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Music to Our Ears

Discover the benefits of designing for function by creating musical instruments!

Goal: To understand the benefits of designing for function before building an invention so the desired result is achieved.

Time: 30 minutes to an hour

Space: Desk or table


For your Music Maker:

  • plastic and paper cups
  • paper plates
  • beans
  • beads
  • jingle bells
  • paper towel rolls
  • pipe cleaners
  • paper straws
  • waxed paper
  • combs
  • rubber bands
  • balloons
  • popsicle sticks
  • plastic salad bar containers
  • aluminum foil
  • and other found objects


  • Set up a work space for your child with supplies that include Music Maker materials, tape, stapler, pencils and “Music to Our Ears” and “My Invention Design” handouts.
  • Optional:  Preview the episode or clip, and if using them with your child, cue up the videos via the links above.


  1. Invite your child to share times when he’s made plans before doing something. Ask: Why do we make plans? (To help us think about something ahead of time to avoid problems later.) Discuss how inventors often make plans before they build their inventions. These plans, or designs, help them think about what they want their inventions to do and how, and help them avoid problems.
  2. Optional: Use the episode or clip to further explore this idea.
  3. Give your child the “Music to Our Ears” and “My Invention Design” handouts.
  4. Allow time for him to examine and make sounds with the instrument-making materials provided. Have him use the “My Invention Design” handout to write about his ideas for a Music Maker and sketch a plan that shows what parts it should include.
  5. To help your child think of sounds he might make, talk about ways that some familiar musical instruments make sound (striking, plucking, blowing, shaking, vibrating, etc.). TIP: If your child has trouble coming up with ideas, use “Ideas to Get You Started” to make suggestions.
  6. After your child has designed his invention, have him build it. Then have him check the sound the invention makes against the original plan. Is he getting the sound he wanted? If not, have him revise his design, or set a new goal to fix the problem.
  7. Invite your child to talk about his instrument and the different ways he found to make different sounds.
  8. Make another Music Maker!

Take It Further

Share this activity’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) connections and invite your child’s comments:

Before building an invention, it is important that inventors think about what they want their invention to do. To be sure they get their desired result, they might list specific objectives and sketch a design. This process is called designing for function. In this activity, you identified what sounds you wanted your instrument to produce and made sketches to follow as you built it.

Talk About it

Ask: What did you learn about the invention process from this activity that you didn’t know before?

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Produced by: Funding is provided by:
WNET logo   National Science Foundation logo Northrop Grumman logo Ernst & Young logo Corporation for Public Broadcasting logo
Additional funding provided by the Volckhausen Family

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