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Drink it in

When you use glasses of water as musical instruments, your child learns about pitch.

By Paul Bakeman, consulting educator

With this fun and simple activity, your child can practice playing a familiar tune and might even create her own song.

What you'll need

  • Three water glasses of the same size
  • A metal or wooden spoon
  • Three types of food coloring and three magic markers to match
  • A blank sheet of paper

How to do it

Fill the glasses with different levels of water and tap on them with a spoon. Help your child to discover what happens when water is added or taken away. She should realize that when water is added the pitch goes up, and when water is taken away the pitch goes down.

Using trial and error, find the water levels that produce notes to simple three-note songs like "Hot Cross Buns" or "Merrily We Roll Along (Mary Had a Little Lamb)." Once you've found the notes, color the water with food coloring using three different colors, one for each glass.

Now your child can be a composer. Help her create her own songs by writing down a series of dashes on a piece of paper, using three magic markers whose colors match the colors in the glasses. After some practice, gather the family and have a water glass xylophone concert!

Paul Bakeman is a music teacher in Virginia and a Teacher of the Year award winner.

Comments from readers

"And now begin their understanding that art and music go together. I have a site where you can see the earliest art. It is divided into Micro lessons. Go to a course in the history of art around the world and click on Australia. Look through it with your children and when you have answered the questions ask one more what might their music might have sounded like. You know that they danced, but what did their music sound like? Using the method described here to make music and if you have someone who can write the notes on music paper you will have each child compose a short piece that another child can play. Let me know if you try to start out our young composers!"
"I think the opposite is true. An empty water glass produces a higher pitch when tapped than a glass filled with water. Search online for 'water glass xylophone' for more info."
"what do you call this type of music produced with water? Is there one word that describes or any fancy word for it?"
"very interesting and an easy and fun way to discover if your child enjoys composing."