Kenan Fellows Program Logo and page header graphic


Lesson Four: How can we view and distinguish sounds?


Sounds can be turned into computer generated pictures so that we can see what we hear. These pictures are called spectrograms (sonograms). Spectrograms are represented with frequency being on the X axis and time on the Y axis. Raven lite is an interactive sound analysis program that can be downloaded for free. This will enable the teacher and students to upload sounds and perceive them visually.

Learning Outcomes:

The students will recognize that animal vocalizations can be represented with spectrograms. The students will be able to identify what is shown on the spectrogram.

Curriculum Alignment:

National Science Education Standards

Content Standard A: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

  • Understanding about scientific inquiry.
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses.

Content Standard B: Physical Science

  • Position and motion of objects
  • Sound is produced by vibrating objects. The pitch of the sound can be varied by changing the rate of vibration.

Content Standard C: Life Science

  • The characteristics of organisms
  • Organisms and their environments

Content Standard E: Science and Technology

  • Abilities of technological design
  • Understanding about science and technology
  • Abilities to distinguish between natural objects and objects made by humans.

NCSCOS Music Objectives

Goal 6:

The learner will listen to, analyze, and describe music. (National Standard 6)

  • 6.02 Demonstrate perceptual skills by conducting, moving, answering questions about, and describing aural music examples of various styles and cultures.
  • 6.03 Use appropriate terminology in explaining music, music notation, music instruments and voices, and music performances.
  • 6.04 Identify visually and aurally a variety of instruments including many orchestra and band instruments, and instruments from various cultures.
  • 6.05 Identify solo and group vocal timbres including children's voices, and male/female adult voices.
  • 6.07 Show respect while listening to and analyzing music.

Goal 8:

The learner will understand relationships between music, the other arts, and content areas outside the arts. (National Standard 8)

  • 8.01 Identify similarities and differences in the meanings of common terms used in the other arts.
  • 8.02 Identify ways in which the principles and subject matter of other content areas taught in the school are related to those of music.


One 60 minute periods


  • An assortment of animal picture cards
  • Audio recordings of animal sounds (calls or songs)
  • Spectrograms of animal calls
  • Audio recordings of various instruments and audio recordings of the human voice.

Technology Resources:

Raven lite Interactive Sound Analysis Software



Review the sounds of the spring peeper frog and the bullfrog with the students. Ask them to vocally and rhythmically imitate the calls. Repeat the sounds and re-arrange (alter) the patterns. Students will duplicate the arrangements through echo singing. Show students two spectrograms, one for each frog call. Discuss which spectrogram belongs to each frog. Accept all reasonable responses.


Ask students what they listen for in matching an animal to a call or song. Discuss the difference between sound words such as meow, oink and moo and the actual sounds the animals make to communicate. Give students animal picture cards and have students listen to approximately six calls from the wild music website. They should fill in the data table below during this part of the activity. Students will decide which animal they think made the call. Next they will listen to the same animal sounds and view six spectrogram printouts. Have them listen to the sounds again and elaborate on utilizing their knowledge of pitch and rhythm to identify the appropriate spectrogram. Students should fill in the last section of their data table with a sketch of the correct spectrogram.


Animal Calls or Songs Animal Prediction Actual Animal Spectrogram


Sounds Like: Looks Like: (students shade or draw in)
1.GGRRRRR xxxXXXXXX Lion Alligator

Discuss with students the various sounds animals make and how they can have a number of vocalizations. Complete a Venn diagram with the class to identify similarities and differences of human and animal sound qualities.


Discuss how frequency and time are represented on the spectrogram. Ask what they notice about the height, duration and frequency of the spectrograms? Compare how pitch correlates to frequency. Make connection between a spectrogram and vibration. A spectrogram represents pitch and vibrations are represented using a seismograph. Elaborate how a seismograph would represent the vibrations of an elephant in the wild.


Compare the human voice to an animals “voice.” Discuss the distinctive qualities of both. Identify how we process the differences of sound and its origin because of timbre. Timbre is the character or quality of a sound that distinguishes one instrument, voice or other sound source from another. Compare the human voice to the animal recordings. Have class close their eyes and listen to an unidentified classmate’s voice. Have the student repeat the same thing but alter the pitch high or low. Explore recorded examples of the male and female voice, adult and baby voice, timpani, trumpet, piccolo, maraca and piano. Students will accurately identify the sounds and its origin. Listen to a recording Peter and the Wolf. Have students analyze and interpret the “animal voices” and the instrumentation which replicates their voice. Have students classify the instrument’s family and voices with high frequencies and low frequencies. Listen to recorded examples of the human voice to distinguish timbre in human vocalizations – soprano, alto, tenor and bass.


Have students look at a thrush song from the Wildmusic website and view the spectrogram as the bird sings. Also, discuss changes in acoustic properties and how they affect frequencies. Encourage students to strike the tuning fork on the table verses the carpet. Students will elaborate on the acoustical difference in sound.


Science Notebook entry with data table including sounds, sound representations, animal predictions, animal results and spectrogram sketch.

Venn diagram of human and animal sound qualities.


  • Spectrogram — two-dimensional visual representation of sound, plotting frequency against time. A sound spectrogram is like musical score
  • Frequency – the number of waves produced per second which is the same as the number of vibrations produced per second
  • Classifying — grouping entities based on their common relationships
  • Timbre — the character or quality of a sound that distinguishes one instrument, voice or other sound source from another
  • Soprano — highest-ranged voice, normally possessed by women or boys
  • Alto – lowest -ranged female voice
  • Tenor — highest-ranged male voice
  • Bass – lowest ranged voice, possessed by men
  • Trumpet — a musical instrument in the brass family. It has the highest register in the brass section
  • Piccolo — a small flute; highest pitched woodwind; pitched an octave above the standard flute
  • Maraca — simple percussion instruments, usually played in pairs, consisting of a dried calabash or gourd shell or coconut shell filled with seeds or dried beans. They may also be made of leather, wood, or plastic. ...
  • Piano — a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard that produces sound by striking steel strings with felt hammers
  • Timpani — the first percussion instrument with definite pitch
  • Percussion instrument – a musical instrument that is sounded by striking, shaking, rubbing, or scraping. Instruments such as drums , maracas, tambourines and bells fall into this category
  • String instrument – a musical instrument that produces sound by means of vibrating strings thru bowing, plucking or striking. The most common string instruments in the string family are guitar, violin, viola, cello, double bass, banjo, mandolin and ukulele
  • Woodwind instrument – a musical instrument which produces sound when the player blows air against the mouthpiece causing air to vibrate within a resonator. Most of these instruments were originally made of wood, but some, such as the saxophone and most flutes, are now commonly made of other materials such as metals or plastics
  • Brass instrument — a metal musical instrument whose tone is produced by vibration of the lips as the player blows into a tubular resonator. Trumpets, tubas, trombones and french horns are members of the brass family.