Science At Play: Pitch Cups

Post Author: Kate Saulsbery & Justin Reily

Materials to Collect

  • Multiples of same kind of cup
  •  Water
  •  Silverware

Try it Out

  1. Fill your cups with varying amounts of water.
  2. Tap the sides of the cups with your silverware. Make sure to tap above the water line.
  3. Make some unique, homemade music!

What is the Science? 

All sounds are caused by vibrations. You can investigate with this by placing your fingers on the sides of your throat and humming. By changing these vibrations, we change the sound! One way sounds can differ is pitch, or how high or low the sound is. By changing the amount of water in the cups, you are changing the amount of air in the cup above the water. Different amounts of air vibrate differently and make different pitches! Use your different pitches to create some new songs!

 Ask Your Young Scientists

  • What do you hear when you tap all the cups? Do they sound the same or different?
  • If we wanted to make a certain cup make a higher sound, what could we do? What if we wanted it to be a lower sound?
  • Can you make high and low sounds while touching your throat? Does your throat vibrate the same or differently?

More to Explore

  • Try different types of cups or tap your cups with different types of materials. Does it sound the same?
  • What if you use the same amount of water in cups that are different shapes or sizes?
  • Another way to investigate pitch is by stretching rubber bands to different lengths. Stretch one rubber band just a little, while stretching another really far. Have your scientist pluck the rubber bands like guitar strings and listen to the sounds they make. Do they sound the same or different?


Kate Saulsbery graduated from Russell Sage College with a degree in Childhood Education and Life Sciences. She is a STEM Educator at the Connecticut Science Center who loves working with early elementary students and the Science Center’s Teen Program.



Justin Riley is the Teen Programs Coordinator and STEM Educator at the Connecticut Science Center, where he works closely with high school students giving them access to STEM and leadership programming. Justin graduated from the University of Hartford with his Bachelors in Electrical Engineering Technology and a Masters degree in Counselor Education and Student Development. Justin has worked several years with a wide range of students from pre-k to college. His love of engineering and mentoring led him to the Connecticut Science Center where he gets to use his many talents to work and connect with the students in the Greater Hartford area. When he is not helping to run the teen program, he spends his time traveling and spending close time with family and friends.

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