Progressive Wave
Light, Sound and Waves

Transverse waves along a rope

Practical Activity for 14-16 PRACTICAL PHYISCS

Class practical

Introduce the concept of a transverse wave by drawing attention to a wave pulse as a displacement at right angles to the direction of travel along a rope.

Apparatus and Materials

  • For each student pair
  • Length of flexible rope (the longer the rope the better, minimum length 3 metres). The rope should be a massive, loose rope - not a stiff one.

Health & Safety and Technical Notes

Read our standard health & safety guidance

A lot of space is needed for students to demonstrate waves along ropes. If the whole class is to do this at one time, arrange to use a long, wide corridor or the school hall.


  1. Students work in pairs, each holding one end of the rope in mid-air. One tries to hold the rope still. The other uses a hand to jerk one end of the rope up and quickly down, stopped on the wrist of his/her other hand.
  2. Alternatively, this could be done on a bench or on the floor.
  3. If the rope is held in mid-air, pulses are likely to reflect back and forth several times.

Teaching Notes

  • Draw students’ attention to the way that the pulse diminishes in size as it moves along the rope. You may also want them to observe the inversion of the pulse after each reflection.
  • Challenge the student holding the far end of the rope not to let their hand move. That they cannot do so always surprises and intrigues them - and makes it clear that energy is being delivered.
  • Students may produce both continuous waves and standing waves without further instruction.
  • To produce standing waves: mark off the rope into equal segments, such as fifths. Holding the ends of the rope tightly, each person makes a loose ring with a finger and thumb round the rope at the nearest marked point. One person then moves the rope up and down, adjusting the frequency until the 5-loop motion builds up. Different resonances can be produced, of course, by changing the frequency or the tension. This impedance matching will produce an effective standing wave.

This experiment was safety-tested in February 2006

  • This video shows how to model transverse waves using a simple to construct wave machine:

Limit Less Campaign

Support our manifesto for change

The IOP wants to support young people to fulfil their potential by doing physics. Please sign the manifesto today so that we can show our politicians there is widespread support for improving equity and inclusion across the education sector.

Sign today