A new designer toy from Poland for kids aged two and higher is the ultimate ‘learn through play’ musical instrument. Beautifully manufactured in wood, the barrel organ-like device employs an immensely intuitive system that lets anyone create music and grasp the basics of analogue coding at the same time.
It’s simply fun
‘It doesn’t need any explanation!’ says Michael with a smile, referring to the Musicon, the new designer toy from Poland which lets children aged two and up make music. He’s a dad and his little boy is playing with the Musicon for the very first time – he was immediately drawn into it and began making music on his own within minutes. Although it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a toy is simply fun and needs no instructions, in the case of the Musicon it really seems like a remarkable achievement. Why you ask? First off, it looks complicated. So many moving parts, pieces sticking out, levers… Secondly, it is supposed to be educational (which usually means excited parents and unexcited kids). Despite these traits, Musicon doesn't put kids off but engages them right off the bat, thanks to its charm and intuitiveness. It really does look like the ultimate combination of learning and play.
A zero-one situation
So what exactly is this miraculous device? Well, it’s sort of a programmable mini-orchestra. It’s has a big rotating cylinder or drum with easy-to-push buttons which can either be hidden or protruding. There is no third option, so like in computer coding, it is a zero-one situation. When the drum spins around, the buttons which are sticking out hit parts of the specially designed mini-instruments mounted on top of the Musicon, causing them to produce sounds. It is a solution similar to that of how barrel organs work, but instead of there being just one sound there are three. The instruments include a percussive mill, a drum as well as an eight-tone xylophone. There is a lever which puts the whole thing in motion and controls the tempo.
The idea is really very simple and that’s the beauty of it. It was originally devised in 2011 by Kamil Laszuk for his graduation thesis at the Wrocław Academy of Fine Arts – a mixture of his fascination with both design and music: apart from being a designer, the Pole is also a double bass player. Before the concept was realised. it was carefully perfected in collaboration with experts in the fields of music and education. Kamil’s sister and other relatives are involved in the creation process, which is managed by a family business. Last year the first prototype was made: Kamil’s idea was executed flawlessly. The wooden instrument is beautifully manufactured to the highest of standards and is also entirely safe for even the youngest users thanks to the creation of special safety features, such as a clutch that automatically stops the drum if it there’s too much resistance.
Play your favourite tune
According to the creators of Musicon, playing with it facilitates children’s ‘development of social, motor and computational skills.’ The social abilities are developed, amongst others, through operating the Musicon simultaneously with their peers. The device has loads of nifty features that can provide amusement for a whole bunch of little musicians: for example, someone can be pressing the buttons altering the overall pattern, while another instrumentalist is improvising on the xylophone (it may be played manually, independent of the drum’s rotations), while a third party is in charge of the tempo. What’s even more magnificent, is that the instruments can be easily repositioned on the special magnetic rack that connects them to the cylinder, which makes this Polish design even more ingenious.
Motor skills are developed through contact with a reactive, material toy, a thing which in the day of omnipresent tablets and other electronic devices isn’t all that obvious anymore. Computational skills are linked to the process of analogue coding which can be employed to make the Musicon play a specific tune. Thanks to the clear design and interface someone completely new to the device is fully capable of programming it, using only the buttons, to play their favourite song. Needless to say, the instrument expands musical skills as well. But the best part is that all of this learning happens through play. Its creators say that it ‘has been tested by hundreds of children and they all fell in love with it!’
Listen to the band
Another great quality of the Musicon is that it encourages children to discover it for themselves – it is delightful and easy to operate. It teaches the young ones a healthy curiosity about the world. The Musicon team is also preparing educational aids that will help explain some features to the kids, which they may not figure out on their own. Among them will be… a puppet band whose members can help with learning not only about music but also about maths and coding too.
Recently Musicon, which has already won the prestigious Red Dot Design Award and iF Design Award, raised enough money on Kickstarter to go into production. It looks like the puppet band will soon be playing with some awesome sidekicks…
Author: Marek Kępa, Apr 17