Standing Wave
Light, Sound and Waves

Musical instruments

Practical Activity for 14-16 PRACTICAL PHYISCS


This experiment could supplement a few demonstrations about standing waves, with students playing their own musical instruments.

Apparatus and Materials

  • Oscilloscope
  • Microphone
  • Ore-amplifier (if necessary)
  • Assorted musical instruments

Health & Safety and Technical Notes

Read our standard health & safety guidance

Connect the microphone to the AC input of the oscilloscope. Initially set the timebase to 1ms/div.


Use the oscilloscope to examine the different waveforms of the sounds produced by different instruments.

Teaching Notes

  • Standing waves are set up when musical instruments are either plucked, blown, struck, or stroked. Usually the standing wave pattern is a complex one, and waves of several different frequencies are present.
  • Useful references include the following:
    • Science Enhancement Programme booklet Voicebox: the physics and evolution of speech - available from Mindsets:


    • Charles Taylor (1992) Exploring Music: The Science and Technology of Tones and Tunes Bristol: Institute of Physics Publishing
    • Scientific American (1978) The Physics of Music San Francisco: W H Freeman and Company

This experiment has yet to undergo a health and safety check.

Standing Wave
is a special case of Interference
is used in analyses relating to Resonating Pipe Oscillating String
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