Book Review :: Musical Inventions

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I review books. It keeps my librarian skills sharp, and I love talking about  – and analyzing – books. These reviews cover science and art education books, for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

a picture of the book, Musical Inventions, by Kathy Ceceri

Make has such pretty books these days. All of Ceceri’s books have been printed with color pictures.

It always takes me a long time to review a book. I need to let it sit on my desk for awhile. I want the information to turn over in my head, which allows my brain to make connections to my prior knowledge. I hate shallow reviews. I understand that time is often, of the essence, but it’s difficult to trust a person’s word if they’ve only had the book for a week or so. I mean, how can you know if the book is any good if it hasn’t sat with you for awhile? I have let Kathy Ceceri’s latest book, Musical Inventions, sit on my desk for quite a few months. All in the name of authenticity…

Musical Inventions by Kathy Ceceri

While there is some truth to the above statement, there is also a funny set of events that contributed to its floundering on my desk beneath an important set of papers. It started with a bit of bad timing. When this lovely book arrived on my doorstep in May, we had one foot out the door, in anticipation of a wonderful three-week vacation (which included Washington, DC, Pennsylvania and Quebec). When we returned, I immediately began teaching at summer camp. Following that madness, the Fall semester began at the college where I work…and thus, I’m just now publishing this review.

It’s a long-winded excuse, yes? Sigh. In some ways, it is. I was hoping to get the book reviewed earlier, but I also wanted to try out more of the projects. It seems there’s never enough time to do all of the projects – just a few. Ha! As if I needed a fun, hands-on book to tell me that my life is full.

Plus, I have to confess a little secret: music isn’t really my thing. Oh sure, I love singing along to Hamilton as much as the rest of my family, but when it comes to sound, noise and music, my guitar-playing husband is the one who brings such beauty to our home.

So I did what any sensible, non-musical person would do: I handed the book over to my husband and asked him to try out some of the projects with the kids.

DIY Instruments to Toot, Tap, Crank, Strum, Pluck and Switch On

Ceceri, Kathy. Make: Musical Inventions: DIY Instruments to Toot, Tap, Crank, Strum, Pluck, and Switch On. Make Media: San Fransisco, 2017. Target Audience: science, music & homeschool teachers; parents of upper elementary, middle and high school students.

As with all of Ceceri’s Make books, this tome includes a lot of fun, hands-on projects coupled with real-life connections to individuals and scientific concepts. It only took a few pages before I was hooked. In the first chapter, she mentioned the discovery of a 42,000 year-old flute, found in a cave in 2012. It was made from the tusk of a woolly mammoth. That is so cool! People have been making music for thousands of years. Art and music have always been a part of our culture. Just like the cave art in Lascaux.

After a brief description of the history of music, she goes on to describe how sound works, in addition to the basics of music theory and notation. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a simple book. It’s not. Although the projects are for beginners, there is some heavy teaching going on within these pages. I could definitely see a middle or high school teacher using some of these projects to demonstrate physical science concepts.

Packing Tape Bass Drum

a picture of a hand-made drum from the book, Musical Inventions

A little bit of tape and some popcorn makes a nice drum set.

Since I handed the book off to my musically-inclined husband, all I had to do was sit back, quietly observe, and wait to snap a few pictures. During a long weekend break, my husband pulled out the book and proceeded to test out the “Packing Tape Bass Drum” project. It was the perfect time for a project: the kids were restless and we had all of the materials on hand [clear packing (or masking) tape, a can opener and two round cans (or plastic cups)].

They easily made the drums, which were happily taken home by our neighbor, a girl who lives across the street. She also has a musically-inclined father and I hope they played a duet later that evening.

a picture of two homemade drums made out of tape and clear plastic drink glasses, from the book, Musical Inventions.

My hubby improvised with some of the materials, but the result was the same: homemade drums.

My husband also messed around with the “Turntable Water Glasses” project, but I was too slow to capture it on camera. All told, this book could keep a family busy for days. It would also be a great start for a new science concept, or a way to cap off an in-depth project-based learning physics course. For me, I found the projects on circuit bending to be the most interesting…and hope to mess around with those in the future. If you are impatient, or want to try out one of her projects before grabbing the book, check out her tutorial on creating a low-tech music box.

Maker Movement and Learning

I have long been a fan of Ceceri’s work. As a former homeschool mom, she has created lots of interesting projects that connect learning with real-life applications. Science (and history and writing) are fascinating, but only if a student can make those connections. It’s only stimulating if a student is interested. I think the maker movement gives students a reason to be excited. I hope that every parent considers purchasing one of these books for their child’s teacher…and offers to provide some of the supplies, as well.

I received this book in exchange for my honest review. If you’d like to see my other (non-compensated) reviews of Make titles, check out Making Makers, Making Simple Robots, and Tinkering.