Firmly in the “start ’em young” category, the TSI (Teething ring Sound Instrument) is designed to allow 0-3 year olds to create digital music in Max/MSP. Pressure from the baby’s mouth suckling at the teething ring is converted to MIDI messages and sent to a sound patch on a connected computer:

Pitch corresponds to the change of the sucking pressure. When the teething ring is strongly sucked, a higher note rings. The “basic part” consists of a simple 3 note C-major chord played melodically in the form of a simple musical scale. This is something the baby can identify and enjoy. In expansion part, the note changes with every suck. When the suck is repeated, ascent, descent are repeated. The change of the notes can be enjoyed even by the reflexive sucking motion. Therefore, this is ideal for use from the baby’s initial stage of growth.

TSI (Teething ring Sound Instrument): A Design of the Sound Instrument for the Baby [Academic paper in PDF form; thanks, Patrick!]

The project is the creation of Naoko Kubo, Kazuhiro Jo, and Ken Matsunaga at the Science of Sound Culture department of the Kyushu Institute of Design. It’s not new, but this is the first I’ve seen it.

Interestingly, the all-Japanese design team opted for Western tonality. The “melody” application for the interface, according to the designers, is “intended for the young, somewhat cultured child accustomed to a certain degree to Western tonal music. When the baby begins to suck, a melody with the simple rhythm made on the basis of tonality structure of the Western tonal music begins to sound and stops when the sucking motion is finished.” I know many of us here are of the mind that the last thing babies need is more equal-tempered Western tonality, so fortunately at the end of the article the designers promise to experiment with Javanese pelog tuning or their indigenous Okinawan musical scales. (Patrick who sent in this link was looking up Okinawan scales.)

I’m equally curious about the children’s instruments the article mentions, though, the “garagara” and the “poppen”, which apparently are traditional Japanese musical toys for kids. Can anyone describe what these instruments are? Google curiously returns this image from Pokemon. That either means that the garagara is a cute little dinosaur, played by hitting the small creature in the head with his bone mallet Muppephone-style (whoo! I got to mention Muppephones twice in one week!), or the Pokemon is named for the musical instrument because all kids know what a garagara is! Regardless, this dinosaur is indeed cute.

Updated: Patrick sends details both on the apparent origins of this project, and the instruments in question:

According to this site, it seems to date from a conference in around 2001 although the idea didn’t seem to get anywhere, but maybe Toshio Iwai could be persuaded to take an interest…

Garagara means rattle and can also describe any sort of baby rattling toy (try an image search for various examples old and new).

Poppen is also known as pokopen or bidoro, which comes from the Portuguese “vidro”, or glass, as they introduced the glass blowing technique used in its manufacture in the, err, 17th century or so. It originated in Nagasaki which the port used by Jesuits/Portuguese traders and later others. It’s a sort of one-note flute and was obviously a bit of a craze back in those simpler times and still a popular souvenir to bring back from Nagasaki. There’s a famous woodblock print by Utamaro and song about a woman playing one. Not sure which came first. They were/are used at New Year to expel bad luck:

Thanks, Patrick!

[tags]physical-computing, sensors, children, toys, alternative-interfaces, oddities, Japan, design, Max/MSP, instruments[/tags]

  • Truly fascinating. A wonder what curious side effects might emerge when a 'suck-synth' trained baby reverts to normal breast feeding, because, last time I checked, boobs don't emminate pitchs when they are, you know, sucked.

  • Damon

    This is surely going to be highly entertaining when the baby grows up to hear the tunes he recorded as a "beginner."

  • David Cake

    A common reaction of people I have pointed this out to is "hey, a musical instrument ravers can use". *snigger*

  • jo

    Hi, all. I'm jo. One of co-designer of TSI. Our project continues minutely.We're very glad with your interest. Here, I briefly try to answer your question.

    About tonality, as a practical reason, to use western tonality is easy to implement with Max and MIDI :). I suppose that in the one of the reason we Japanese use it. Babies got strong schema of tonality in early stage of growth (about 6 month to 1 year). So, as you mentioned, we need to have an experiment with other scales to try to catch the effect of musical instrument for early stage of growth. But, unfortunately, we couldn't test it yet because of the problem of assembling the subjects (babies).

    About Japanese musical instrument, "garagara" is a percussive instrument with a grip for baby (, and "poppen"(other name is vidro) is a blowing instrument made by glass ( You can make two different sound with blowing motion (push and pull).and it's not related to Pokemon :).

    If you have more interest, please watch the movie of our experiment (


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