Being both a physicist and a musician, I can't teach physics without teaching about music, but we don't have instruments at my school. However, there are creative ways to go around the problem.
You may have seen in other posts in my website about teaching rhythm to students and using slaps (on the desk), claps, and snaps, but on Friday as I was explaining different frequencies, the students really had a difficult time grasping different "pitches". However, having a student learn music theory and learn how to play different notes takes time and can be frustrating.
Instead, why not have each student be in charge of only one note?
Teaching simple rhythms can be pretty quick. It's a small thing that can make learning about sound so much more profound. Each student can be assigned a single note and using rhythm notation, instructed when to play. You can create all kinds of chords with students using simple things like bottles and straws. The students don't have to know what chord they are playing and because they are only in charge of one note, they don't need to know WHAT they are playing only need to know WHEN they are playing it.
The beautiful thing about using bottles with different amounts of water in them or oboes with different lengths is that students can see that a shorter distance corresponds with a higher frequency. It will only be a small step further to get them to articulate that, "Smaller wavelengths mean higher frequencies which sound higher pitched."
The Naked Scientist: Straw Oboe
The Naked Scientist: Blowing on Bottles
In physics class, I plan to start a jug band. I love music and honestly believe that students who play instruments and understand music do better in math in general. Music teaches students about fractions. It teaches them how to recognize patterns and understand the logic behind certain groupings. In terms of physics, I believe it helps them understand different frames of reference. For example, it helps them break down events by time of occurrence: This note is played only on beat 1 while thisb other note follows on beat 2.
We started to learn how to read rhythms by playing two instruments that the students are experts at: snapping and clapping. I overheard one student say to another, "Which do you think sounds more lovely?" as she began writing her composition. I had the idea to bring in more lovely tones by making a jug band. I went to my local supermarket and purchased a Mexican soda called Jarritos.
One of my pet peeves is that prizes are always given to the fastest student or the smartest student. It is always predictable who will win. Sometimes because of this, students give up. In order to prevent that, I picked up everyone's warm up and then shuffled them and drew from the pile. The winner won a Jarritos soda. Their duty was to drink the soda and tell me if the tone produced when they blew on top was lovely. Sure enough, it was.
Now we could add more variety of sounds to our band: snaps, claps, and the different tones produced by bottles. This opens up the discussion to talk about tuning, dissonance, and frequencies without intimidating the students with learning an instrument.
Here is a short video about a jug band. The possibilities are endless!
Kelly Garcia teaches physics in New York City to Latino students using a humourous and hands-on approach. She manages to circumvent the boredom of test-prep with thoughtful and creative projects.