Music Education Product

Hey all, last semester I went through my studio project without any input from Core77 and after the amazing feedback on Eman’s project I decided to commit to creating a thread on my newest project (I also thought his initial layout worked really well in communicating with the boards, I hope it’s OK that I mirrored it). One of my biggest weaknesses as a design student is presentation and graphic layout so that my information goes hand-in-hand with what I’m presenting. I see this as a great opportunity to improve upon that and welcome all critiques.

Purpose: The sole purpose of this project is to showcase my ability to think through complete user experience from start to finish and land an internship at Google X. With this project and my previous studio class (which I will post soon) I have found a type of industrial design that fits with my personality and goals, which align with much of Google X’s philosophies. I am most excited about looking out into the future and asking all the what-if’s and creating a powerful argument to why things should be a certain way.
Requirements: I will have a final model for the product, an animation of the experience, whatever it takes to create a very in depth project. I’m not a very good model maker, so I will force myself to get out of my comfort zone and mock things up when it’s necessary.
Concept: I want to get kids in low-income schools excited about their education, using music as the vehicle. I grew up playing music all my life (Clarinet, Alto & Bari Saxophone, Guitar) and went through high school during the big recession and witnessed all of the cuts to music and arts education in public schools. Music education is something that is always held in high regard as far as the benefits to it’s students, but is always the first to get cut. One of the main reasons is that more pressure is being put on teachers and educators to raise test scores, and music class only affects a small amount of students, so why put money into a program that only goes to those few students?

Project thoughts: For this first project I initially went towards designing a new music classroom, and utilizing things like Google Chrome books to create a digital experience within a music class. Current music classes are still stuck in classical music, sheet music, tuners, metronomes, and traditional instruments. I saw this as a huge opportunity, and started thinking about creating a ‘cloud’ out of Chrome books that would be used as a music stand, where the teacher could broadcast instructions via chrome books like a command center. Then I was thinking that I could redesign instruments to interact with the Chrome book, whether it vibrates a key if a student forgets his/her fingerings or has an app like Duo Lingo where kids could do lessons through the Chrome book.

During this process I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t looking at the larger problem, and that music class only affects a small amount of kids.

My new design direction is towards designing a class. Many low-income schools are being reformed and given things like 3d-printers, and more and more tech, and I want to design a class that is collaborative amongst all disciplines. Where maybe an assignment splits the class into four groups with the objective to create a story utilizing music, art, 3d-printing, and animation.

Design Thoughts:
The product opportunity is around creating a non-digital medium that translates to digital. So maybe students are able to whistle, or beat on objects and the Chrome book translates those frequencies and puts a ‘costume’ over the initial rhythms and melodies that the students create. I think a percussion product is a given, but I really want to create an experience where kids could compose an entire band by utilizing their surroundings, meaning wind instruments, strings, etc.
I’m pretty sure the product wouldn’t be mass produced, but I’m not entirely sure here.

Next Steps:
Keep looking for ideas and product opportunities, narrow in on exactly what this class consists of, and create an outline of what should be completed by the end of the project. I also have three contacts that are teachers, two in low-income and one in high income which I am talking to this week.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Thank you for your time!

Similar project that a group of UC seniors did as their capstone project. Instead of music they used Footwear design. Bringing in the design directions of the footwear a lot of the students idolized. (Dwayne Edwards, Rob Lee, Michael Schaeffer, Chris Pope, etc)

Curious as to how effectively music resonates with low-income students? Tread project focused directly on one inner city school, instead of trying to hit everyone. Might be able to give you a more defined direction if you focus on one school and area and see where that leads you.

Thanks for the input Emannuel, I’ve never seen that project, it’s really interesting!

My focus is leaning towards New Orleans at the moment because it is going through a huge reform in education after hurricane Katrina. I’ve been reading a ton of articles about the shifts in education, from 90% traditional schools pre-hurricane, to 90% charter schools post-hurricane. A lot of money is going towards these schools and I believe this area will be the poster child for educational reform, they’ve already gone from an average school ranking of an F to a C since the changes, and are striving to reach an A. I think it also creates a great story opportunity because New Orleans has a very unique music history and culture.

Thanks again for your time.

Theirs opportunity in creating a system rather than a stand alone product or complete space as well. For example, a lot can be achieved through arduino based projects… simply a matter of controlling inputs and outputs, and something Ayah Bdeir did with Littlebits. You can really open up a range of avenues for focused creativity.

Very interesting project Aaron! In my opinion, what Mitso said about combining basic instruments with arduino would be quite fun. Children could learn a bit about design, coding and music all in one. I could imagine a class where they design a make an instrument which later on learn how to play. I wouldn’t limit it to just 3D printing, but any kind of prototyping, like foam, cardboard or wood. Cheap and easily available materials which children could shape, cut, re-do, etc.

Awesome, thanks for the great feedback! There’s definitely opportunity for a lot of different solutions, and I hadn’t thought of arduino yet, that could be really interesting. I’m looking into it!

Really nice project and first ideas!
just wanted to add that I really liked the idea of bringing the element of electronic mixing into music class. It seems like a great way to get kids interest, since they are now so much into electronic stuff and it is super easy to sample some sounds, and get a beat going with some clicks. Could make for some fast and fun successes with music and get them enthusiastic for more.

Instantly thought of Midi controllers. Mixed with some good software these look insanely fun to play with. The arcade buttons also add a bit of fun and familiarity to the product too.

The success of platforms of a platform like guitar hero, shows there is some good opportunity to explore music/electronics/game space. Combined with an educational UI could make it interesting.

I am confused.

First you claim all of the proven benefits of a music class. I’m sure there are studies to support those claims.

Then you claim (and you have not supported this claim) that music class does not help enough kids.

Then you want to make up an entirely new class that cannot have any proven benefits because it is entirely new.

If you stick with your first thought, redesign the music class to be more accessible to low-income students, you do not need to prove potential benefits. If you go with your second thought, not only will you have the design work, I would expect some evidence that a school would want to use this new curriculum, that it would benefit its students. So when you are done designing this new class experience, you need to trial it in several places to prove efficacy.

Your first thought seems to me somewhat feasible and your GoogleX audience could make the leap that your new music curriculum could benefit students. But if you don’t prove the benefits of the collaborative curriculum, I think your GoogleX audience won’t make a leap that it is something other than mental masturbation.

Thanks for the input IAB,

I came to the conclusion that by narrowing my project to getting kids excited about ‘Music Education’ my project was all of a sudden affecting a lot less kids. From my research, a huge amount of students drop off of music after 5th and 6th grade, I can’t find exact numbers at the moment but I have 21% of senior high school students in music in 2004 ( and nearly 40% of high school students participating in music programs ( )

I felt that by widening my brief to getting students excited about education with music as the vehicle, I was looking at making a larger impact. However, I see your point that by focusing on making music more accessible for low-income students then I am inherently affecting more people.

I’m not discouraged by the challenge of providing evidence of a new curriculum and making efforts to trial it to support my claims, it’s a big task but I’m at the stage of wanting to make the best project possible, if I fail then so be it. I really appreciate your input on the GoogleX topic also, it’s something I will have to take into consideration as I continue to move on.

Thanks for your time!

I really didn’t mean to discourage you, if I did so, I apologize. But I do want to make clear what an obstacle that type of trial is. In general, you will need informed consent from all participants. In order to do that, you need your curriculum to go through an IRB, institutional review board. These review boards come together only a few times a year and their dockets are typically very full. So be sure to schedule appropriately. Although I believe in never say never, I have never seen an IRB approve any study on the first go around. They will request changes, you will make changes and then you need to resubmit, and hopefully they have saved a slot for you to present your revised study. Then you will need to get permission from parents.

What I recommend is that you find a champion (teacher, counselor, principal, etc you is on your side and really wants to give it a go) in the schools where you want to conduct this trial. They will help you through the IRB process.

If you all ready know this stuff, sorry for being redundant. :slight_smile:

Thanks iab, I’m definitely far from an expert on these types of processes, so I appreciate your response. That’s a pretty brutal process, and based on your previous reply regarding Google X and the direction of the project I’ll have to sit and give this some thought before I move on.

Alright, I definitely underestimated the difficulty in sharing this stuff with the forums each week, I have a free hour so I’m uploading as much as possible right now. I’m pretty nervous to share my progress but go ahead and tear it apart!

In 6 weeks the project has gone through quite a lot of changes and iterations, here is my new direction and mission statement, I’m going to upload images of mockups and sketches later tonight.

Exploration sketches:

Here’s how it was presented for midterms:

During my exploration I was thinking about creating three instruments which covered the core traditional, contemporary, and digital music process. However, from talking with teachers of many disciplines, and a handful of music teachers, it dawned on me that even though I had a very contemporary music education experience (guitar, bass, drums, etc.) many programs are still stuck in teaching how to read sheet music, and playing classical music. After 6th grade, when students aren’t required to take music class the enrollment in music education drops dramatically, so how can I make something accessible and relevant to students in the K-12 education system. My direction moving forward is to create one product which covers contemporary music, this means guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard because these instruments can be applied to nearly all of music.

I’m projecting to the year 2025 because I want to show my thinking on a topic that I don’t think many people are looking at. I hope that this sort of forward thinking is what Google X is looking for and based on the intern portfolios I have seen I think I’m on the right track.

I’d love to hear your guys’ thoughts and answer any questions or concerns.

Aaron, loving where this is going.

My company actually runs a foundation that gives assistance to various music programs at Boys and Girls Clubs and other types of organizations for at risk youth. (

A few things that come up time and time again there to think about:
cost, every penny counts for these groups, so biggest bang for the buck is important.
durability, instruments are often handed down from one kid to another as they move through programs, these things have to be durable, and work every time.

That is a good start and you have put in some good work.

I do have a question or two. You quickly dismissed the value of classical music and put all of your marbles into the contemporary basket. Pretty much taking over the Jack Black role in School of Rock.

Do you have any evidence that is a more effective teaching method? Aren’t you still reading sheet music with contemporary? In your presentation, I would not be dismissive of one over the other. What is a reason to go contemporary other than, “I think it is better than classical”.

How do you intend to implement this new core curriculum? How are you going to change the minds of the teachers who have a passion for classical? I would put together a plan at the very least on how you would run a pilot program and put together criteria so you can objectively determine if your pilot program is a success or not.

Couple of other comments. While the $200 phone is 1/10 the cost of a saxophone, I would say the sound from the phone is 1/100 the quality of a saxophone. Whatever you do, your sound needs to be on par. And finally, too much Google brown-nosing.

Really interesting projects. I’d love to see larger images of the sketches, the text isn’t legible in the current size. I think the idea of getting more engagement from the students by having them create contemporary music, possibly focusing on composition rather than on interpreting existing songs makes a lot of sense, especially at a high school level.

From my experience in high school, many of us were in bands, some making rap beats and recording friends rapping, lots of singers. However, the music class wasn’t the hub of all of this, it all happened outside of school. The only exposure we could get was at the year end talent show.

My questions would be, how would a group of musicians interact together with these contemporary instruments? How would the classroom be set up? And also, how would sound reproduction be handled? You can make a drum sampler fairly cheaply but 808’s don’t have the same lustre when coming out of a phone speaker. :wink:

For earlier years I’d love to see an orchestra of cheap instruments. Something like the plastic recorder but with a more pleasing sound and with instruments playing in different registers.

Thanks iab,

For the past four weeks my direction was to merge classical, contemporary, and new-age instruments into a small collection of instruments, (I was aiming for three products). However, based on the way schools purchase instruments and things of this nature, it seemed simple and most beneficial to create one product that the schools could purchase (versus the school deciding to buy 10 percussion instruments, 3 traditional, and one digital or something of that sort).

I’m glad you brought this up, it has definitely been a struggle to condense the message of my product.

The argument to go contemporary isn’t to replace classical music entirely; the message behind my project is that there shouldn’t ONLY be traditional music. Because like Louis said in his comment, kids are already playing in bands and playing contemporary music, but for some reason they have to do it outside of school.

The way current music is taught is outdated in many ways. Talking with my high school music teacher last week, he was telling me that there’s a disconnect from the music being made today and the way it’s being taught in school. For example, the education system holds on to reading traditional sheet music, yet reading in the form of something like guitar tablature is much simpler and accomplishes the same thing, which is communication. Look at the way Jazz musicians communicated, it definitely wasn’t sheet music, and even the best musicians today don’t know how to read music, so why are we holding on to that specific type of communication?

Music curriculum today is aimed at creating professional classical ensemble musicians. However, if a student graduates from high school having played the clarinet, there is almost nowhere for them to go if they want to pursue music as a career. Even music composers for films are using synthesizers instead of clarinets.

The goal is to make music education appeal to a wider array of students by relating to the music they enjoy. A good example of what I’m talking about would be YouTube cover songs. I also witnessed my high school music program explode when contemporary music was offered (one of the only programs in California to do so). We went from one band class, orchestra and choir, to having six guitar classes and a contemporary music ensemble in addition to the traditional music classes, tripling the amount of students involved in music.

I will definitely expand into implementation, UI/UX and audio moving forward.
Thanks again for your detailed responses and time!

Thanks Louis, that’s definitely the goal and I’m glad you think it’s a good direction! I’ll attach my sketches below in a larger format!

Now that I’m getting closer to my product direction I definitely see the holes in my project going forward. I’m not sure how the interaction between the instrument and interface will be. Since I’m projecting for the year 2025 I don’t want to say that the learning interface is a Chrome book but I’m trying to find the balance between conceptual and going full star-trek.

Same thoughts as far as the audio goes, much more exploration and figuring out to do!

I’ve had the idea of a cheaper, more simple version for young kids in the back of my head that encourages exploration. I was thinking about a basic percussion product, maybe something that a young student could record sounds and make them into loops and then drum to them. I’ll sketch on this tonight!

Thank you for your time and feedback!

Here are a handful of exploration sketches in larger format,