Physics Brings Music to Class with Instrument Projects

Kayla Leonard ’20

Each year, the physics classes bring science to life through various projects that enhance students’ knowledge of the connection between physics and everyday life. These projects range from the annual Balloon Car Race earlier this year to the awaited Rube Goldberg projects in June. In March, Mrs. Elena Shtraks’ and Mr. Kevin Haimowitz’ physics classes undertook the Music Instrument Project, where each student discussed the relationship between their chosen instrument and physics, followed by a short musical performance. 

“Students need to find connections between sound, music, and their musical instrument,” said Shtraks, Physics I Honors teacher. “It’s between physics and the musical instrument that some of them have in their everyday life.”

After deciding on an instrument, students were to create PowerPoint presentations covering its history and connection with physics. They also had to discuss how the instrument produces sound, as well as the science behind why the musical sound is pleasing. Their presentations included important physics quantities: frequency, amplitude, overtone, and resonance. Lastly, each student was required to demonstrate how the instrument’s notes were different and play a short melody.

Mrs. Shtraks’ students began presenting in class on Thursday, March 7 and Mr. Haimowitz’ class started on Tuesday, March 12.

This project has been a part of the curriculum for more than ten years and each year brings about new and unique instruments, which makes for exciting performances. This year’s event included a great variety. Mark Huggins ’20 brought a didgeridoo, a wind instrument derived from Northern Australia. A number of others played hit songs on the keyboard, drums and guitar. 

“Year by year, [presentations] are different,” said Shtraks. “Sometimes students bring native instruments, like Mark, or what they have from home and that’s very interesting.”

Notable performances included a rendition of Happy Birthday on the accordion by Brooke Berrigan ‘20, Ferling Etude No. 3 on the saxophone by Zachary Abdelsalam ‘20, and an acoustic guitar performance of Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water by Jack Jones ‘20. Ukulele performances by Gabriela LaRosa ‘20, who played Lava from the 2015 Disney short film, and Olivia Shpiruk ‘20 with a rendition of Riptide by Vance Joy were also big hits. 

“The project helped me understand how sound waves are tied into musical instruments and how when you play the different notes, it has to do with these sound waves being produced by different frequencies, wavelengths, and amplitudes,” said Berrigan, who taught herself to play by watching YouTube tutorials online. 

This project showed students how physics concepts can apply to everyday life, while also displaying many students’ exceptional musical talent. Numerous students were excited to share the origins of their chosen instrument and perform for their class. 

“Prior to the project, I just knew how [the saxophone] worked in musical terms rather than physics,” said Abdelsalam. “[The project] helped me understand the more scientific aspects of my instrument.”

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