Games for Exploring Timbre
For his fourth birthday, Brycen received a rhythm band set. He enjoyed playing with all the instruments, and his mom, Kyleigh, was delighted that he seemed to be musically inclined. Then one day she found him playing with the maracas in a rather unusual way – he was stomping on them! “Don’t do that,” Kyleigh said instinctively. “You’ll break them!”
Brycen calmly explained, “I’m trying to break them. I need to see what’s inside them that makes the noise.”
Most children don’t go as far as Brycen, but all young children are fascinated by sounds. Naturally curious, they want to know where sounds come from, how they are made, and why different objects make different sounds. The unique sound quality of each instrument, object, or material is called its timbre (pronounced tamber).
Timbre exploration helps young children to develop sensitive listening skills. Listening skills are critical to successful learning in language, music, and science, since scientific practices require careful observation using all our senses.
Playing with sound and timbre also helps children to think creatively, imagining what objects could be making different sounds, or how sounds could be used in songs or storytelling. Unfortunately, this particular kind of creativity can be remarkably loud and annoying! Few adults would be willing to listen to a four-year-old banging on every surface available with a toy hammer, for instance, as one young friend of mine did!
The good news is that there are many ways we can encourage children’s curiosity about timbre, without needing earplugs or aspirin! Here are some timbre exploration games you can enjoy with your young students.
Shake it Up! Take a small clear plastic jar with a lid, such as a peanut butter jar. Fill it one-third to one-half full of rice, screw the lid on securely, and shake. Then try different sound “fillings” such as oat-ring cereal, small plastic building bricks, paper clips, mini- marshmallows, and other small objects. Can the children predict what each filling will sound like? Which timbre do they like best?
What’s That Sound? While children cover their eyes, make sounds using different common objects. You might turn a page of a book or newspaper; bite into an apple; tap a fork on a plate; turn on a water faucet; pour cereal into a bowl; or use other sounds children hear frequently. See if your students can guess what the sound is. Just for fun, close your eyes and have your group “test” you on different sounds, too.
Copy My Sound. Have children close their eyes. Then make a sound using only your body – voice, lips, teeth, tongue, hands, fingers, knuckles, feet, or whatever else you can think of! Ask your students if they can copy the timbre you made. Then it’s their turn to challenge you!
Young children love to experiment and discover things for themselves. These games will encourage an active curiosity about the world of timbre and help your students to think creatively about music and science concepts.