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How do you make synthesised drums with different pitch?


Core National Curriculum links

Science, Computing

Other National Curriculum links


Main engineering principles

  • Pupils are engaged in the purposeful practical problem solving
  • Pupils take ownership of the design and make process
  • Pupils embrace and learn from failure
  • Pupils’ curiosity and creativity is responded to
  • Pupils draw on a range of thinking skills and personal capabilities


About a lesson


System thinking, Adapting, Problem finding, Creative problem solving, Visualising, Improving

EDP stages

Imagine, Create, Improve

Resources required

Cardboard, aluminium foil, scissors, glue, Makey Makey kit, laptops (with Scratch software installed), internet access

Summary of activity

Pupils make a drum synthesiser, giving smaller drum sizes for higher pitch and larger drums a lower pitch.

To open the activity

Similarities and differences: pupils explore a variety of different sized real drums - discuss what they notice about their different sizes, pitch, materials etc then share as a whole class. 
Review vocab needed for the lesson as apt - e.g. synthesiser/pitch/volume/tension/circuit/conductor/insulator

The main activity

N.B. If pupils are unfamiliar with the Makey Makey kits and/or Scratch, a separate introductory lesson may be required to allow pupils time to explore these.  Pupils should also have some understanding of electrical circuits, conductors and insulators.
Upload a selection of different pitch sound files to each laptop prior to the lesson.  
1. Put the pupils into mixed ability groups of 3.  Share the resources available to the pupils and display the engineering problem on the class whiteboard.  Explain that they must work collaboratively to make a drum kit which can be played to make different sounds.
2. Allow thinking and planning time in their groups, encourage pupils to explore other examples by researching using their laptops.  They can then map out some brief design ideas on A3 paper for their synthesiser.
3. Pupils then begin to prepare their resources - preparing a cardboard base, cut different size foil "drums", attach these to the base, then attached the Makey Makey crocodile clips. 
4. Stop and show pupils how to program scratch to play a different sound file when each drum in touched with their hand/drum stick.  
5. Hold regular mini-plenaries where pupils share their designs in progress. What is working well? What needs improving?
6. Pupils continue to work on their designs, making improvements and reviewing successes and failures throughout.

Challenge and support

Less able pupils:
a) will be supported by their peers during the design and make process  
b) may require a crib sheet for as a reference when programming and attaching sound files  

More able pupils:
a) may create conductive drum sticks (understanding that they still need an earth as part of a complete circuit) by attached the earth to themselves, or the foil of their drumstick
b) could download additional/different drum sounds from a suitable sound file website

To finish the activity

Ask pupils to share their kits and explain how they work.  Share WWW and EBI.  What did they learn? What would they do differently next time? How is a synthesised drum different to a real drum in terms of pitch/volume? Why would we still need to make smaller drums higher pitched on a synthesised instrument?  - Consider the end user and their needs.

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