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Tuesday, 16 April, 2002, 07:43 GMT 08:43 UK
Hi-tech musical youth
Around 40 children took part in the Toy Symphony, BBC
Children embraced the new instruments
test hello test
Alfred Hermida, Assistant editor, Technology, BBC
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology staff
Imagine if you were 10 years old and you could play a musical instrument, without spending years in music lessons.

This was the aim of Toy Symphony, a three-year project by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.

Composer Tod Machover and his team turned to technology to design special musical toys that eliminate years of scales and struggles with fingering.

"Toy Symphony proposes another model of how children can start with music," said the professor of Music and Media. "We have invented a whole set of new instruments and tools to listen and perform, create and compose."

The youngsters from the Ark Children's Centre in Dublin who tried the musical toys were enthusiastic about them.

"It's neat that anyone at all can play them," said one.

"One lessons shows you the basics. It's easy to learn but fun at the same time," said another.

Music inaccessible

Professor Machover came up with the idea as a way of introducing children to music and allowing them to express themselves without any of the traditional obstacles.

Tod Machover is a well-known composer, BBC
Machover: Doing it for the children
"Children are some of the most capable musicians in the world and have everything it takes to make music - energy, imagination and body movement," he told the BBC programme Go Digital.

"But in many ways, music has been inaccessible to children because instruments are hard and there is so much to learn."

To sweep children up and place them in the heart of the musical experience, Professor Machover and his team developed special musical toys.

Tap and squeeze

The Beatbug was designed by MIT Media Lab, BBC
The Beatbug: A rhythm machine
They came up with Beatbugs and Shapers.

The Beatbugs are percussion instruments that you hold in one hand and tap with the other to create rhythmic patterns.

The Beatbugs have two antennae that can be bent to transform the pitch and timbre of the rhythm.

They are connected to each other so that the rhythm can travel from one to another.

The Shapers are colourful balls that produce notes when they are squeezed.

Painting music

Children can go one step further by using Hyperscore, a sophisticated piece of software that allows a child to create music by drawing onscreen.

Shaper designed by MIT Media Lab, BBC
Shaper: Tactile musical instrument
"Unlike with telling stories or painting, children are never given the opportunity to compose," explained Professor Machover.

"Hyperscore is an attempt to use a computer interface that lets you draw and paint, and to turn the drawing and painting into sound."

A child draws lines and paints colours that the software coordinates together to create a musical composition.

Toy Symphony, written by Professor Machover, received its world premiere in Dublin last week and is coming to Glasgow on 2 June.

A tour of the US and Japan is also planned.

Tod Machover
Making music accessible
Musical toys
Listen to the children making music
See also:

10 Sep 01 | New Media
Online music-swapping rocks
01 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Music's digital future
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