What is sound?

What is sound?
Understand what your child learns about sound and pitch in primary-school science and support their learning at home with hands-on activities and investigations.

What is sound?

Sound is created when something vibrates and sends waves of energy (vibration) into our ears. The vibrations travel through the air or another medium (solid, liquid or gas) to the ear. The stronger the vibrations, the louder the sound. Sounds are fainter the further you get from the sound source.

Sound changes depending on how fast or slow an object vibrates to make sound waves. Pitch is the quality of a sound (high or low) and depends on the speed of the vibrations. Different materials produce different pitches; if an object vibrates quickly we hear a high-pitched sound, and if an object vibrates slowly we hear a low-pitched sound. Sounds are usually a mixture of lots of different kinds of sound waves.

When do children learn about science in primary school?

Children learn about and explore how sound is created and travels in a scientific context in Year 4.

Children may also learn about pitch and volume of sounds in music lessons in other year groups.

How are children taught about sound in the classroom?

This topic is often introduced by asking the children to close their eyes and listen to the sounds they can hear in the local environment, or play a sound matching game to identify sounds where they listen to a range of sounds and identify what is making the sound. A video like this one might be used as a lesson starter:

  • Teachers may use a slinky, tuning forks, ripples on a pond and science video clips to introduce the concept of sound waves/vibrations traveling through air and other materials to the ear.
  • Teachers will discuss sound safety and why people working with loud noises wear ear defenders.
  • Children will explore pitch and loudness using a range of music instruments from around the world, for example drums, recorders, guitars. Children will investigate how to increase the pitch by changing the tightness of a drum skin or the length of a string on a string instrument.
  • Children may carry out investigations to find sound-insulating materials, for example finding the best material to make ear muffs or defenders, and learn these work because the sound doesn’t travel through some materials as well as through others.
  • Children may carry out investigations to explore the distance sound will travel.

Books about sound for children


Learning about sound: activities to do at home

  • Use recyclable items (cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes, plastic yoghurt pots, etc) to make your own musical instruments.
  • Boost the sound that smartphone speakers make to experiment with how sounds are produced and how they can be made louder.
  • Make your own telephone using a long piece of string and two yoghurt pots.
  • See soundwaves in a video filmed at the Science Museum in London.
  • Go on a sound walk and write down or record the sounds you hear in your local environment.
  • Make a sound game by recording a selection of sounds and seeing who can guess what each sound is.