Making Music: Math and Science Out Loud

Wednesday - Sunday
10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.


Making Music: On the right hand side of the building. Go past the Young Explorer's Area and the Planetarium and turn right.

Music means many things to many people, but at its core, all music is built on the same scientific and mathematic principles. In our latest exhibition, nurture your inner musician as you discover the math of music and the science of sound. The exhibition features a variety of instruments and other music-making tools that will help visitors uncover the science behind musical melodies, harmonies, beats, and more.

Math & Music

Everyday Musical Instruments (ft. composer Edward Schocker)

What does music have to do with math? (ft. Alphabet Rockers, Tommy Soulati Shepherd)

How does math play a part in live music? (ft. musician Lou Lou Rosenthal)


Virtual Harp
Come play this virtual stringed instrument. Unlike a real harp, you won’t need to pluck the strings to make musical notes; simply wave your hands next to the virtual strings to hear their pitches. If you play with a friend or two, you can work together to create songs and chords.

Your Stage to Shine
If you’ve ever been to a concert, you probably know that the music is only one part of the performance. At Your Stage to Shine, you can be on the production crew! Be the lighting technician, setting up looks that capture the mood of the music. Or create new visual art to project live on the stage backdrop.

Tone Zone
Play a larger-than-life instrument that allows you to explore how tubes of different lengths produce different pitches. You can also make a new tube instrument by connecting different tubes together. Join up with other visitors to play songs or make chords!

Meet Local Artists
Bay Area musicians talk about what music means to them in these video installations. Hear how they use math and science to understand their musical world.

Code Composer
Build musical compositions using literal building blocks. Each block plays a particular musical snippet. Make melodies by stacking blocks next to each other, and experiment with harmony by arranging blocks on tracks that play together at the same time.

Sound Wall
Everyday things can make music too, especially if you amplify them (make them louder). We’ve coated this wall with things that make interesting sounds. See what kind of music you can make from all of these sounds. You might be surprised by what you can make!

Heart Beats
Music starts with a beat—like a person’s heart beat. Build rhythmic patterns on top of your heart beat pulse and explore what those patterns sound like in different meters or with different instruments. See what happens when the tempo of your heart changes!

Oscylinderscope by Norman Tuck
All sounds start with vibrations. Use the oscylinderscope to investigate the vibrations of guitar strings. Experiment with the ways that changes to the strings lead to different vibrations and sounds.

Proximity Pitch
This musical device reacts to how far away you are from it. Control the pitch by moving your hands: go high to hear a high pitch, like a squeaky mouse, or go low to hear a low pitch, like a whale song. Switch between different instruments and see what the sound waves look like using an oscilloscope.


Virtual Harp

Pythagorean Comma (Video)
This video discusses the math of harmonics, how they are used in tuning, and a surprising mathematical phenomenon known as the Pythagorean Comma.

Chrome Music Lab – Harmonics & Chrome Music Lab – Strings (Simulations)
Explore these simulations to hear what harmonics sounds like and how changing a string’s length affects that string’s pitch. 

Tone Zone

You may have noticed that the longer tubes played lower pitches. This has to do with how the air inside the tubes vibrates and a phenomenon called resonance. The following two videos explain the science, and math, behind resonance. 

Frequency and Resonance | STEM Demonstration (Video)

The Physics of Music: Crash Course Physics #19 (Video)

Heart Beats

Chrome Music Lab – Rhythm (Interactive)
If you had fun making rhythmic patterns in the exhibit, you are invited to explore rhythms further with this online tool.

Golden Ratio for Art Beginners (Video)
The Fibonacci sequence is a famous pattern that occurs in nature and is oftentimes found, and used, in art (This video describes some of the ways it is found in art and nature).

Let This Percussionist Blow Your Mind With The Fibonacci Sequence (Article & Video)
The Fibonacci sequence can also be used in music. Here is an interesting article and video that shows how a musician made a piece of music using the Fibonacci sequence.


by Norman Tuck

This might come as a surprise but the “wave” you saw in the oscylinderscope’s string was actually multiple waves happening at the same time. When you add multiple waves together, you actually end up with a new wave with its own wave properties.

Fourier: Making Waves (Simulation)
This simulation allows you to explore how waves can be added together in this way. 

The mathematics of waves can be really interesting and complex. One mathematical operation, known as the fourier transform, is used frequently in signal processing, including the digitalization of music.

But What is the Fourier Transform? A Visual Introduction (Video)
To learn more about fourier transform, watch this video.

Proximity Pitch

What is Timbre? | Why People Interpret Sounds Differently (Video)
This video does a great job at explaining timbre and how different people can hear the same instrument but have different opinions on its musical sound.

Timbre: Why Different Instruments Playing the Same Tone Sound Different (Video)
This video shows the spectrogram of different instruments playing the same note. While you watch the video, listen to hear how the instruments sound different from each other and observe the spectrogram to see if you can spot differences between the instruments. 

Spectrogram (Interactive)
If you would like to see the spectrogram of your own voice—or instruments—you can do so here.

Plan Your Visit



Age 3+: $20

Kids under 2: FREE

Members: FREE

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