I was walking down the hall at Moretown Elementary School, coming in from a shortened ECO morning with the 5th and 6th graders, when I heard the melodious strumming of a harp emanating from the school’s gymnasium. I soon learned that representatives from the Vermont Symphony Orchestra were holding an assembly for the entire school. During their performance, one of the presenters demonstrated to the students how the harp works through the transference of vibrations down the plucked strings and into the soundbox, where they are reverberated and amplified.
That afternoon we took Pam Dow’s kindergarten class outside and made our own harps, applying the same principle with springy sticks, twine, and shoe boxes. The sticks were bent over and tied from end to end with the twine so that it looked like a bow. When we placed the bottom of the bow on top of an empty shoe box and plucked the string, the sound amplified in the shoe box just like it did in the harp’s soundbox. Some students experimented with using different lengths of string on their harps to try to produce different notes. We discovered that just like on the harp that the presenter played in the morning, the shorter tighter strings produced a higher pitched note.
While some students were working on their homemade harps, others were producing notes of their own by striking the dead branches of a white pine tree. They began just by whacking the dead branches randomly with a stick, but as they hit short branches, long branches, thin and fat branches, we began to realize that each branch made a different note when we struck it with our sticks. The kindergartners were quick to realize that they could string several notes together in successive order to create a song. We decided to call this tree the "Music Tree" because we could play so many different notes on it. Here is a video of a couple students playing on the Music Tree:
After playing on the Music Tree for awhile, we decided to branch out and explore the musical talents of other trees. We beat sticks against rotten logs, rocks, wide tree trunks and thin trunks. In our experimenting, we came across a young ash tree with particularly rough bark. When we hit it with our sticks, it just made a sort of dull whack, but one of the students noticed that if she rubbed the stick against the rough bark it produced a raspy, zipper-like sound. Here is a video of a couple students explaining the proper technique when playing this tree:
By the end of the day, we had created a veritable symphony of nature between our homemade harps, the Music Tree, and all of the other musical natural materials we discovered! Just another great example of how ECO is providing opportunities for children to build upon what they are learning indoors by utilizing the greatest teacher of them all... nature.