Can You See the Music?


Good Vibrations



5-15 minutes

Catch a wave by listening to some sounds, seeing how they travel, and capturing them with both low and high-tech tools.


databot - Innovative STEM education toolSound waves are created by vibrations at the source of the sound, such as a drum beat. These vibrations are transmitted through a medium, such as air, and can be felt physically. This is how a microphone works! As sound waves impact the microphone, a component in it moves. This movement is converted into electrical energy that can then be viewed, recorded, stored, or played back! In this PDQ, you will “see” sound waves causing grains of rice to move as well as see a visual display of the sound’s intensity using Google Science Journal and databot™.



  • That sound is transmitted in waves.
  • A microphone (sound sensor) vibrates from sound waves and converts this vibration to electrical energy.

What You'll Need

  • Cereal bowl or open mouth container to stretch plastic wrap across
  • Rice Grains  -about 1 Tbsp
  • Metal pan or pot and a metal spoon
  • databot™ + Google Science Journal + Arduino ID

Important Terms

Microphone: A microphone, sometimes referred to as a mike or mic (both IPA pronunciation: [maɪk]), converts sound into an electrical signal.

Sound Wave: Sound is a vibration that travels in waves through a medium, such as air (or water, wood, etc.) These invisible waves have specific attributes such as frequency and amplitude. When a sound wave interacts with your eardrum, the vibrations of the wave are converted into a sound that you “hear” thanks to that amazing brain of yours!

Vibration: Vibration is an oscillating (back and forth) movement, like a vibrating reed in a clarinet. This vibration results in a soundwave that then travels through a medium, like the air.

decibel (db): Sound intensity is measured in units called decibels.  A decibel (or dB) measures ratios of power or intensity. It expresses them as an exponential function  When you look at the sound intensity output from databot™, it is reading in decibels.

Prep (5 Mins)

  • Upload the Sound Intensity GSJ program to databot™, and place databot™ next to the bowl.
  • Connect Google Science Journal to databot™ and open the databot™ sound sensor intensity function

PDQ 1 (10 mins)

  • Stretch plastic wrap tightly across your bowl and place about 20 grains of rice on the tight surface. (You are about to hit the pot with the spoon closely to the rice.  What do you think will happen?
  • Bang the pot or pan with your spoon next to the bowl and rice and observe what happens.
  • Experiment by hitting the pot louder and softer.  Is it possible to hit the pot right next to the bowl, but the rice doesn’t move?
  • Go further by maintaining a steady level of sound but moving away from the rice. Does the distance seem to change the effect of the sound?

*databot™ has a sound sensor, a microphone, built in. Microphones work by picking up sound vibrations and then converting the vibrations to electricity.  You should see the sound level being displayed on GSJ.

The Unit of measurement is decibels.  Some examples of decibel levels: a pin drop = 10; rustling leaves = 20; babbling brook = 40; conversation = 60; alarm clock = 80; motorcycle = 100; rock band = 110; thunderclap = 120.

  • Look at the grains of rice and the comparative sound intensity reading.  Is there a decibel level below which the rice does not move?
  • Try to maintain a sound level but move the source away from databot™.  Does the intensity stay the same regardless of distance or does it change?

Great Work!

Great work! Another PDQ coming up! Ready. Set. Go!

Next Step, Another PDQ!

Educator Info

Educator Info

  • If you have not used databot™ and Google Science Journal before, go through the setup and use procedure.
  • Upload and test the databot™ sound intensity program with Google Science Journal. Test your display connection.
  • Study the background information and familiarize yourself with the learning objectives and terms for this activity.
  • Setup and test the rice grain experiment and conduct the PDQ yourself before conducting it for your class.


  • That sound is transmitted in waves.
  • A microphone (sound sensor) vibrates from sound waves and converts this vibration to electrical energy.
  • NGSS PS4.A Wave Properties
  • Sound is not dangerous. (Highlight the decibel levels at which damage to hearing can occur in your discussion).
  • Why can databot™ pick up the sound even when the rice does not move?
  • What do you think is the average decibel level in our classroom when we are working quietly.  
  • What about when we are having discussion like this one?

Can You See the Music? by Robert O. Grover & Team databot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at