Orchestra handout located within the Resource Carousel, and observe images of the stringed instruments at Perfect Pitch. Discuss the different instruments, using the images to clarify any uncertainties.

2. Play instrument listening clips for the string family at the ArtsEdge resource, Perfect Pitch, a link for which can be found within the Resource Carousel.

Build Knowledge

1. Have students explore the following sites to learn more about string instruments:

  • ArtsAlive.ca Music: Instrument Lab: Strings: here, students can learn more about string instruments and play clips
  • ArtsAlive.ca Music: String Interviews: students can read interviews with musicians and view demonstration videos
  • DSO Kids: Families of the Orchestra: students can hear a variety of instruments played in isolation, performing familiar tunes, and playing with the full orchestra
  • Perfect Pitch: students can learn about the instruments and try out different combinations of instruments and music styles.
    (A link for Perfect Pitch may be found within the Resource Carousel.)

2. Refer back to the Instrument Families of the Orchestra handout. As a class, share any information discovered in the course of the research, and review the relevant information in the "Strings" column of the handout.


1. Explain to students that you will be building musical instruments by stretching rubber bands over boxes. Make sure that each student has a box and an assortment of thick and thin rubber bands. Have students stretch a rubber band over their box and pluck it, to be certain that all students grasp the idea.

2. Review science vocabulary from the Vocabulary handout located within the Resource Carousel.

3. Review the Scientific Process Guidelines for String Instruments handout located within the Resource Carousel to familiarize students with the variables they will be testing. Note the different ways a rubber band might be tested: one student could hold the rubber band taut at the length specified while another student plucks it, for example, or different lengths of bands could be placed on a box.

4. As a class, create a hypothesis relating the width of the string (rubber band) to the pitch the string will create when plucked. Have students create a prediction based on this hypothesis, using the following format: “If our hypothesis is true then the pitch created should be higher /lower when the rubber band is wider /thinner.”

5. Divide students into cooperative groups of four. Assign one student to each of the following duties:

  • Recorder: note taker
  • Group leader: decision maker, dispute settler, teacher liaison
  • Equipment adjuster: makes adjustments to test equipment
  • Tester: performs the tests

6. Have groups conduct an experiment in which they test the whole class hypothesis and prediction. Using three wide rubber bands and three thin rubber bands, students should plan an experiment and write out its description as well as their observations.

7. As a class, discuss findings and create a conclusion.

8. Have students work in small groups to create an experiment regarding string length and pitch. Use the same process modeled in the previous activity testing the relationship between string width and pitch. Each group should develop a hypothesis relating the length of the string (rubber band) and the pitch it will create when plucked. Each should create a prediction based on this hypothesis, in which they describe the relationship between string (rubber band) length and pitch. Each group should then test the hypothesis and prediction.

9. Monitor student participation and accuracy in achieving results. When necessary, remind students of their roles within the cooperative group. Have students record the experiment data onto their 'Scientific Process Guidelines' for String Instruments handout.

10. Have each student complete the analysis and conclusion section independently.

11. Have students build their own instruments. As small groups complete the scientific process, divide groups for independent student work. Distribute procedural guidelines For Creating A String Instrument Box Harp handout located within the Resource Carousel and necessary supplies that accompany the activity. Review instructions and answer questions. Allow students ample time to create their own instruments.


1. Have students share their instruments with the class or small groups. Student presentations should reference the 'Vocabulary' handout from earlier. Have students answer the following questions:

  • What is the relationship between string length and pitch?
  • What is the relationship between string width and pitch?
  • If your instrument is set up with the rubber bands running from low to high pitch, what end of your instrument produces the higher frequency?
  • What is the name of the technique that we use to play our instruments?


Assess your student's work using the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
National Standards in Other Subjects



Leslie A. Thomas
Original Writer

Rebecca Haden

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