Discover Sound with Ada’s Violin

Discover Sound with Ada’s Violin

“With this project the people are not only building instruments, they build hope.” –Pepe Vargas

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What will YOU build today? Today, we will meet the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, the inspiration for the book Ada’s Violin, and make our own musical instruments out of recycled materials found around the house. We will also explore sound and conduct experiments to take a closer look at frequency and pitch. These activities include things that will help your child develop fine and gross motor skills, problem-solving and engineering skills, and can help them engage in cooperative play, while fostering creativity and perseverance. Feel free to throw in your own activities that might relate, and don’t forget to post your results to social media and tag @discoverymuse to share with everyone else!

“The world sends us garbage…We send back music.” — Favio Chavez, Orchestra Director

The Orquesta de Instrumentos Reciclados de Cateura is a youth orchestra like no other in the world. They literally live on a landfill in Paraguay. The orchestra came together in 2006, but first they had to assemble their own ingenious instruments. Chavez worked with a trash worker and carpenter using raw materials such as discarded barrels, tins, drainpipes and bottle caps – even X-rays. With the musical instruments they’ve fashioned from garbage, they perform at concert halls around the world, even opening for Metallica.

Learn More About the Recycled Orchestra

Listen to Ada’s Violin

Get to know Ada and the orchestra through this read-aloud with Katie Moss of the Handley Regional Library. Sit back and enjoy Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern-Comport.

STEAM Challenge: Create a Playable Musical Instrument Using Recycled Materials


  • Recycled materials (plastic bottles, straws, tubes, cardboard, string, boxes, containers, fabric scraps, bottle caps, etc.
  • Construction paper
  • Tape or Glue
  • Scissors
  • Rubber Bands
  • Beans/rice/beads

Challenge: Using only the materials given, can you make a playable musical instrument?

Most of the materials you use should be recycled materials to show how things can be reused and repurposed. There are no step by step instructions. Please create whatever you think will make the best instrument. Just be sure you can create music on it.

Conversation Starters: Recycling Facts 

  • Recycling creates new products from old materials.
  • A recycled aluminum can saves the same amount of energy it takes to run your TV for 3 hours!
  • Aluminum cans that are thrown away instead of recycled may stick around for 500 years!
  • Half a million trees have to be cut down just to print the Sunday newspaper each week!
  • If everyone recycled just newspapers, we could save 250 million trees each year!
  • Americans use over 2.5 million plastic bottles every 30 minutes!
  • Plastic bags that are thrown into the ocean instead of recycled kill about 1 million sea animals each year!
  • One drip per second of a leaky faucet wastes over 540 gallons of water a year.
  • Glass and Metal can be recycled over and over again!
  • If all the plastic bottles Americans throw away were recovered, they could circle the world 4 times!
  • Every time we recycle we help our environment a little bit more!

Discover Sound

Sound is made up of vibrations, or sound waves, that we can hear. Sound waves travel through air, water, and solid objects. When the sound waves reach our ears, they make our eardrums vibrate. Our amazing brain recognizes these vibrations as the sounds of different things. The size and shape of the sound waves determines what sounds our brain hears. Today, follow along with Mr. Barry, a friend of the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum, as he uses music to demonstrate pitch (how high or high low a sound is) and frequency (how fast or slow a vibration is).

Sound Experiments: Let’s Play With Sound

Sound Experiments You Can Do At Home

Observe Sound Waves

What You’ll Need: Bowl, plastic wrap, uncooked rice, metal pan, wooden spoon


  • Attach the plastic wrap tightly across the surface of the top of the bowl.
  • Place about 1 tsp of rice on the plastic wrap.
  • Holding the metal pan, bang on it with the wooden spoon.
  • Observe what happens to the rice.

Take it a step further! What happens if you try using different amounts of rice, different pans, and  different tools to bang on the pans? What happens if you use something other than rice? Can you change the plastic wrap to foil? Record and compare your observations.

Create a Telephone

In this experiment, sound waves created by talking through the cup travel through the line to the other end, converting back to sound on the opposite side!

Supplies Needed: 

  • 2 paper cups (or 2 yogurt cups)
  • Long string, like fishing line, kite string
  • A sharp pencil or scissors to poke holes in the cups (get a grown up to help)
  • Scissors

What to Do: 

  • Start by cutting a piece of string at least 10 feet long. You can play with the length.
  • Poke a small hole at the bottom of each cup. 
  • Using each end of the string, thread it through the bottoms of the cups, tying a large knot so that the string does not fall out of the cup. If you make the holes too large, use a washer or paper clip to hold the string in place so that it does not pull out of the cup. 
  • Move into position and encourage your family member or friend to move away from you so that the string is far enough to make it tight. Be sure that the string does not touch any other object and that it remains suspended in air as you complete the experiment. 
  • Taking turns, talk into the cup, while the other person listens by putting the cup to their ear. Have your partner repeat what they think you said after you have spoken! 

Xylophone Water Jars

Why do you think some jars will make a lower sound, while others are higher?Play around with the water levels in each jar and experiment with pitch! This sound activity demonstrates how varying levels of water in containers change the pitch of the sound created. 

Supplies Needed: 

  • 4 empty and clean baby food jars (you can also use drinking glasses)
  • 4 different colors of food coloring
  • Water
  • A Spoon

What to Do: 

  • Fill each jar with varying amounts of water. 
  • Add a few drops of food coloring to each jar. 
  • Use the spoon to firmly tap the outside of each jar. What sounds are being made? Which jars have the highest or lowest pitch? 
  • Can you change the pitch by changing the water levels?
  • Can you play a song?

Meet a Real Violinist

Physical Activity

Get some of those wiggles out while learning a little about sound!  Get your whole family together with the recycled musical instruments you made and have a parade or dance party! Take some video or pictures and share the fun with us @discoverymuse on social media! 

Read The Listening Walk by Paul Showers, illustrated by Aliki. Take a listening walk with your family. What sounds do you hear? Can you add them to your nature journal?

Video Resources and Literature Connections

Video Resource: This video covers concepts related to pitch, frequency, amplitude, cymatics, and the effects of sound on matter.

 The Coolest Things Sound Waves Do

Literature Connection:

Sound: Loud, Soft, High and Low by Natalie M. Rosinsky

Sounds All Around by Wendy Pfeffer and Anna Chernyshova