Wednesday, November 18, 2009

We've Got the Beat (or Why Percussion Makes for a Good Music Exhibit)

By Maria Mortati, Sr. Exhibit Developer

In the last month I have visited 19 museums. Some have had sound or listening experiences- an exhibit content area we're working on. One thing we've been looking at is how to help people fairly quickly make and share music. There are lots of approaches, from acoustic to technical, and as a part of our research, we've been trying them all.

On a recent visit to the Experience Music Project my experience was a bit like the 3 Little Bears. I tried several instrument booths until I found the right one- or rather, the best experience. 

The guitar was cool, but to follow along for a real lesson where I'd actually learn something, I'd need a couple of hours... or days. Plus my feet were getting tired (am old!). The keyboard was better- I was sitting, the experience was more isolated, and it was easy to strike a note and know I'd gotten it "right". However, it sounded... not so good. Drums however were just right: I was seated, the sound was easy to make, there was little "right or wrong" and the on-screen lesson synched with the booth experience worked well to make me sound good.

Not long after the EMP trip, I was with a group at Zeum where everyone walked up and started jamming together on some tubes for their "Pop Music" experience. They played, the got it, and they had fun– all in the space of a few minutes:

On a visit to the Exploratorium Listen exhibit, they have lots of fun, phenomena-based exhibits. However, the creative exhibits which required "playing" or making sound were primarily percussive. There was the 'Xylophone Room' exhibit, and of course, the drums. While both weren't social, they were both engaging and fostered instant mastery.

It's an interesting challenge to get the general public excited about music-making, have a sense of appreciation for the mastery, and also give them some feeling of positive reinforcement at the same time. Seems like percussion is nice for an entry point.


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