Projects / Music Box

Music Box  (two versions)

version 2




Music Box 


Antoine, Bang, Yuchen(70%)


Github :




      1. Make a music box for kids (a simplified DJ mixer toy)

         2. Kids can use different shapes to recongize/memorize sound (training their memory)



Our project started off with inspiration from Yuchen watching one of her friends’ kids play a simple toy: putting shapes into a box with cut out areas. We decided to explore the idea of “play” when it comes to younger children—what technologies could be used for play with young children like this?

We wanted to expand upon a previous project that looked at building songs out of “building blocks” (parts of a song), and felt that the shape toy could be used as a controller to create music. Music education in young children can be really useful, as it can help children formulate a relationship with sound to express their feelings (is this song a happy song? Energetic? Slow?), learn about patterns and sequences, and overall enrich their lives through music and performance.

Our controller takes the form of a box with cut out shapes, and when a shape is put through one of the cut outs, a building block of the song starts playing. For example, a triangle put through would play the drums, while the heart shape would play the synth part of the song. By putting the shapes in different sequences and patterns, a child could create their own song. This mimics the professional music production controllers that exist.

Music education for making beats exists, but often, these controllers are complicated and not suitable for usage with younger children. We chose a design (shape toy) that is familiar to younger kids, which makes learning the interaction of the controller simpler, but introduced another dimension that is unfamiliar (sounds and music creation) to keep their interest. Traditional music education for young children often uses traditional instruments like drums and xylophones, but creating beats and electronic music can introduce technology and a different genre of music to the students, especially as the popularity of hip hop and electronic music has reached great heights.

The controller resembling a regular music production controller helps lend itself to kinesthetic interactions and embodiment (Tanenbaum, Bizzocchi). Children can be exposed to what DJs and producers actually do in performance through video; movement of the whole body, creation of music on the fly, and performing for an audience. The familiar interface of the controller (dropping shapes into cut outs) makes it easy to pick up, but the music production component allows for the possibility of performance mimicking real life music production performances.

There is a slight tale-spin effect as the overall controller interactions are very simple: put a shape in, music starts playing. However, the controller employs technology that most likely isn’t often found in this kind of environment where kids may interact with it, like a preschool or kindergarten. It uses an Arduino, Processing, and infrared sensors in order to accomplish the interaction. This means that the complexity of the controller is hidden from the users, even though the output is relatively simple (Wardrip-Fruin). This could present issues, this means that

Team Catz - Antoine, Bang, Yuchen Project 3 - Physical Controller

troubleshooting the controller by those in the environment it was intended for could be very difficult.

A shortcoming of our current project is that we made quite a few assumptions children and their interests, as we were unable to actually have children play with this controller. We were targeting ages 4-5, although the shape toy controller may be deemed too simple for the children. It would be interesting to actually test it with children playing the controller.

To expand on our project further, we would like to fabricate the controller in a better material. Our prototype was built with cardboard, but undoubtedly, this is much too flimsy for actual use in a classroom or play setting. Using laser cut wood is one idea of ours, as we would need to think about the affordances of the materials we use (Norman). For instance, our initial thought was to use much softer materials for the shapes instead of wood — however, we found that softer materials meant that one could force a shape into a cutout it is not meant to go in.

We would also like to create a larger controller with more options. Currently, we only have 3 cutouts, but 9 cutouts in a larger box would provide for much more creative freedom. Lastly, we want to be able to have everything self-contained within the box. This means not using the laptop and loading the Processing program onto the Arduino, installing speakers in the box, as well as installing a battery pack. Having a laptop attached to the controller inhibits play in the context that we want the controller to be used in.


[software + hardware]:

       Pysical computing, Arduino, Processing, Laser cutting (the wood box)



1. pick up a shape and put it into the matched hole, you can hear different sound clip

2. You can mix a music based on your choice, speed, order

[中文介绍 ]: