24 February 2007

Instrumental Design

Posted in Z-boy at 11:56 pm by Tricia

BanjoZ-boy is in a 1/2 class with the same teacher that C-boy had. As a result, we are familiar with some of the curricular units they cycle through over a 2 year period. Right now they are studying sound in science. As part of this, the students design and make their own musical instrument in time for the Science Fair.

Knowing this was coming up, and since Jonski Papa is a woodworker, I was struck by an idea I read in a nature projects book, to compare the sound of different kinds and thicknesses of wood. We have lots of wood lying about, so I thought that would be fun. Then after watching the very cool Animusic 2, Jonski Papa thought it would be fun to make a xylophone kind of thing on a central rotating drum.

Two weeks ago, we got this note in the weekly classroom newsletter:

Soon the children will begin designing their own instruments. At that point we will ask you to help them out at home to make and test the instrument they have designed.

Apparently I read the “At that point” as “At this point” and got the impression it was time to start working. So on February 10th, I suggested we start. Z-boy was cantankerous at first, and said he would just make a maraca. When I suggested the rotating xylophone, he said that what he really wanted to make was a guitar with drums attached. After some flipping through Rubber-Band Banjos and Java Jive Bass, he settled on a banjo.

Z-boy and Jonski Papa did some experimenting along the way. First they put rubber bands on a box, to show how the box resonates to increase the volume. Then they experimented with rubber bands over bridges, to show how the length of the string changes the pitch. Finally, they assembled necessary supplies (a plastic food tub, a scrap piece of lumber for the neck and some for the bridges, fishing line, and tuning pegs). (Yes, we just happened to have tuning pegs lying around – doesn’t everybody??)

Anyway, they finished it that weekend, and Z-boy was so excited he took it to school on the 12th. He understood how it worked and was able to explain the principles to his class. When Jonski Papa picked him up after school, he found out the assignment hadn’t even been made yet! For once, our family finished a project ahead of time – before it was even officially assigned! (Amazing!!)

As part of the sound unit, the “instrument petting zoo” arm of the local symphony came to school and the kids got to try out different real instruments. Z-boy is fired up about the flute, the trumpet, and the violin. Of course we don’t have any of those at home, so we’re hoping to tide him over with what we do have for now (kid-sized and full-sized guitars, kid-sized mandolin, dulcimer, marimba, bugle, assorted percussion…)

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