Students are familiar with the idea that different materials make different sounds, therefore when asked to explain why an object is making a sound some students will answer by stating a material property

Light, Sound and Waves


For example, "It makes a sound because it is made of metal" or "because it is hard" or "because it is the string is tight".

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

  • Noticing sounds (5-11)

    Ref - SPT HS02 TA03

    What the Activity is for --

    Listening to interesting sounds and beginning to describe them.

    To bring to children's attention the range and variety of sounds that can be heard in different places in their local environment.

    Also, to begin to think about and look for the sources of the sounds.

    View Resource
  • How are we able to hear?  (11-14)

    Ref - SPT So02 TS03

    The first step in answering this question (how do we hear?) is to treat the act of hearing as involving a chain from source (which is vibrating) to medium (which enables the vibrations to pass) to detector (which in this case is you!) For vibrations to travel from source to detector there must be particles of matter in the gap, and these form the medium. If there are no particles then there is nothing to carry the sound from source to detector.

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Eshach, H., Lin, T-C. and Tsai, C-C. () Taiwanese middle school students’ materialistic concepts of sound. Physical Review Physics Education Research, 12, 010119.

    Review sheet

  • Eshach, H. () Development of a student-centered instrument to assess middle school students’ conceptual understanding of sound. Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, DOI: 10. 10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.10.010102.

    Review sheet

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