The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Teaching Kids to Build Their Own “Funky Music Machines”

Imagine being a middle-school kid who knows how to make his or her own “funky electronic music machine.” Heaven right? That’s the agenda for a free, two-week, summer workshop being run in downtown Springfield by our Electrical and Computer Engineering Department from August 2 to 13 every weekday afternoon in the Parish Hall of the Old First Church at Court Square. Circuits and Beats is a summer tech workshop in which 12 middle-school-aged children from Springfield will design, build, and program electronic music machines under the direction of UMass Amherst engineers.

Each young do-it-yourselfer will build and keep his or her own music machine. The kids will also learn how to read circuit schematics and modify computer programs for an 8-bt microcontroller. T. Baird Soules, senior lecturer and undergraduate program director in the ECE department, serves as the faculty director of the program.

The workshop will introduce the students to the joy of tech through an exciting one-of-kind musical hardware/software electronics project, which they will make and then take home. They will assemble electronic sensor circuits, which will be used to control a miniature music synthesizer. Circuits and Beats will also advise the young music-makers about which math and science courses they should take in high school in preparation for studying engineering at UMass Amherst or elsewhere. In addition, the workshop will take the kids on a field trip to the UMass Amherst campus to meet students, alumni, staff, and faculty and tour the extensive facilities.

The lead instructor for Circuits and Beats is Sean Klaiber, a graduate of the Electrical Engineering program this year. Sean is an accomplished musician and has two years of experience teaching hands-on tech at the UMass Amherst M5 facility. Sean will be assisted by three other UMass engineers. Constantina Tyes is a senior in the Electrical Engineering program. Constantina hails from Cape Verde. Rodrigo Bismonte and Patrick Estabrook are juniors in Computer System Engineering and Electrical Engineering, respectively. Rodrigo came to Amherst from far away Guam! Patrick came to the valley from not-so-far-away Virginia.

Each student who completes the two-week program will receive a Logitech S220 2.1 Speaker System in addition to his or her own Circuits and Beats music machine, featuring the Arduino Duemilanove microcontroller and the VS1053 MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) Sound Module.

The middle-schoolers are not expected to have any particular technical background, but must possess a genuine interest in learning more about computers, electronics, and music. (July 2010)