Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Make Your Own Musical Instrument

Robert Coursey


Students create paper straw instruments to produce a sound and discover changes in tone or pitch in relation to length of the straw.


The student understands how music is related to other subjects (e.g., how vibrations, which are studied in science, produce musical sounds).


-Paper drinking straws (plastic will not work), at least two per student.
-Safety scissors


1. Purchase enough paper drinking straws to have at least two per student as they may cut the straws wrong on the first try and not be able to produce a tone or sound. Plastic straws will not work, the straw must be able to be flattened some on the cut end so that the ends of the straw that are cut can vibrate together.
2. On a previous lesson or before passing out straws, be prepared to demonstrate to students how vibrations of an object (lips for brass instruments, reeds for woodwind, vocal chords for voice) produce the sounds we can hear.
3. Have enough safety scissors for each group of students (four or five) to have one pair to use.


Begin the lesson by first demonstrating how vibrations produce sound using a band instrument or, if not available, the human voice. Have the students grouped in fours or fives preferably at a small table or their desks forming a circle.

1. Distribute drinking straws to each student. Tell students not to put the straws in their mouths or get the straws wet as they may not work properly if too damp.

2. Distribute scissors to students and tell them not to attempt to cut their straws until you have demonstrated how to make the instrument.

3. Take a drinking straw and flatten about one end about one inch from the end and cut one end of the straw on a diagonal on both sides of the one end (see attachment). Without changing the length of the straw, blow into the end you have just cut and produce a sound. The end of the straw that is cut will have to be flattened some until the two remaining pieces of the straw are close enough together that they will vibrate when air is blown into the straw.

4. Be sure that students place the cut end of the straw into the mouth when blowing into the straw.

5. Let one student in each group cut the straw and produce a sound until each student has cut the straw properly at the end and produced a tone on the straw. After each student has at least made a sound on the straw have them take turns and cut about an inch off the length of the straw on the opposite end from where they cut the straw to blow into it.

6. Have the students experiment cutting different lengths off the straws from each of the groups (try to have students in each group have a different length of straw).

7. Let each group of students ‘perform’ for the other groups demonstrating which straw produces the highest tone down to the lowest tone.

8. Have students give their explanations as to why they think the tones are different.


Teacher observation during discussion of students and their groups for the following criteria:
1. Students cut straw properly following directions
2. Student are able to produce a sound with their straws
3. Students are able to recognize and distinguish which tones have the higher or lower pitch.
4. Students know how the vibration of the end of the straw produces a sound.
Additional Assessment:
Students write a short paragraph explaining how the sound was produced in the straw and why the pitch or tone changed with the length of the straw. The paragraphs should address the four criteria observed during the discussion and activity. Students who do not indicate understanding of how vibrations work should have an opportunity to confer with the teacher and redo their paragraphs.

Attached Files

This is a diagram of how the straw is to be cut.     File Extension: pdf

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