Many students confuse the effects of changing the amplitude and frequency of a sound wave on the pitch and volume of the sound

Light, Sound and Waves


Diagnostic Resources

The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.

For more information, see the University of York BEST website.

Resources to Address This

  • Separating loud/quiet (loudness) from high/low (pitch)  (5-11)

    Ref - SPT HS02 TL09

    The central learning challenge for children is for them to develop a clear understanding of the difference between describing sounds in terms of loudness (amplitude) and pitch (frequency). There are two separate ways of describing sounds here, and the aim must be to help children differentiate between them.

    View Resource
  • Thinking about actions to take: Quantifying and Using Sound (11-14)

    Ref - So02 TL08

    Some teaching tips include - 

    • showing changing frequency without changing amplitude
    • showing changing amplitude without changing frequency
    • measuring frequency directly, linking this to counting the vibrations

    See also the other resource.

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Barniol, P. & Zavala, G. () Mechanical waves conceptual survey: Its modification and conversion to a standard multiple-choice test. Physical Review Physics Education Research, DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevPhysEducRes.12.010107.

    Review sheet

  • Leccia, S., Colantonio, A., Puddu, E., Galano, S. & Testa, I. () Teaching about mechanical waves and sound with a tuning fork and the Sun. Physics Education, 50 (6) IOPP,


    Review sheet

  • Caleon, I. & Subramaniam, R. () Development and Application of a Three‐Tier Diagnostic Test to Assess Secondary Students’ Understanding of Waves. International Journal of Science Education, 32 (7)


    Review sheet

  • Pejuan, A., Bohigas, X., Jaen, X. and Periago, C. () Misconceptions about sound among engineering students, J Sci Educ Technol, 21,


    Review sheet

2023 IOP Awards

Teachers of Physics Awards

Recognising and celebrating outstanding contributions to the field of physics education.

Learn more