ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

Woodwind Instruments and Pitch

What makes a flute sound different from a saxophone?


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 woodwind family. Students learn the types and parts of woodwind instruments and then create a woodwind instrument similar to panpipes. They will make predictions and explore how pitch changes based on the length of the air pipe.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Design investigations that determine what factors affect the pitch of woodwind instruments based on the length of the windpipe
  • Explore the factors that determine pitch fluctuation of woodwind instruments
  • Create and record a meaningful hypothesis as well as accurate data sets reflecting knowledge gained through their 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 acoustics

General understanding of woodwind instruments

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should have:

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

Physical Space



  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


Cue up listening passage(s).

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 woodwind instrument family. Distribute the Instrument Families of the Orchestra handout located within the Resource Carousel.

2. Play instrument listening clips for the woodwind family from Perfect Pitch, a link for which is available within the Resource Carousel.

Build Knowledge

1. Have students explore the following sites to learn more about woodwind instruments, either individually or in groups, depending on availability of computers:

  • ArtsAlive.ca Music: Instrument Lab: Woodwinds: here, students can learn more about string instruments and play clips
  • ArtsAlive.ca Music: Woodwind 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.
    NOTE: You may find a link for 'Perfect Pitch' within the Resource Carousel.

2. Refer back to the 'Instrument Families of the Orchestra' handout located within the Resource Carousel. As a class, share any information discovered in the course of the research, and review the relevant information in the "Woodwinds" column of the handout.


1. Review the Vocabulary handout located within the Resource Carousel, adding the following terms to the discussion:

  • Air column: space within the air pipe of a woodwind instrument that experiences vibrations created by the player’s breath. The speed of the molecules in the air determines the pitch of the note created. Keys are used to open and close the holes in the air column to create pitch fluctuation.
  • Reed: a flexible strip of cane or metal set into the mouthpiece or air opening of certain instruments to produce tone by vibrating in response to a stream of air.

2. Distribute and review the Scientific Process Guidelines for Woodwinds handout located within the Resource Carousel. As a class, have students create a sample hypothesis regarding the pitch that will be created by blowing over the tops of water bottles with air columns of different sizes. The size of the air column is based on the amount of water in each bottle. As a class, create a prediction based on the hypothesis, using the following format: “If our hypothesis is true then the pitch created should be higher /lower when the air column is longer /shorter.”

3. 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

4. Test the hypothesis within the groups. Students should fill four water bottles to different, measured levels. Students should record their observations on the 'Scientific Process Outline for Woodwinds' handout located within the Resource Carousel.

5. Review the procedural guidelines for Creating Woodwind Instruments handout located within the Resource Carousel and distribute supplies. Play listening examples while students create their instruments, using either the websites or the recordings suggested in Sources.

6. Have students work independently to create their own instruments. Follow the procedural guidelines for 'Creating Woodwind Instruments' handout located within the Resource Carousel.

7. Have students work in small groups to create a hypothesis and prediction regarding the relationship between air column length or size and the pitch it will create.

8. Have small groups test the second hypothesis and prediction using student-created instruments. Have students record their experimental data onto their own 'Scientific Process Outline For Woodwinds' handouts located within the Resource Carousel. Each student must complete the analysis section and the conclusion section independently.


1. Discuss the following questions:

  • What is the relationship between pitch and the size of the air column?
    A longer air column creates a lower pitch. Since a breath travels a shorter distance in a shorter air column, the molecules move faster, creating a higher frequency and thus a higher pitch.
  • What is the name of the branch of science that we have studied?
  • What elements of the listening example influenced the design you created on your windpipe?
    Answers will vary.


Assess the 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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