Sounds Like Science: Bottle Organ
Unmixed Messages - Strategies for Equitable Science Education

Main Idea

By manipulating sound we can arrange a series of notes referred to as a musical scale.


The sounds we hear coming from our instruments are referred to as notes, as in musical “notation.” Each note represents a specific sound. In some ways, notes are like the ABCs of music. Just as we put letters of the alphabet together to form words, we put musical notes together to form a song. A series of notes that increases in pitch at regular intervals is referred to as a musical scale. By understanding how musical instruments work, we can tailor pitch in order to produce the sounds that we want.

Learning Objectives


1 to 1 & 1/2 hours

Introducing the Concept

Discuss the various sounds the students have produced in the other Sounds Like Science activities. Talk about the different sounds that are made by a variety of instruments, as well as the different sounds individual instruments make. Reintroduce the concept of pitch and talk about its relationship to notes, and how sequential notes form musical scales.



  1. Line up a number of bottles along the edge of a table.
  2. Place your top lip on the edge of the bottle and blow so that the air skims the top of the bottle. You may need to adjust your lips and tongue—your embouchure—in order to produce sound.
  3. Compare the sounds of the different-sized bottles. See if you can detect the different pitches and arrange your bottles from the lowest to highest pitch.
  4. Add some liquid to the bottles to see if the pitch of your notes changes. Add some of the other things such as sand, coins, or pebbles to the bottle, as well, to see how the sound is affected.


Teaching Tips

Science All Around Us

Sometimes music appears in places where least expected. An otologist uses musical notes (a variety of pitches) to test hearing. Discuss with your students how such a doctor might go about testing their hearing. Talk about some of the instruments that might be used for a hearing test.


Sounds Like Science - Drums

Sounds Like Science - Guitars

Sounds Like Science - Kazoo

Sounds Like Science - Jamboree

The Hidden Jewels of Geometry

Association for the Promotion and Advancement of Science Education
APASE - Promoting Science Education

This activity copied from APASE of Vancouver, Canada, which has regrettably disappeared from the Web.
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