Musical Straw

So, you're waiting for your dinner to arrive - have some fun

So, you're waiting for your dinner to arrive and you're bored out of your mind. There's nothing to read… the conversation is slim to none… and you've already counted all of the sugar packets. Hmmm? There's a straw… and straws are interesting. Is there anything you can do with a straw to “be amazing?” Keep reading – in a matter of minutes you'll have the entire restaurant upset by your science antics.

Experiment Materials

  • A straw, unwrapped
  • Scissors
  • Adult supervision


  1. Flatten the last inch of the straw with your teeth, making sure that you don't curl the end. Flatter is better, so really press down hard.
  2. Cut the corners off the straight, flattened end of the straw.
  3. Now you're ready to make music (and annoy everyone)! Place the cut end of the straw into your mouth, seal your lips around it, and blow until a “sound” is produced. You'll feel the entire straw vibrate as the sound is made. Don't give up if you don't make music right away; you may need to re-position the straw and try it again. You've just made a “double reed” mouthpiece, similar to an oboe.
  4. Cut small sections off the bottom of the straw while you're making the sound. Listen for changes in the pitch as you cut the straw shorter and shorter. Watch out for your lips!

How Does It Work?

When adjusted properly, the flattened ends of the straw will vibrate as air flows over them. The vibration is passed on to the column of air inside the straw. This is just like the double reed on some woodwind instruments. The vibrating reed produces the oboe-like sound in the straw based on the length of the straw. By cutting off pieces of the straw, you alter the length of the air column and thus change the pitch. The English horn, oboe, and bassoon all use this same principle of vibration to make sound. These instruments, however, change the length of the column of air with holes, stops, and pads. Scissors are impractical.

Here's a variation: Find two straws, one smaller than the other (the smaller should fit snugly inside the larger straw). Using the smaller straw, repeat Step 1 above. Slide the bigger straw up over the smaller straw and start blowing. Move the larger straw back and forth to change the pitch of the sound. It's a straw trombone (although any brass player worth his or her salt will tell you it's a lame attempt). Brass rules!