Visualizing Pitch

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Updated on Feb 07, 2012

Grade Level: 7th - 11th; Type: Physics

To find out why musical notes are at the exact pitch they are.

The purpose of this experiment is to learn if there is a reason that musical notes are at the pitches they are. This experiment is designed to find out if there is something special about the sounds of musical notes or if the notes are culturally defined.

  • What are the notes in the musical scale?
  • Do all cultures use the same musical scale?
  • Are there notes that exist in some cultures that do not exist in others?
  • Is there a reason that there are eight notes on the scale?
  • What are flat or sharp notes?
  • When were musical notes invented?
  • Have additional notes been discovered since the invention of the musical scale?

Music is an important part of human culture and humans around the world have invented their own musical instruments. The types of instruments and the sounds they make vary from culture to culture. The way an instrument makes sound also varies from instrument to instrument, with many cultures utilizing a number of different sound generating techniques. Though instruments come in all shapes, sizes and sounds, for the most part, they can all be played together and some sort of harmonization can be made. Musicians commonly gather instruments from around the world together for their orchestrations.

  • A chladni plate
  • Sand
  • An electronic tuner
  • A digital camera

A chladni plate is a specific piece of laboratory equipment that may be difficult to find. You may be able to borrow one from the physics lab of a high school or university. It is likely that the professor or teacher who lets you use the chladni plate will want to be present during your experiment.

  1. Place a thin layer of sand on a chladni plate.

  2. Turn the plate on and adjust the pitch until your tuner registers a C.

  3. Observe what happens to the sand and photograph it.

  4. Repeat this process with the other major notes in the scale: D, E, F, G, A, and B.

  5. Repeat this process with the notes flatted or sharped: Db, Eb, Gb, Ab, Bb OR C#, D#, F#, G#, A#. These two sets of notes are the same. There is no Cb or B#.

  6. Repeat this process with notes that fall between the normal notes. An electronic tuner will help with this as it will display how flat or sharp a note is.

  7. Repeat this process with different octaves.

Terms/Concepts: Harmonic; Musical note; Pitch; Flat; Sharp; Musical scale


Writer and educator Crystal Beran is rarely seen without a pen. Her adventures have brought her to four continents and her quest for answers has led her to discover more questions than she could fill all the pages with. She currently resides in Northern California, where she can be found sipping tea and writing books.

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