Music boxes are known for their tinkly sound. But wind-up music boxes are also finely tuned machines. Turn the key to tighten a spring, open the lid to release the catch that lets the spring unwind, and gears and flywheels start to move the mechanism at just the right speed.
The music is produced by a rotating cylinder studded with tiny pins. As the cylinder (known as the drum) slowly spins, the pins pluck the teeth of a metal comb. The teeth on each comb are different lengths and thicknesses, depending on the notes needed for the melody each box plays. Every part of a music box takes artistry and expertise to create.
Music boxes also have inspired musical inventors to get creative. Like thumb pianos, the teeth can be made out of any material that makes an interesting sound when it is plucked or tapped. Our version uses assorted wire springs, but you can try other kinds of noisemakers as well.
Musical Inventors: Koka Nikoladze
My Experimental Music Box was inspired by Koka Nikoladze of Norway (nikoladze.eu), who builds hand-cranked Beat Machines—music boxes that use objects like forks and plastic rulers instead of a metal music box comb. He also makes computerized versions using programmable Arduino microcontrollers. His other musical inventions include a MacBook Pro that you play with a bow. He has said that his goal is to make a bassoon you can read your email on.
Safety Warning: Children should get adult help cutting materials like wooden boards and rods.
Note: Because it’s experimental, this project uses quick-and-dirty construction techniques that are easy to modify but not very permanent. Can you think of ways to improve the design to make it play better and last longer? Test your ideas to see if they work!