Science project

The Effect of Ambient Temperature on the Ability to Rock and Roll

Research Questions:

  • What does it mean to have an ‘opposable’ thumb?
  • What does it mean to hit a clear note as opposed to a ‘staccato’ note in music?
  • What is dexterity, and how does it apply to playing an instrument?
  • What is a musical scale? How many notes can it have?
  • How does the body regulate temperature?
  • What is homeostasis, and how does it apply to blood flow in extremities?

The hand has some of the most complex musculature in the human body. Each finger has an independent muscle/tendon system for movement, which allows for independent movement of each, as well as our ability to oppose our thumbs, a trait largely credited to our use of tools and the subsequent enlargement of the brain case. Since our hands are extremities, they are considerably more affected than our core when exposed to temperature fluctuations. Blood vessels will constrict and/or dilate under temperature fluctuation, and this will affect the functioning and dexterity of the hand. We can measure the effect quantitatively by seeing how well the hand performs a complex activity at different temperatures. Since playing guitar- or any musical instrument- involves many complex movements, it is an ideal vehicle for this measurement.


The materials you will need are:

  • A guitar and a guitar player
  • A recording device, preferably a computer program like Garage Band or ProTools.
  • If you are using a recoding device that does not digitally display time, like the above mentioned, you will need a stopwatch.
  • A sink with hot and cold running water
  • A thermometer

You probably know where to get most of these materials. Ask around for a guitar player, or play yourself. If you choose to purchase Garage Band or ProTools- both expensive- you can find the software at any Apple Store, though if you do spend that time of money, you probably want to use the programs for other things than just this project. Most any school science lab will have a thermometer you can borrow, or you can purchase one at the hardware store.

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Fill up the sink with water and take the temperature with the thermometer.
  2. Practice changing the temperature and measuring it for a while. You don’t need the intervals to be exactly the same amount of degrees apart, but it will make for more meaningful data if you can come close. Shoot for increments of 5 or 10 degrees.
  3. When you have a notion of the approximate temperature difference by feel, go and get your guitar player. Make sure you keep a few things constant- the guitar player should not have played guitar earlier in the day, and you probably want to do this the same time every day if you can.
  4. On day one, start with the coldest temperature you can manage. Have the guitar player immerse his or her hands in the water for 3 minutes.
  5. Have the guitar player then remove his/her hands from the water, and pick up the guitar. You can have them play any scale, as long as it is the same one every time. Have them play the scale over and over as fast as they can for 60 seconds. Record it as they play.
  6. Later, listen to how many notes they played in the course of a minute, knowing that there are 8 notes in a typical Western scale. You will have to discount any notes that came out too staccato or muted, as they did note properly strike the note. If you use a 60 second interval, you automatically have a figure in notes/second.
  7. Repeat steps 3-6 for at least 10 different temperatures if you are using 5 degree increments or 5 different temperatures for 10 degree increments.
  8. Enter your raw data into a table. If you want a more complete data set, use the same technique on different guitar players, and average the data.
  9. Use a line graph to show the relationship between temperature and notes per second.

Terms/Concepts: Muscles; Tendons; Blood flow; Dilation; Constriction; Opposable thumb; Dexterity; Musical notes; Musical scales; Percussive stroke (as applied to stringed instruments); Homeostasis


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