How to make a simple electronic musical instrument



Great article Mark - I’m just getting started with Arduino and electronics and I think my kids will love this. I was wondering if the type of coin used will make much difference. In the UK our pennies are bronze covered steel rather than zinc/copper. According to the interwebs that’s less conductive. I can probably get my hands on some US pennies, I just wonder if you think it’s worthwhile Thanks.

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Like a cute kids version of Erkki Kurenniemi’s “Sexophone”, the DIMI-S.
Love it, gotta try to make one!

This was featured in the Extended Edition of the 1988 movie Big. It appears to be called “People Symphony”. I always wondered if it was custom made.

Hi all! I’m super-sorry to come over here and be a ranting (and perhaps misguided) feminist, but I find a few points really rub me up the wrong way.

Firstly the inherent sexism in the title of the book (what about the electrical engineer mother who wants to teach her son/daughter/neighbour’s kid about making stuff? The implication here is that girls have a disadvantage which fathers are going to help fix, or that in my example the people involved are wrong-gendered?).

Then the less serious problem, which falls into the category of tired old trope where the girls’ toys in stores are in glaring-pink aisles… We should ask ourselves if a book aimed at ‘boys’ would include steps 1-4? I find they come off as condescending: implying girls are only interested in this project since they’re first lured in by non-functional fluff. If a (capable or not, irrelevant) female engineer at a company were to suggest equivalent steps for whatever technical project, I’m pretty confident a whole bunch of people would jump to call those things frivolous and would probably also bring gender into the argument. Let’s not, then, encourage that behaviour, or talk down to our audience.

I want to close by saying that I applaud the effort to go out and fill a niche, a book full of projects to get kids more interested in being creative, building stuff themselves, learning that electronics isn’t just iPads but can also be built from the ground up. I’m just really disappointed to see old-fashioned gender roles still so overbearingly in the foreground. Keep up the good work, and I hope this comment will be understood in the constructive tone I intend it.

I think you’re missing the point. Mark is a dad, and his daughter is a, well, daughter. He’s writing this book from the perspective of his life, not an ideology, which seems utterly appropriate. I mean, I guess he could pretend he was a woman (and his daughter could pretend she likes stuff different than what she really likes), but that would be kind of silly. He could also make the book more generic (generic genderless parent helping generic genderless children), but it seems unlikely that this would make the book better (unless you define better within the narrow context of an ideology). I don’t know if you read many science or technical books, but there is a real push within the publishing industry to make even abstract scientific books (e.g., Max Tegmark’s new The Mathematical Universe) more personal by bringing the author into the story. Publishers have found that (at least in today’s zeitgeist) people prefer reading such books, and a book doesn’t really do anything if people don’t read it.

Maybe Mark’s wife could write a book more to your liking. I think we can all agree that would be great!

Unrelatedly: as part of my 10 year old daughter’s science fair project we built a GSR meter very similar to this. It was a blast!

(But I couldn’t help but think: Hmm. This could be the basis of a pretty fun party game for adults :))


Yeah, I tried to ignore the naughty interpretation of the subheading :wink:

Perhaps I am missing the point. I can understand it being from his perspective, and indeed, perhaps the narrative is, “look, I did this, you should too” (answering your question, no I don’t read many popular tech books – I can understand if this is a trend as you say it is). But I think the generalisation to any-gendered kids is an obvious one, and a sadly missed opportunity. I mean, if I write a course on photography, I’m not going to start out with “This is my guide to using a Nikon D80 to photograph my dog Fido”, I’ll more likely generalise to explaining settings one could use on any camera for photographing most mammalian pets :), for example. So no, I’m not proposing he claim he’s a mother, or anything like that.

It’s just that in a prejudiced/unequal world, one needs to make more of a point of bucking the status quo, since otherwise, IMHO, you’re perpetuating it. In this case, what I’m complaining about, is the implication that even if we get female children interested in technical projects, it’s still only really because at the bottom of their hearts they were interested in the decoration-sideshow. This is doing everybody involved a disservice.

You may not find this a particularly satisfying perspective, but sometimes it’s good to go a step at a time. Celebrate the soldering gun in the daughter’s hands (!), and don’t fret too much if cultural change doesn’t happen in one big leap.

Everyone, perhaps, except his daughter, who may really like the decorating aspect of the project!

In raising my children I was always very careful – even while explaining to them what I thought was right and wrong – not to impose constraints on what they should like. If pink was my son’s favorite color, great! (which you probably agree with). If pink was my daughter’s favorite color, that was great too! (which may give you pause)

Thankfully they both outgrew pink (which made laundry complicated). But that outgrowth was natural, not directed.

I guess. I do indeed applaud the effort taken to write such a book, I don’t want the critique to overshadow that. I wonder though if, by celebrating that, we’re not enforcing the stereotype that in fact, this is an aberration which “normally wouldn’t happen”.

I’m going to paraphrase a good friend of mine here, whose comment on the subject wasn’t in English: it might be that with this more ‘traditional’ presentation, less enlightened families might be coaxed in, the potential worry then being that more people see the stereotyped pictures, thus perpetuating the images/expectations of societal gender roles. (which was basically my original worry about propagation of status quo)

But yes, in the end people have to make up their own minds, so in principle I agree with the way you sketch your personal approach – I should perhaps allow people to choose what they want, without second-guessing whether that may be simply a reflection of societal pressures.

Thanks for your civil and thoughtful replies! :slight_smile:

Thanks Mark!

As a dad that wants to spend time with my kids and learn STEM skills with them I really enjoy seeing things like this, and books like this (all gender stereotype issues aside).

And on that note - Mark shares a lot with us for free and they have to pay for those costs and make a living. Whether that means publishing books for purchase, rattling the tip jar, selling Ts, or pulling in automobile sponsors - anything involving money is going to also involve some level of marketing that will necessarily play to the market the sponsor is trying to reach. I really feel that the BB crew takes care to do those things ethically, but it won’t mean that you don’t see hooks like father/daughter being used to help bring things to a larger targetted market, and I am completely willing to forgive them that. I also appreciate the issue being raised so I can be more aware and help my kids without pigeonholing them unintentionally.


This is so cool, Mark. Thanks for sharing with us. Just ordered the book on Amazon!

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There is of course another possibility: rather than complaining, do something yourself that fits the perspective you want to communicate and tell the world about it. As they say, seeing is believing, right? If people see women writing about doing STEM projects with their children of either gender, people get accustomed to the idea as normal.

On a personal note I grew up with a mother who was PHD in a hard science and an wide ranging sense of aesthetics so for me seeing this as a boy, I assumed it was pretty normal that a woman could be interested in science and design. Of course this may not be the norm but I just wanted to share that bit to illustrate my point above.

No sound sample?

Sounds wonderful Mark…I just wish you had included a video to show how it works. Or did I miss it?

I can’t wait to build this with my son. Quick electronics noob question, though…

Why do you need both a PNP and NPN transistor? Can you not build this with two NPNs or two PNPs, but wired with the right bias? What am I missing here? I think the answer would educate me a heck of a lot!


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