Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Lilly. Lilly Wonders, “how does a record player work” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Lilly!
Imagine a time not so long ago. (Okay. It’s a bit of a long time ago. But don’t tell your adult family members that!) You’re having a sleepover party with friends. You’re in the mood to dance, so you turn on the radio to your favorite station.
Just then a new song you’ve never heard before comes on. You turn up the volume and listen with your friends. By the end of the song, you’ve memorized the chorus. You start to sing along at the top of your lungs.
You hope the radio disc jockey will tell you the name of the song and who sings it. That way you can head down to the record store tomorrow. There, you’ll buy your new favorite song. It’ll come in the form of a shiny black plastic disc about the size of a small Frisbee.
That’s right. This is the age before digital music. There’s no app on your cell phone to identify the song instantly. There’s no streaming service where you can find the song immediately.
Nope. This is the era when vinyl records were the latest and greatest in music technology. Have you ever seen an old (or new!) vinyl record? Perhaps you’ve even had a chance to flip through an old record collection at some point. Have you ever put one on a turntable and listened to it play?
Vinyl records used analog technology. This is sort of the opposite of digital technology. Digital music is stored in a series of 1s and 0s. Vinyl records stored music in physical engravings in their grooves.
Have you ever looked at a vinyl record up close? If so, you saw a bunch of grooves that look like circles. These get smaller and smaller as they approach the center of the record. These circles are actually all part of one long continuous groove. It starts at the outer edge of the record and goes to the center.
When vinyl records are made, a special needle called a stylus is used to engrave sound into the grooves. Sound causes the stylus to vibrate at certain frequencies as it’s engraving.
Once recorded, a vinyl record can then be played back. A playback stylus travels along the grooves and vibrates at the same frequencies. This recreates the sounds that were recorded when the record was made.
Thomas Edison first discovered these properties of recording sound in the late 1800s. His work led him to invent the phonograph, which used tinfoil to record sounds. Over time, more sturdy materials were used, including wax and shellac.
Eventually, vinyl records became popular because of their durability. They were also cheaper to produce. RCA Victor released the first commercial vinyl records in 1930.
These first vinyl records were 12 inches across (diameter) and played back at 33 revolutions per minute (RPM). Other size records were produced at different times, including ones that played back at 45 RPM and 78 RPM. Different size records could hold different amounts of music.
If you get the chance, listen to a song on a vinyl record. Then, try to find the same song in digital form. Do they sound any different? Some people think music on vinyl is higher quality. Is it true? We’ll let you be the judge of that!
Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1