Introduction: WAVES: Making Percussion Music

About: We're a group of educators and musicians interested in exploring the territory where STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) meets the arts and design.

The WAVES program (Wonder, Arts, Vibration, Engineering, Science) is an interactive presentation and performance exploring the scientific and musical properties of sound waves. The four members of Third Coast Percussion perform music, teach about the sound waves using app-based technology and video projections, then pass out custom-designed percussion instruments to all audience members and teach the audience to perform a piece of music together with Third Coast Percussion.

The custom-designed percussion instruments used by the audience were designed and fabricated by students and faculty at the University of Notre Dame’s College of Engineering, led by Professor Jay Brockman, the Associate Dean of Community Engagement and Experiential Learning. WAVES uses 4 custom instruments--links to Instructables for building them are listed below (or coming soon!).

  • Log drums (fabricated on laser cutter)
  • Pipe chimes (fabricated on laser cutter)
  • Whistles (fabricated on 3D printer)
  • Shakers (rice inside of two disposable plastic cups taped together)

We also use scientific instruments so musicians and techies alike can get a better understanding of the sounds that these instruments produce:

TCP ensemble member Peter Martin composed the music that the audience performs with Third Coast Percussion. In this Instructable, Peter provides some tips on composing loop-based percussion music. The final WAVES composition is based on just 4 pervasive pitches which are the 4 notes in an Amaj7 chord: A, C#, E, G#. Audience members play basic rhythms or textures on instruments that are designed to produce these notes that intertwine with the parts that the TCP musicians are playing on stage.

Step 1: Composing Loop-Based Percussion Music

In this video Third Coast Percussion musician Peter Martin provides tips on composing loop-based percussion music.

Here's the final composition:

Step 2: Additional Resource on the WAVES Project

  • A video on WAVES and Wild Sound, a collaboration with Wilco drummer and composer Glenn Kotche
  • Videos from WAVES performances at Notre Dame and the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art (sorry for the shaky quality--shot on a cell phone).
  • PDF of paper on the WAVES project, presented at the 2015 American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference.

Please share your ideas (and links) in the comments section--we'd love to see and hear what people who have landed on this Instructable are up to!