Utilizing Your Makerspace

Music Making is the Perfect Makerspace Activity for Kids (with Resources)!

I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love music, and if I did, I wouldn’t trust them. Music is such an integral part of the human experience. It is a universal language that has existed in all cultures, throughout history. It’s something we experiment with – clapping, drumming with our hands and feet – before we are even old enough to talk. Music can calm us, bring us to tears and make our hearts race, and there are so many different ways music can be integrated into makerspace. Here are some ideas.

Drumming is an inexpensive, straight-forward place to start. There are a plethora of online sites that will show you how to create an entire drum kit from trash. You can use easily find objects for drum sticks too, including; pencils, chop sticks and sticks just found on the ground. If you are looking for inspiration for how to use everyday objects as percussion instruments, do a quick online search for the group Stomp. I was particularly impressed with their composition done entirely with brooms.

If your goal is to create music with unusual instruments, there are plenty of intriguing examples. The Vegetable Orchestra performs music on instruments that…as you may have guessed from the name…are made entirely out of vegetables. You can do this yourself! Just watch Linsey Pollack’s Tedx talk where he shows you how to make a clarinet out of a carrot, in less than 5 minutes, and then plays it beautifully. This video, and other resources, are included on the kid-focused badging site DIY.org, in an entire section devoted to instrument making.

Synthesizers are really cool but might seem intimidating at first, especially if you are working with younger kids in your makerspace. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Kids as young as 3 years old can learn about how synths works by playing with Blipblox, a synthesizer designed specifically for kids ages 3 and up (although out-of-stock right now, they will be available to purchase this May, 2019). Blipblox even has MIDI input for an external keyboard or sequencer controller, so although it looks like a toy, if you add a keyboard and a computer with a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) such as GarageBand (on an Apple device) or Cakewalk (if you are using Windows), Blipblox can actually can be part of a fully functional, professional studio.

If you are working with older makers, you might look into the littleBits Synth kit. LittleBits are great for creating complex objects, quickly and easily, since the pre-made bits fit together using magnets. Their synth kit even has a well researched, concise history of synthesizers included in the booklet.

With older kids, if you have a small group, are feeling adventurous, and you really want to go down the rabbit hole, you can have them solder together an oscilloscope (that you can use to manipulate the pitch of a sound). The one that I made (which actually works!) is pictured below. But be warned – it took me two, focused hours, to put together.

If you want your makers to try music composition, Finale Notepad is a free (Windows) download that’s worth checking out. If you don’t use Windows, Sibelius is good too, but it isn’t free.

You might also consider giving your kids an opportunity to live code music using multi-platform, Ruby-based, Sonic Pi. Sonic Pi is easy to learn and fun to use. I spent an afternoon laughing with some kids over the different synth sounds and effects that you can produce with one.

Whatever you decide to explore, make sure to include music in your makerspace offerings. There’s nothing more enjoyable than watching kids dance to music, that they made all by themselves.

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