Glovaphone! Amazing Sound Science!

A musical (?!) instrument from just a straw, rubber glove, loo roll and some sticky tape?

Oh yes, let me introduce you to the glovaphone!  To make music we’re going to need a sound wave and to get a sound wave we’re going to need a vibration. The glove of the glovaphone is the bit that vibrates. You will need to stretch it nice and tightly across the end of the loo-roll so that it vibrates well. You could get the glove vibrating just by tapping it like a drum but we’d like to get an even better sound and we do that by blowing air into the glove through the straw. This means the sound carries on as long as we keep blowing. The loo roll (or kitchen roll) tube helps to amplify the sound by providing a greater solid surface to vibrate, which in turn gets more air around it vibrating, increasing the volume of the sound produced.

Once you’re a really good glovaphone player you can even cut a triangle in the end of the straw and combine the glovaphone with a straw oboe, for a really impressive sound!

To make your own follow our instructions below or these from Becky on Rhys Phillips’ ‘Pythagoras Trousers’ radio show.

Make your glovaphone! Image: science made simple (All Rights Reserved)


Great but how does it work?

Sound can indeed be made up of a series of vibrations and the glovaphone is very good at producing such vibrations. But they still need to travel from the instrument to our ears

Sound travels in waves, and we can measure the properties of these waves by looking at their frequency and amplitude


Frequency is really just a measure of how frequently (how often) waves pass a particular point in 1 second.
We measure frequency in Hertz, so if one sound wave passed one particular point in 1 second that would be measured as 1 Hz, and if 100 000 sound waves passed 1 particular point in 1 second that would be measured as 100 000 Hz or 100 kHz

Sound waves have a particular name and form. We call them longitudinal sound waves and they move by squeezing and stretching the stuff (medium) that they move through. The medium that they move through might be air or water or bone or steel or anything! But it does need to be something!

Speed of sound traveling through:
Air 343 meters per second (m/s)(air temperature and humidity can alter this speed)
Water 1,484 m/s
Steel 5,120 m/s

Sound waves always need something to squeeze or stretch so they can move. This is why it is sometimes said (and is mostly true!) that “IN SPACE NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM”, in the vacuum of space sound waves have nothing (or very little) to squeeze and stretch, so sound cannot travel very well at all in space.

Why not take a look at this great video via the RI Channel– What does sound look like

Watch the full video with related content here:

Lets make some waves!

Try waving your hand up and down in front of your face about 4 times per second, you could get a friend to to help you time your waving with their watch or a stop watch. Can you hear the vibrations and sound waves your hand is making? NO!
Human ears can only hear from a frequency of 20 Hz to a frequency of 20 kHz (20,000 Hz), the sound being made by your waving hand is at far too low a frequency for our ears to pick up. And even if you try as hard as you can its just about impossible to move your hand fast enough to reach a frequency of 20 Hz (20 hand movements a second) that we just might be able to hear.
Amazingly though an elephant could hear a frequency of just 4 Hz not through its huge ears, but through its feet!

Ear ear!

That we can hear and identify differing frequencies of sound is thanks to our amazing organ of hearing the human ear.
That collect the sound waves in our outer ear (Pinna)
Pass the sound waves on from outer to middle ear via our auditory canal and eardrum (tympanic membrane)
And via the bones of the middle ear (smallest bones in the human body!) we arrive at the true organ of human hearing the Cochlear, that converts the differing sound frequencies into chemical and electrical signals that are passed along to our brain.

Loud enough for you?

So frequency lets us work out many of the properties of sound waves, but to really understand them we need one more measurement and its called amplitude.
Amplitude is a measurement of the amount of energy that any particular sound wave contains. The more energy (louder) a sound wave contains, the greater the amplitude. If your thinking amplitude sounds a lot like volume then you would be right! We can think of volume as the musical equivalent of amplitude.

Curriculum Links

Key Stage 3:

  • Frequencies of sound waves, measured in hertz (Hz)
  • Sound needs a medium to travel, the speed of sound in air, in water, in solids
  • Sound produced by vibrations of objects.
  • Sound waves are longitudinal
  • Auditory range of humans and animals.
  • Amplitude

Science on the GO!

(Have Glovaphone will Travel!)

Ever wanted to tell someone about all this amazing science?
To make our scientific world so fascinating that people will have no choice but to listen?
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Then check out our pupil science busking training service, now successfully deployed in many schools and institutions throughout the UK and overseas


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