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An electronic canvas blending art and music composition

Kids love creating, and drawing and doodling come naturally to most elementary school children. Kids also love music, but the barrier to music creation is a little bit harder, requiring instruments, lessons, and lots of practice.  So we designed a solution that could combine the accessibility of drawing with the appeal and benefits of music with the musiCanvas, a single canvas that blends art and music into one device.

musicanvas pressure sensors.jpg

The musiCanvas started with the idea that we could design something that made music while someone drew on it, but the mechanics of making that happen was a big obstacle to overcome. To make the music-making process intentional and more unique than just listening to music, we decided it was important that the movement of the drawing utensil itself affected the music being made. After exploring options like camera tracking and conductivity, we decided on a matrix of pressure sensors as it was low-cost and could respond to any type of drawing - even finger painting!

musicanvas inside.jpg

I was the Music Design Lead for this project, so I had the task of turning the whimsical drawings of elementary school students into coherent music. Because our main users would be kids, I wanted to design something that would make pleasant music no matter what was drawn or how it was drawn. Using an Arduino microcontroller, I assigned each pressure sensor a gradient of tones all in the C scale, with a mix of arpeggios and scales, and with some randomization so that every experience would be a new one.

musicanvas in use.jpg

A huge focus of our design process was making sure that we always had our core user in mind. And there's no better way to do that than getting user feedback, so we took a prototype of the musiCanvas to a local elementary school and had 92 students try it out and let us know what they thought. This informed a lot of the decisions we made to improve the final product, including volume adjustment, instrument sound choices, and more musical variation within each pressure sensor. By incorporating the ideas of the most important stakeholders in the project, the kids, we were able to create a great final product that has been featured in Pitt's Center for Creativity and Stress-Free Zone.

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