Welcome to practical physicsPracticle physics - practical activities designed for use in the classroom with 11 to 19 year olds

Using a CRO to show acoustic waveforms

Class practical

A CRO can show waveforms from tuning forks, musical instruments and the human voice.

Apparatus and materials

For each student group



Leads, 4 mm, 2

Tuning fork

Health & Safety and Technical notes

A cathode-ray tube requires voltages classified as 'hazardous live'. The casing nearly always has ventilation holes, some of which may give access to these voltages. Classes should be warned not to poke anything through the holes.

A video showing the use of an oscilloscope is freely available at the National STEM Centre eLibrary.


a Connect the microphone to the input terminals of the oscilloscope.

b Set the time-base to 10 ms/cm (10 ms/div).

c Set the tuning fork vibrating by banging it gently on a knee or resilient pad. Touch its base onto the microphone.

d Adjust the fine time-base control and the sensitivity control to give a good display.

Teaching notes

Oscilloscope and mic

1 Using the base of the tuning fork like this often gives extra frequencies. The ideal arrangement is to hold the microphone near a vibrating tuning fork (preferably on a sounding board or box), but there may not be sufficient amplification. 

2 Once the microphone is introduced, students will want to make their own sounds either by singing, shouting or playing a musical instrument.

3 The pulse shapes of pure notes from a tuning fork, sine waves, can be compared with the wave shapes for musical instruments.

4 The frequency of the note can be measured from the screen by using the time-base setting.

5 You can also show waveforms using a loudspeaker connected to an appropriately-set datalogger.

This experiment was safety-checked in October 2006