Maple scholars research expands music accessibility for all

By Anita Fonseca

Physics Professor John Buschert, along with Ben Toews, Zach Yordy, both seniors, and John Miller, a freshman, spent their summer on a Maple Scholars project that makes music more accessible to those not naturally inclined. The Maple Scholars program pairs a Goshen College student or two with a GC professor for eight weeks to complete a research project over the summer.

The “Musician Maker” is a computer program that allows people who don’t have any musical training to be able to play music. In addition to the computer program, the physics team created three different instruments. With the instruments, people can play a song and never hit a wrong note because the program limits the instruments to notes that musically work.

“There are various kinds of electronic musical instruments out there, but most of them are still difficult to play. You still need a fair amount of skill to be able to know how to play well,” said Buschert. “There aren’t instruments that you can just pick up and immediately make music that is enjoyable.”

The group started thinking about the details of their project in January, and by the summer they had already started building instruments which they had to test out in order to solve potential technical problems. Their first thought was to create instruments that seemed natural, so they came up with the “Obloe,” similar to an Oboe, in which you blow, turn a knob and make a perfectly round, on-key and harmonious sound.

The Baronium is a keyboard type of instrument, but one that lacks keys. It is a long and narrow metallic bar in which you can press anywhere and obtain a sound from a two octave range.

The third instrument is a bass-like instrument that still lacks a name, but has been temporarily called by the team the “pluck and play.” It is a very long cylindrical tube that you pluck with one hand and move a knob up and down with the other, obtaining a sound very much like a string bass. “With a real string bass, most people can’t play; they can make noise with it, but that’s all. With this instrument, everyone can play it and it will always be in tune,” said Buschert.

Toews said he enjoyed working with Buschert. “There were enough times when we weren’t sure if it would work out, and the fact that it did work out as well as it did was really good. I’ve enjoyed doing it and I’m proud of this work.”

Yordy said he enjoyed the summer research as well, and adds that, “with more refinement it could be something that could be incorporated into a video game or something that people would have fun using. It was nice to have achieved as much as we did.”

Buschert has many ideas on how to continue, such as the addition of three more instruments. “We might also write a few more scores, have a different chord progression and try out with songs people know, so when people recognize it, they could try playing it.”

“I don’t play any orchestral instruments,” says Buschert, “and I can’t express myself that way. So our hope is that a broader range of people could experience the fun of music expression and improvisation.”

Buschert, Yordy, Toews and Miller will present and demonstrate their project in Reith Recital Hall at noon on Saturday, Oct. 2. The presentation is free and open to the public.

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