Victorians loved their brand-new, state-of-art photographs, that brought the whole orchestra home for a show. Learn the history of these fantastic devices. Discover how sound works. Then explore the ways you can amplify music using nothing more than paper.

Materials: A sewing needles, a piece of paper, masking tape, an old record.

This program is part of the (Virtual!) Victorian Days Festival 2020! Learn more at https://belvidereheritage.com/.

You can view the presentation itself if you’d like to read the information more thoroughly.

To understand how a phonograph works, you need to understand how sound works. Essentially sound travels through matter by vibrating its particles. The density of the material will affect the transmission of the sound. That’s why the same sound is different if it’s in air or water. It’s also the reason that you can feel sound, as it vibrates the materials around you.

Sound travels in a longitudinal wave. You can think of it pulling several coils of a Slinky toy or a spring together and then releasing them. Basically the wave is created by compressing the particles as the vibration force of the sound wave moves through matter. This push and pull moves the sound wave through the air from its source to the target (your ear).

File:CPT-sound-physical-manifestation.svg - Wikimedia Commons
Diagram showing physical manifestation of a sound wave through air from a speaker to a human ear. From Wikimedia Commons.

In 1877, Thomas Edison discovered how to take those vibrations and scratch them into a wax cylinder. Then he discovered that by running another needle through the grooves, he could recreate that original sound. It was the breakthrough the created the phonograph!

Over the years other inventors developed technological advances that made the sound quality better. But the next big breakthrough came when Emile Berlinger created a process to make a flat disc — a record — that could be played on his gramophone. As a result, mass production of music became possible, making it cheaper and easier for everyone to enjoy.

Our project for this workshop is centered on creating a paper horn to playback the music on a record. The basic process is simple: Create a cone of paper, push a sewing needle through the small end, put a record on a sharpened pencil so it can spin, and place the needle on the record. The cone is used both for the mechanical amplification of the sound by directing it towards the listener and condensing it. As the waves of sound move through the horn, they bounce back and forth and are duplicated over and over. This can also magnify the sound, making it louder. That’s especially true if you flare the end of the cone.

From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

However, there are so many variables with which to experiment! Change the need size or thickness. Make the cone longer or shorter. Wider or more narrow. Make the horn out of thicker or thinner paper. These changes can affect the loudness of your sound. Spinning the record faster or slower will affect the pitch pf the sound.

If you want to track the effect of your changes on the sound, try the Google Science Journal app. With it, you can measure the loudness of your sound using the decibel meter or see how the pitch is affected by the speed of your spinning record. It also includes of awesome tools for measuring light, motion, and more.

If you want to build a more structured horn, one you can use for playing music from your cell phone, check out this fantastic Instructables from Rob Ives. By piecing together panels using glue, you can make a horn very similar to those used on Victorian phonographs!

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