Build Your Own Xylophone

Mallet instrument

Age Range: Elementary

Learning Objective: Students will use household items to explore high/low sounds and develop their pitch discrimination skills.

ENGAGE students

PREPARE. Gather the following materials:

  • 4 (or more) glass jars of the same size and shape. Mason jars or drinking glasses work well.

  • Wooden sticks, such as craft sticks, popsicle sticks, or wooden chopsticks

  • Water

  • Food coloring (optional)

SAY. “Today we will create a water xylophone and think about pitch.”

EXPLORE sounds

LISTEN. Have students a wood stick to tap on each empty jar. Ask, “Do you notice that when they are empty, they all make the same sound?”

MAKE. Fill each jar with a different amount of water. You can be very exact, measuring out 1 cup, 1/2 cup, etc., or be approximate. Add food coloring to the water to make it more colorful and to help tell each jar apart from the others.

LISTEN. Have students tap their jars again, noticing the different sounds. You will notice that more water means a lower pitch. Less water means a higher pitch.

EXPLAIN. “When you tap the glass jar, you create a sound wave. When you add water, the sound travels through water and that changes the sound wave. When the sound wave changes, we hear a different pitch!”

EXTEND learning

Choose one or more of the following activities to extend learning.

EXPLORE. You can also look here or here or here for different ideas about how to make your own water xylophone.

PLAY. See if students can get their water levels to make three next-door-neighbor notes: do, re, and mi. With those, have them try to play a simple, three-note melody like "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or "Hot Cross Buns.

LEARN. Want to know more about mallet instruments? Check out our lesson all about mallet instruments!

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Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

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