Homemade Instruments: Teaching the Teachers

Bean-sorting is part of a larger project which includes cookie tins, nails, metal bottle caps, cardboard tubes, cut steel tubing, large tin cans, paper plates, terracotta pots, keys, sticks of wood, cigar boxes, hammers, wax paper, empty water bottles, string, garden hoses, and crowbars.  And rubber bands.  And drinking straws.  This is all in preparation for a class on homemade instruments.
There won’t be the time to allow hands-on construction of anything, really.  In a 50-minute class, we will barely begin to explore homemade instruments.  Beyond asking what can be made, the question has to be broken down into smaller topics:  How long does it take?  How many steps are required, and what materials and tools are needed?

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If the people who come to attend this class are like the ones I see every year, they will be tired and hoping my class is no challenge whatsoever.  They will slump into desks built for teenagers, sigh deeply, and wonder if they will even attempt to teach small restless boys how to build a noisemaker.
And, that’s what I will ask them:  Are you ready for this sort of project?  If you want to make homemade instruments, you’d better be willing to hear kids playing those “instruments” for an hour and a half.  You have to go into that den meeting or that metalworking merit badge class ready, willing, and able to endure plenty of noise.
After that, it’s all about minimizing dangers.  When making a paper plate tambourine, be ready for fingers caught on staples.   When creating a cookie tin tambourine, be ready for someone to need stitches.  When crafting PVC pan pipes or a galvanized steel xylophone, be ready for cylinders rolling off tables and clanking against each other for the duration of the workshop.
I’ll have a supply of show-and-tell items, a stack of how-to-books, handouts with websites, and some serious advice on worst case scenarios.  The way I see it, there’s a little bit of adventurous boy inside every bored adult man: he needs to hear there’s some risk, some challenge, and some way to do the job better than that old lady who taught the class.
Especially after she embarrassed everyone by making them sing Shake My Sillies Out.  Why did I do that?  Because if you’re having a class on making a musical instrument of some sort, you really need to have a song ready for the completed project.

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Home-Made Guitars: Lessons Learned

The original directions I found for building a milk carton guitar come from Karen Latchana Kenney’s book Cool Rock Music, but she deserves none of the blame for my results.

Kenney’s directions were to use wooden yardsticks for the neck/fretboard of the homemade guitar, but these photos show where we used a plank of wood from the hardware store.  We made this design switch because the only wooden yardsticks found were at the local WalMart, and they were all spliced lengths of soft wood.  Every time we used one, the tension on the strings caused the yardstick to snap dangerously and suddenly.  Sturdier wood was necessary.

Our first attempt to build one of these guitars came out like this:

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We used a lemonade carton, a plank of pine instead of a yardstick, and added multiple strings, as opposed to the single strand of fishing line —

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30lb and 50lb fishing line and one genuine guitar string.  We found that the wood bent pretty easily under the tension of the strings,

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the screw eyes also did not hold well to the wood with that much tension,

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and the carton itself ripped if not handled gently.

We also tried a few variations on the design, using different items for sound boxes, including  a cigar box:

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and a coffee can:

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The advantage of the milk or juice carton was that the top was slanted away from the strings by design, and the ridge at the top was an excellent bridge.  For the cigar box variation we crafted a bridge from a bamboo chopstick:

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But the coffee container needed an even higher bridge, which we created from some scrap wood:

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In both cases, the bridges had to be glued in place or else they slipped free.  Anyone attempting these variations will have to factor in the drying time for the glue.

We tried using a cheap yardstick, as directed in Kenney’s book, but the wood split easily, and in one case broke completely in half where the stick had a seam.  Additionally, wooden yardsticks are harder to find than they used to be (no local hardware stores offered them!) and the cheap ones were worth what we paid — not much.

At the time this article was originally written, the only wooden yardsticks found were dangerously unsafe.   More recently, we found these at Lowe’s:

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The wood is sturdy in thickness, and the rulers are made from a single piece of wood.  The price is low enough that enough to supply a class or a Scout den will not be prohibitively expensive.

We built approximately 40 milk carton guitars at Art Camp.  The older students (ages 9-12) enjoyed discussing the parts of the guitar and ideas for improving on them, and were quite pleased with their results!

 

 

Women and Social Movements: Research Question

I’m gearing up for a class on Women and Social Movements of the 20th Century U.S., and stressing over how little I have paid attention to women as a mass entity and Social Movements in general.

Friends have pointed out to me that I happen to be a woman, myself, (I knew that, btw,) and therefore ought to be well aware of this topic, but that’s completely my point.  I take people one at a time and don’t actually believe there is an entity of Women as a solid front, a single organized force or character.  There are too many variations on the theme, and simple genetics isn’t enough to create unity.  I fight enough with my brothers to know that.

I’m not even certain what the difference is between a Social Movement and a fad or fashion trend, in some ways.  Is a Social Movement necessarily a cause toward some ideal?  I’d welcome thoughts on what the definition might be.

I’ve always been geared toward taking people one at a time and rolling my eyes in impatience when I see generalizations — that “we” in statements like “We love our hamburgers in the US!” is particularly annoying, since I live in the US, but I don’t even like hamburgers, much less love them.  And statements like “We are fascinated with [celebrity]” actually anger me, since I’m again clumped in by default even though I have no idea who they’re talking (or writing) about most of the time.

This all must change for the next four months or so: I must embrace the collective and pretend that Women behave en masse like some sort of Hive mind (Ender reference) and then study this chimera.

So, here’s a research stab:  How many of you have a take on women and the Internet as a social medium rather than an information resource?  Do you find you encounter more (apparent) women in discussion boards, or social sites, or blog sites?  Any thoughts on that?

I am slowly awakening to the fact that I have made a lot more women friends through the internet than I ever did in the Real World.

And, is blogging a Social Movement?

Old Dogs, New Tricks?

I work in the library milieu.  The statement still conjures the stereotypical imagery: large rooms, countless books, narrow aisles between the shelves, the soft sounds of turning pages, and the stern warning glares from the bespectacled matron at the huge wooden desk.  Enter, if you dare.

Oh, how welcoming!  And we wonder why it’s so hard to encourage visitors to our dusty halls, do we?  Perhaps we have Hollywood and television to thank for this throwback image; Nic Cage did his best, but it’s Marian the Librarian who leaps to mind when the subject of librarians and/or libraries comes up.

The reality is always so different, but to make this discovery bridges must be built between libraries and schools, between libraries and businesses, between libraries and communities, and — most importantly these days — between libraries and the virtual world.

We’ve been here right along, thanks to online catalogs and databases, but these are passive presences.  We put them up and leave them to be found, explored, used, and forgotten, with the mistaken assumption that a few pretty colors or clever arrangements of words will suffice.  Even adding new and marvelous portals from our sites to other databases of vast knowledge and resources quietly awaits discovery rather than announcing itself.   We’re just too used to being quiet in the library!

So, the new trick is to find a voice, here in the virtually silent virtual reality.  Enter the world, learn the language, and find our new way into the old job of providing information.  Some trick.

Gaheris Stories

Possibly my favorite stories of Gaheris were the ones he’d tell us just after they’d happened, when he, too, was still marveling at how they unfolded. A native New Yorker, Gaheris had moved to Pennsylvania because it was what his little family could afford. He and his hard-working wife were both college graduates, but in our part of New York that didn’t help much — education alone couldn’t guarantee a job; there just weren’t that many jobs available.

Gaheris and his family lived right on a main road: up in New York it was Route 26; as soon as it crossed the state line it became PA Route 267 and kept on going, south and then west as the bug crawls. They rented a big old farmhouse with several adjacent acres and a huge barn, and there were no neighbors for miles and miles in any direction.

Each day Gaheris spent outdoors, working on building green houses, mowing the lawn, or tending the family garden, he’d often be the only person passing cars would see — and thus the person they would stop to talk to.

There was the day a man pulled up in a huge shiny truck and called Gaheris over.

“We’ve been contracted to start work on a hunting cabin on that acreage that just sold, up on the hillside above you.”

“Yep. Heard about that.”

“Yes. Well, the way we see it, we’ve only got one option, and that’s to build a temporary road that will cut right through the property alongside the row of trees there, and we’ll have the trucks bring the materials we need up that way.”

“I can see where that’d work.”

“Yes. Well. If that’s not a problem, we’ll get that underway so we can get the job done. Thank you very much!” And the construction foreman clambered back into his truck to leave.

“Y’know…”

“Yes?”

“It’s a good idea and all, but you might want to actually ask the property owner. Past the trees? That’s not my land.”

It was the assumptions that would get Gaheris guffawing, over and over again, although he was not innocent in the confusion.

The southbound folks who pulled up to his house one afternoon, for example, and called him over, may have had stories to tell about Pennsylvanians that weren’t entirely untrue.

“Excuse me! Howdy!”

“Howdy.”

“This road we’re on now, this is 267, right?”

“Yep.”

“This road’ll get us to Vestal Center, New York?”

“Yep.”

“Thank you very much!” and, thus reassured, the driver began to roll up his window and continue down the road.

Gaheris had walked all the way back to his driveway before he suddenly appeared to have a thought, and turned back to the driver. “You might want to turn around, though,” he suggested helpfully. “See, this road’ll get you there, but you’ll have to drive all the way around the world to do it. Turn around, though, and it’ll take you about 20 minutes.”