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Pocket-sized piano inventor wins student engineering prize

News - Classical Music | Instrumental

Pocket-sized piano inventor wins student engineering prize

by Angus McPherson on February 14, 2017 (February 14, 2017) filed under Classical Music | Instrumental | Comment Now
Melbourne year eight student Justin Mitchell has created an instrument designed to fit in the pocket of a hoodie.

Tired of carting around a keyboard? Want to hear your own music through your headphones instead of someone else’s? A 14-year-old student at St Kevin’s College in Melbourne has taken out the top prize in the Engineering category of the BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards for his Synth-etic, a keyboard that can fit in the pocket of a hoodie.

The year eight student, who sings with the Australian Boys Choir and plays piano and oboe, built and programmed the tiny piano he describes as a “hood-wind instrument,” which allows the user to compose and play electronic music that only they can hear.

Justin Mitchell - BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards 2017 from CSIRO on Vimeo.

The keyboard consists of eight keys – four for each hand – to allow for an eight-note scale, which can be modulated up and down. The device has 127 instrumental settings.

“It means you can play whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you are,” said Mitchell – who loves maths and coding – in an interview on the award’s website. “I wanted to combine my love of music and science in one simple project. I wanted others to be able to learn to play music and learn it through their own experience without disturbing those around them. The target is musicians, but it’s great for non-musicians as well.”

“For musicians it’s just an amazing outlet for their creativity. I think that a lot of teenagers just see music as noise or noise that sounds good,” he said, “but I think that if they use Synth-etic they’d see music as kind of a song with its parts and they’d appreciate it a bit more.”

In addition to $4000 of prize money, Mitchell will have the chance to participate in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in the USA.

“In the future, I think, technology will have a big part to play in helping people in their everyday lives,” Mitchell said, “whether it’s health, entertainment, as in Synth-etic, or fitness.”