Chrome Music Lab – Acoustics Sandbox

Chrome Music Lab

Check out the Chrome Music Lab, a virtual playground for learning about acoustics.

Chrome Music Lab – Fun with Acoustics!

acousticsClick on something – anything – and interact with the pictures on the screen. There are no explanations, no words even. Jump into the musical sandbox and see the spectrogram of a flute.. or a harp… or even your own voice.

The interface is so simple and visual that people of all ages can learn about acoustics. You don’t need to be a musician to enjoy this website.



The Chrome Music Lab reminds me of The Exploratorium in San Francisco. It’s a giant building full of science experiments. My family spent an incredible day there several years ago with our kids, then six and four. I remember one exhibit in particular – it had a motor that was exposed and operational. Our youngest liked turning the crank and seeing all the parts move. I had a “lightbulb moment” about magnets and energy. Husband, who is a pro with small engines, was fascinated by some detail I didn’t begin to understand. All of us learned something new by playing with the exhibit.

The Chrome Music Lab is like this too. Playing with the monkeys and drums, I was reminded of the ethnomusicologist’s way of notating non-Western rhythms. My kids liked clicking on the silly monkeys and hearing the different sounds. Others might observe the visual spacing of the rhythms, as if the sounds were placed on a ruler. Each person will have a different understanding of the activity and unique insights.

Here are a few ideas for interacting with the Chrome Music Lab:

  • Try to guess the piece on the “Piano Roll” before hitting the play button.
  • Find the octaves in “Harmonics.”
  • Use “Arpeggios” to accompany yourself while singing simple songs like “The Wheels On the Bus” and “Twinkle Twinkle.”
  • Notice how the tune changes as you draw in “Kandinsky.” Art becomes music. Change colors for different sounds.

(Thanks, James, for the link.)

Brain Imaging on Musicians

As brain imaging technology improves, so does our understanding of music’s effects on the brain.

Listening to music makes the whole brain light up. Playing music causes the neurons to fire even more brightly and faster. It’s easy to understand how musicians use the visual and auditory parts of the brain as well as the places that regulate motor coordination. However, musicians must also tap into the emotional, logical, and creative centers of the brain.

brain scans

brain imaging

My kids and I have enjoyed watching the cute, informative Ted ED video titled “How Playing An Instrument Benefits Your Brain” by Anita Collins.

Did you know that every time musicians pick up their instruments, there are fireworks going off all over their brain?

As I was watching the video, I started to wonder if all of the arts engage our brains in similar ways. Anita Collins says that scientists have discovered that

the artistic and aesthetic aspects of learning to play a musical instrument are different from any other activity studied, including other arts.

It seems clear to me that all children would benefit from learning to play a musical instrument. Sure, many kids learn how to toot “Mary Had A Little Lamb” on the recorder, but that’s just scratching the surface. Neuroscientists now know that kids’ brains are changed when they practice and perform a musical instrument.

Playing a musical instrument is good for kids, and it’s good for adults too.

In my private studio, I teach many adult students. Many of them report better mental acuity since beginning lessons. Older adults are encouraged to do keep their brains active by doing activities like crossword puzzles or keeping a journal. Brain games are thought to ward off memory disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease ( I wonder if playing a musical instrument might have even better results. Reading and writing activate discreet centers of the brain; the whole brain is highly activated by playing music.

Do you want your kids to excel in school? Perhaps your money is better spent on music lessons than a math tutor.

Do you want to stay mentally sharp? Dust off your old clarinet or learn a new instrument. It’s like taking your brain to the gym.

Rhythm Silliness

Every lesson I teach is an adventure.

I never know exactly what to expect when a student walks through the door. Flexibility and creativity are my best friends on lesson days.

This week, I had an especially entertaining lesson with Nicolette* (not her real name, of course.) We both enjoyed being silly and stretching our creative muscles. Moreover, Nicolette learned how to play some difficult rhythms. I think she will remember this lesson for years.

As I’ve discussed in other blog posts about practice hacks, the brain loves novelty. According to the article “Learning by Surprise” in Scientific American (,

“Psychologists have known for some time that if we experience a novel situation within a familiar context, we will more easily store this event in memory.”

My band director taught me to count sixteenth notes as 1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a, etc. Do you remember this from school? Growing up, I struggled to remember the order of the meaningless syllables, but that’s the only way we were taught to count. Much later, in music school at Ohio State, someone suggested using words for rhythm. It was a euphoric moment for me.

YES! Something memorable and playful! Silly rhythm words!

Sixteenth notes on the page became words like “Peanut butter” or “Mississippi.”

Entire silly sentences can be made up for hard rhythms. Take this one, for example:

hard rhythm

grasshopper, melted chocolate salamander

The example above is from music that my adult recorder ensemble is rehearsing. Some of the players were having trouble counting it, but the problem was fixed as soon as I sang “Grasshopper, melted chocolate salamander.” It’s much harder to forget goofy things.

Back to the flute lesson this week with 9 year old Nicolette. Her assignment this week includes playing a variety of sixteenth-note rhythms. She is a Star Wars fan, and we brainstormed new rhythm words. Four sixteenth notes became our favorite little driod R2D2:

16th notes

R 2 D 2

The rhythm one eighth note and two sixteenths (counted 1 and-a in band) is now Darth Vader or Skywalker:

eighth two sixteenths

Darth Vader

The tricky pattern of two sixteenths followed by an eighth note (counted 1-e-and in band) is now Anakin:

star wars rhythms


We can’t forget the easier rhythms like two eighth notes. They have two names- Yoda or Ewok- because Nicolette and I couldn’t decide which one was better:

two eighth notes

Yoda or Ewok

A single quarter note, we decided, would be “Luke.”

And for a grand finale, two sets of triplets would be the worst bad guy of all “Emperor Palpatine.”


Emperor Palpatine

Can you imagine R2D2, Yoda, Darth Vader and Anakin marching across your music in time to the beat?

Use these if they make you smile. Or make up your own. Remember, the sillier the better!

Update: 6 weeks later, Nicolette and I are still using Star Wars words for rhythms. I’ve started using them with other students too.