Find out how to make a tissue box guitar and discover what sounds are made of!

At SUPA STEM HQ we had fun getting musical with this super simple tissue box guitar activity. It’s a great way to recycle some old cardboard and learn how sound travels from an instrument to our ears. 

Materials

To create your own DIY tissue box guitar you’ll need:

  • Empty tissue box or shoebox
  • large rubber bands (ideally of different thicknesses, as this will mean each string will make a slightly different sound)
  • two short pencils

If you only have smaller rubber bands, you can still do this activity with a smaller box, or vice versa. 

Before you get going with this tissue box guitar craft, make sure you get 21 STEM activity ideas in our free 32-page eBook too!

Instructions

Here’s how to do this tissue box guitar science project at home:

  1. If you’re using a shoebox, cut a large circle in the centre of the lid and then put the lid back on the box. If you’re using a tissue box, just make sure it’s empty. 
  2. Carefully stretch the elastic bands lengthwise over the box. Make sure they are crossing the circular hole. 
  3. Now push a pencil underneath the bands at one end of the box, widthwise. Do the same at the other end of the box with the other pencil. 
  4. Your ‘guitar’ is ready! If you want to make it look more like a guitar, you can glue an empty kitchen roll tube to one end of the box and decorate with markers and/or stickers. 
  5. Pluck each band (string) with your finger. See what happens if you pluck harder or more softly. See what happens if you pluck more than one at the same time. Does each string make the same noise?

Questions for kids

Here are some questions to get kids thinking and talking about their tissue box guitar. 

  • If you noticed that different rubber bands made slightly different noises, why do you think that was?
  • Why do you think plucking more softly makes a quieter noise, and plucking harder makes a louder noise?
  • Why do you think plucking two strings at once made a louder sound than plucking just one?
  • How do you think the sounds travel from the guitar you made to your ears? 

How does this activity work?

Here’s a run-down on the science behind this DIY tissue box activity.

Sounds are caused by vibrations. A vibration is when an object moves backwards and forwards very quickly. This disturbs the molecules around it. The vibrations travel through gases, solids or liquids and reach our ears. The molecules push the ones next to them and they push the ones next to them and so on. This is what passes the vibrations on. 

When they reach our ears, hair cells inside the ear pick up the vibrations and turn them into electrical signals which travel to the brain. Our brain then turns those signals into a message which we experience as hearing a sound. 

Usually, the faster the vibrations are, the higher the sound that we hear, and the slower the vibrations, the lower the sound. A thin rubber band will make faster vibrations, so you should hear a higher sound, and a thick rubber band will make slower vibrations, making a lower sound. If you look at a stringed instrument, you will notice the strings are of different thicknesses. Even though they are all the same length on a guitar, for example, they make different sounds because they all vibrate differently. 

When you pluck two strings at once, there are a lot more vibrations being produced, and this makes the sound louder. When you pluck a string harder, it makes a louder sound because plucking it harder gives it more energy, and this energy means more powerful vibrations.

These more powerful vibrations can push more air molecules. It’s a bit like if you bump into someone quite hard in a busy room, and they bump into someone else, who bumps into someone else…if you only bump into someone gently, only one other person might get bumped into. 

If your kids enjoyed making their own simple tissue box guitar, they might like creating their own straw panpipes too!

straw panpipes diy at home activity

Don’t forget to grab your free copy of our popular eBook ‘Fun at Home with SUPA STEM’, which includes 21 awesome STEM and STEAM activity ideas which you can do easily at home! Grab your copy here.

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