Music & Science: Music Boxes

music boxes thumbnail
Mustafa Shehadeh/Pixabay

Age Range: Elementary

Learning Objective: Students will learn about and listen to a music box.

ENGAGE students

DISCUSS. “What is a music box? Take a look at the picture above. How do you think that contraption makes sound and music? As you look at the music box mechanism above, think about which part of the mechanism vibrates, or creates the sound wave that we hear.”

Music box elements
ARBlackwood/Wikimedia Commons

EXPLAIN. “Here is a diagram. The ratchet lever [1] rotates the cylinder [2], the pins pluck the comb teeth [3] which produces the music. The whole thing rests on the bedplate [4]. Sometimes this mechanism is put into a decorative box.”

REFLECT. “Can a music box mechanism create different songs, or can each cylinder play only one song?”

EXPLORE sounds

LISTEN. Say, “Let's listen to some music played by a music box. Music boxes can be programmed to play just about anything, like Mozart's Turkish March, or Queen's We Are the Champions.”

WATCH. Introduce the video by saying, “The composer Lembit Beecher used a music box in his piece Sophia's Wide Awake Dreams. This piece is part of an opera about a girl who carries a music box with her and is constantly using her imagination. The sounds you hear represent Sophia's imagination.

“The video below shows performers playing Sophia's Wide Awake Dream No. 1 and Sophia's Wide Awake Dream No. 2., one right after the other. In addition to the music box, you will see and hear a string quartet (two violins, a viola, and a cello) as well as something the composer calls ‘sound sculptures.’ In this case, these sound sculptures are a spinning bicycle wheel and some rotating wine glasses. They make sounds and the composer uses a computer to process these sounds. As you watch, notice the spinning bicycle wheel and the rotating glasses.

“Draw a box like the one below. There are two sections – one for each dream. As you listen, draw what you think might be going on in Sophia's imagination.”

Sophia’s imagination
Katie Condon

EXTEND learning

LEARN. Want to see how a music box is built? Take a look at this page to see many different kinds of handmade music boxes.

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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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