To Make a Makerspace

August 24, 2015

Pegboard Strings
Strumming a pegboard guitar. Credit: Evan Rothery

Pegboard is found in almost every home, garage or store. Its efficiency in modular storage and display is unparalleled. We barely notice it, because it is everywhere. But did you know you could build almost any instrument using pegboard? In fact, this modular structure is going to be the foundation of how we explore instrument design in our Makerspace at the new National Music Centre.

But how did we get from pegboard to instrument creation?

For the last year I have been researching the Maker Movement. When the National Music Centre opens in 2016, there will be a room called Soundbox, our musical Makerspace. To support the development of this space, we needed to submit a design for the room. We needed to consider: What furniture was required? How we were planning to store tools? Would there be staff members in the room at all times? To answer these questions, we had to first decide what we were going to do in the space. What types of activities would we do? What did we want visitors to explore, create and learn?

So began the research into the best practices of Makerspaces.

First, I took a free online course about tinkering, which was a great way to get into the maker mindset. I quickly realized Makerspaces come in many varieties. The Tinker Studio at the Exploratorium in San Francisco is one of the longest running Makerspaces and has set the standard for many other organizations. The Edmonton Public Library has recently built a Makerspace that has a multimedia focus, giving visitors access to sound recording and video editing software.

It was when our community collaborators, Telus Spark, showed me their Makerspace that inspiration struck. We were watching students engage with a display of sewing mannequins, pinning on bits of fabric, feathers and other decorations. It was singled out as one of the most popular activities, with kids often getting dragged away from their parents because they’ve been at it for half an hour. The revelation was that participants don’t have to take what they make. Instead, the projects can be participatory, creative making experiences with objects and materials that stay in the space. I was already thinking about pegboard for tool storage, but this revelation made pegboard take on a new purpose. The pegboard would become our version of the sewing mannequins, where visitors could attach strings, drums, pieces of metal, bellows, tubes, and motors to construct any kind of sound making object they wish. Visitors can engage with pre-built instruments and make changes or design their own.

Pegboard pic
Some early experiments of the instrument pegboard. Credit: Evan Rothery

A prototype was built early in the summer and I have been experimenting with pegboard music making ever since. Here are some of my favourite discoveries.

  • The pegboard is surprisingly efficient at reverberating the sound of vibrating strings.
  • Wrench sets make wonderful metallophones.
  • There are some big pegboard hooks out there, that can support a lot of weight (or string tension).
  • Contact microphones can greatly transform your sounds (for example: rubber bands are excellent at reproducing electric guitar and bass sounds).

I can’t wait to unveil Soundbox to the public and see how they can take these ideas even further. The maker movement is one of the most important trends happening in education today. Everyone can now be an inventor! New technologies are allowing people to imagine, design and manufacture things we could only dream of a decade ago.

Pegboard Prism

We will have pegboard instruments for the public to try at Calgary Mini Maker Faire on September 12 and 13 and at Beakerhead as part of their Stephen Avenue Walk from 4:00–6:00 pm on September 16–18.

Come on down, say hello, and invent with us.

Have you tinkered, invented, or played in a Makerspace? Share your ideas with us in the comments below or email us at education@nmc.ca.

Also, check out our two trailers for these events in September:

About the Author

Evan Rothery

Evan was born in Ontario, but has lived in Calgary for more than three quarters of his life. The easiest way to make him happy is to stick him in a room with a musical instrument that he has never tried before.

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