Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
SAF Archives  search ask the scientists in the classroom cool science

Guide Index

Turtle Travels

Paradise Postponed

The Pan Man

Big Dish

Dust Busting

Viewer Challenge
in the classroom
TEACHING GUIDES


Science in Paradise: The Pan Man


Scientific American Frontiers travels to Trinidad, where Alan Alda learns to play the steel pan, or drum, in the land where this acoustic instrument originated. Listen to the music of Trinidad's champion steel band, the Renegades. Then find out how to make a steel pan and "wake up" its notes, as demonstrated by master tuners.

Curriculum Links
National Science Education Standards
Related Frontiers Shows and Activities
Activity: Steel Sounds




CURRICULUM LINKS


CHEMISTRY

metals

SOCIAL STUDIES


West Indies history

MUSIC


 

PHYSICAL SCIENCE/
PHYSICS


acoustics, frequency, sound




NATIONAL SCIENCE EDUCATION STANDARDS

SCIENCE AS INQUIRY / PHYSICAL SCIENCE
5-8: Transfer of Energy
9-12: Interactions of Energy and Matter
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
5-8: Abilities of Technological Design, Understandings about Science and Technology
9-12: Abilities of Technological Design, Understandings about Science and Technology
HISTORY AND NATURE OF SCIENCE
5-8
9-12:
Science as a Human Endeavor




RELATED FRONTIERS SHOWS AND ACTIVITIES





ACTIVITY: STEEL SOUNDS

Listen to the steel pan music on this episode of Frontiers. When the musician's stick hits the surface of a pan, the metal vibrates. These vibrations set nearby air particles in motion. When this motion reaches our ears, we detect it as sound.

In this activity, you'll build a steel instrument. Your noise maker, however, won't be constructed from oil drums. Instead, you'll have to settle for stainless steel spoons. With this note-playing 'instrument,' you'll observe the effects of mass and tension on pitch.


MATERIALS

  • stainless steel spoons of varying sizes. (Teaspoon and soupspoon sizes are ideal. Spoons made of aluminum will also work. Be sure to use old spoons no longer in service!)
  • kite string
  • 2 paper cups
  • push pin
  • paper clips
  • scissors
PROCEDURE

  1. Cut two lengths of string about 28 cm long each.

    cup illustration 1
  2. Use a push pin to punch a small hole in two paper cups. Each hole should be centered in the bottom of the cup.

  3. Pass a string halfway through each cup.

    cup illustration 2
  4. Tie a paper clip onto the string end that extends through the inside of each cup. Pull the string taut so that the clip is pulled flat against the inside bottom of the cup (like a string telephone).

    cup illustration 3
  5. Tie the free end of one string to the small spoon. Tie the free end of the other string to the large spoon.

  6. Place one cup over your ear. Its attached spoon should dangle freely.

  7. Strike the hanging spoon with another metal or wooden utensil.

  8. Describe the sound you hear. Listen to the sound that is made when you strike the other spoon. How are the sounds similar? How are they different?

  9. Place a bend in the large spoon just below the spoon's bowl. Strike it again. Has the sound changed?

  10. Place different bends in the spoons to produce a variety of pitches.

QUESTIONS

  1. How does the large spoon sound compare to the small spoon sound?

  2. Why does bending the spoon change its pitch?

  3. What are two ways to change the pitch created by a vibrating object like a spoon or steel pan?

  4. Why do the sounds produced by these vibrating spoons seem so loud?

  5. What is the relationship between the area of the steel pan and the pitch of the note it produces?




PREDICT

Predict the relative pitch made by a more massive serving spoon. Once you've made your guess, check it out!

You can play notes on a steel drum with a click of your mouse at this website: www.smus.se/musikmuseet/pan/pan_play.html






ANSWERS

  1. The large spoon produces a sound of lower pitch.

  2. The bend places a tension in the metal that alters the frequency at which it vibrates.

  3. Change the size or tension in the vibrating material.

  4. Instead of traveling through air, the sound vibrations travel along the kite string. Since solid material is a better conductor of sound, it transfers a much louder noise.

  5. The larger the note area on the pan, the lower the pitch it produces.





 

Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.