Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Make Some Waves

Exploring Wave Interference With Synthesizers

James Doyle, Heather Shaffery, Ryan Rahhal | Published: November 11th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 10th, 11th, 12th
  • Subject Subject Performing Arts, Science, music
  • Course Course Music, Physics


In this lesson, students examine the physics behind synthesizers and apply that knowledge to create unique sounds on a virtual synthesizer. As this lesson explores both scientific and musical concepts, it could be used in both science and music classrooms.

Essential Question(s)

How do synthesizers manipulate the properties of waves to create different sounds?



Students anticipate learning by listening to several synthesizer sounds from famous songs and other media.


Students explore oscillators, read a short article on the science of synthesizers, and record their learning using the Stop and Jot strategy.


Students examine the concepts of wave interference, principle of superposition, destructive interference, and constructive interference through the use of a Wave Addition and Interference simulation.


Students apply their new knowledge by adjusting the parameters of a synthesizer, manipulating waves and creating sounds to match a range of moods.


Students reflect on their learning by completing an Exit Ticket.


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Wave Addition Simulation Teacher Guide (attached)

  • Stop and Jot handout (attached)

  • Exit Ticket handout (attached)

  • Internet-connected devices like tablets or laptops

  • Headphones


10 Minute(s)

Use the attached Lesson Slides to guide the lesson.

Display slides 2-4 and discuss the Essential Questions and Lesson Objectives.

Display slide 5 and have students navigate to the following Choice Board on Wakelet: "Synthesizer Choice Board."

Have students spend about 5-7 minutes watching the videos or video sections of their choice. The options include songs, videos, and introductions to a few famous synthesizers. Emphasize to students that this time is exploratory and low-stakes, and they should not be concerned if they run into vocabulary or concepts that they are not sure about.


20 Minute(s)

Distribute the attached Stop and Jot handout. Display slide 6 and introduce the Stop and Jot strategy. Have students follow the instructions on the slide, navigating to the Chrome Music Labs website on their devices and answering the question on the handout.

Display slide 7. Instruct students to follow the directions on the slide, navigating to the iZotope article on their devices and using the reverse side of the handout to summarize each section.


20 Minute(s)

Display slide 8 and have students navigate to the Wave Addition and Interference simulation. Instruct students to experiment with the "Standing T," "Destruct," and "Construct" modes by adjusting the wave property sliders for either or both waves (frequency, wavelength, velocity, amplitude). The third wave (1 + 2) is the "wave sum" and shows the actual wave produced when the two individual waves interact. Students should be looking for patterns in how the two waves interact with one another.

Display slide 9.

After students have had some time to explore the simulation, discuss the following questions as a class:

  • What happens when two crests pass each other? Two troughs?

  • How does the wave sum change when crests and troughs do not align perfectly?

  • How does changing the amplitude affect the wave sum? The frequency? The wavelength?

Go to slide 10. Introduce the concepts of wave interference, principle of superposition, destructive interference, and constructive interference. Display slide 11. Refer back to the Explore reading. Ask students how wave interference relates to what they read about how synthesizers use oscillators. Guide students to the conclusion that synths work by using wave interference to produce different waveshapes (i.e., stacking oscillators), and that these are called additive synthesizers.


30 Minute(s)

Display slide 12 and read the slide.

Display slide 13 and play the video: "Cardboard Synthesizer Tutorial." Instruct students to navigate to the Cardboard Synth website and plug in their headphones.

Upon getting to the website and applying their headphones, have students manipulate the synth’s parameters in order to create a sound that best represents the word "happy" to them. Using the Airplane Landing strategy, select three students to share their sounds with the class. After a brief discussion, remind students that they can have different ideas on how to represent the words, have them repeat the activity with the following words: angry, growl and sleepy.


10 Minute(s)

Distribute the attached Exit Ticket handout. Display slide 15. Using the Exit Ticket instructional strategy, have students respond to the following questions and submit their responses on the way out.

  • What did you change to make each patch sound?

  • Why did you select those parameters?

  • What does changing the frequency do? The wavelength? The amplitude?