The Design and Build a Musical Instrument project represents both an individual and a group project. Each student is to design and build an instrument that is durable, audible, and attractive. This instrument is accompanied by a paper describing the physics concepts related to creating the instrument (e.g., length of strings, placement of holes, size of tone holes) and an original musical composition written by the student for their created instrument. The other portion of this project involves students divided into groups of 4-5 where they create an original collaborative work for their instruments. The ensemble must feature each instrument in an appropriate context. The project/concert is presented at the last class meeting for an audience of pre-school children. The assignment assesses the DQP proficiencies of Applied and Collaborative Learning, Broad and Integrative Knowledge, and Communicative Fluency.
Background and Context
Physics of Music (PHYS 108) is a 4-credit lab science that meets BSU’s core curriculum requirements for Natural Science with a Lab and Quantitative Reasoning. Due to the course’s popularity (the course runs at full capacity of 18), it is comprised of majors from across the campus at the junior or senior level. The class is both perceived as a palatable course for students who are concerned about their mathematical ability and attractive to students with a love for music and an interest in how music works as science. From our perspective, offering a multi-faceted cross-disciplinary course where faculty model disciplinary collaboration and students from across disciplines apply their learning drawn from two STEM subjects, physics and mathematics, represents a much needed model in higher education and fosters the types of skills employers are seeking from college graduates.
Make a Musical Instrument: Project Background
The Make a Musical Instrument Project represents both an individual and a group (or ensemble) project. The project is described at the beginning of the semester and is assigned prior to the midterm exam at which point students have already established some familiarity with methods of sound generation for woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion instruments. Each student is to design and build an instrument that is durable, audible, and attractive. This instrument is accompanied by a paper describing the physics concepts related to creating the instrument (e.g., length of strings, placement of holes, size of tone holes) and an original composition written by the student for their created instrument. The other portion of this project involves students divided into groups of 4-5 where they create an original collaborative work for their instruments. The ensemble must feature each instrument in an appropriate context. The project/concert is presented at the last class meeting. Creating the instrument and the corresponding paper counts for 15% of an individual student’s overall grade. The two composition projects represent an additional 10% of the student’s final grade.
Degree Qualifications Profile: Alignment to Applied and Collaborative Learning
While the Make a Musical Instrument assignment satisfies three DQP learning categories (Tables 1-3) the Applied and Collaborative Learning outcome aligns best with PHYS 108 (see Table 1).
Table 1.Â DQP Alignment: Applied and Collaborative Learning Proficiencies to Physics of Music Project
Applied and Collaborative Learning Proficiencies
Make A Musical Instrument Project Outcomes
Bachelor’s Level: Prepares and presents a project, paper, exhibit, performance or other appropriate demonstration linking knowledge or skills acquired in work, community, or research activities with knowledge acquired in one or more fields of study, explains how those elements are structured, and employs appropriate citations to demonstrate the relationship of the product to the literature in the field.
Students notate and perform an original musical piece for their instrument accompanied by a description of their individual system of notation and the organizational structure of the piece.
Bachelor’s Level: Negotiates a strategy for group research or performance, documents the strategy so others may understand it, implements the strategy, and communicates the results.
Students collaborate within a small ensemble to create an original composition that features each performer’s instrument. This is accompanied by a written description of their individual system of notation and the organizational structure of the piece and a live performance of the piece.
Master’s Level: Creates a project, paper, exhibit, or performance or other appropriate demonstration reflecting the integration of knowledge acquired in practicum, work, community, or research activities with knowledge and skills gleaned from at least two fields of study in different segments of the curriculum. Articulates the ways in which the two sources of knowledge influenced the result.
Students must write a comprehensive paper that includes how their instrument was created (the steps involved in construction) and how the instrument works (including mathematical models for pitch generation, string division, physical dimensions, etc. depending upon the creation).Â This paper also includes detailed descriptions of their individual system of musical notation and the organizational structure of the original musical piece for their instrument.
Table 2.Â DQP Alignment: Broad and Integrative Knowledge to Physics of Music Project
|Broad and Integrative Knowledge||Make A Musical Instrument Project Outcomes|
|Associate’s Level: Describes and evaluates the ways in which at least two fields of study define, address, and interpret the importance for society of a problem in science, the arts, society, human services, economic life or technology.||Students must combine quantitative reasoning with artistic evaluation to create an instrument and a musical product that sounds “good” in terms of structure, tone, playability, and attractiveness.|
Table 3. DQP Alignment: Communicative Fluency to the PHYS 108 Physics of Music Project
|Communicative Fluency||Make A Musical Instrument Project Outcomes|
|Associate’s Level: Negotiates with peers an action plan for a practical task and communicates the results of the negotiation either orally or in writing.||Students collaborate within a small ensemble to create an original composition that features each performer’s instrument. This is accompanied by a written description of their individual system of notation and the organizational structure of the piece and a live performance of the piece.|
Given that the majority of students enrolled in Physics of Music are simply filling the requirement for Natural Science with a Lab within BSU’s Core Curriculum, there is no differentiation between students as it relates to major classification. Therefore, establishing a homogeneous baseline student engagement is necessary for teaching the course successfully. This characteristic is dependent on fostering a learning environment where the curriculum is accessible. Physics of Music is not dependent on prior knowledge of music, mathematics (beyond basic algebra), or physics. The Make a Musical Instrument assignment is one of several methods employed to this end.
The assignment has continually had mixed results. The quality of the “created” instrument varies from student to student. The written portion of the assignment is consistently underwhelming. In particular, they have difficulty writing about the actual science behind what makes their instrument work. We have tried to start earlier, reinforce expectations, and demonstrate scientific writing skills through lab reports, yet the end result is under expectations. We hope to offer examples of exemplary student writing in the future.
In the future, we are hoping that a live concert with pre-school children will help the students be able to explain their project more fully.
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