Awakening music dice

The electronic music dice is intended for young children in musical awakening classes, as a playful and non-competitive interactive game to learn music though mimicking sounds and rhythms.


Presentation Video



The purpose of the game

The primary purpose of the dice is to foster music learning for individuals or small groups of young children between 3 and 6 through game activites and imitation. The design is intended for small groups of children during music classes, as a playful and non-competitive interactive appliance. Regarding the game itself, there are numerous possibilities, depending on the soundbank and the ideas that the teacher has to create a dynamic in the group.

How to use the dice :

  1. The teacher decides which soundbank to use in the dice and set it via the interface
  2. The dice is given to a child who has to throw it
  3. This action triggers a sound depending on the face that appears
  4. The child has to mimic the sound that emerges, be it melodic, rhythmic or textural, through body percussions, voice, or instruments.  




Why this idea

The hard thing about music awakening classes is to keep the attention of young children during a whole session. Thus, small games and timings of activities are of great help. Once, a friend of mine told me that he was using dices with more advances pupils to create small games during his sessions. This simple idea struck me. Why not building on it?



The traditional educational blocks for young children have long been recognized to encourage functional and symbolic play, in different areas such as 3D space representation, mathematics… [11]. The two educators Froebel [2] and Montessori [4] have had a signi cant impact on the development of education theories, especially in the field of toys. On the one side, Froebel supports open-ended designs and the ability to build objects freely (emphasis on creations that imitate the material world). On the other side, Montessori supports learning through exploration and investigation with the use of objects and materials having a constrained design, aiming at making understand abstract concepts [12]. The researcher particularly worked towards an “education of the senses” to develop the sensory abilities of children. The works of Piaget about the child’s cognitive development belong to the same period. He stressed the importance to go through “concrete operation” before being able to do “formal operations” [5]. More recent studies built on it, and stressed once again the importance of concrete operations in the learning process, viewed as important than abstract reasoning [9].

Tangible user interfaces in education

In the 90s, researchers in “ubiquitous computing” and embodied interaction started to work on tangible user interfaces (TUIs), by adding computational possibilities to everyday objects. In the field of education, the MIT Media Lab was very influential. They were the first to create digital manipulative to support learning and thinking, using the Logo programming environment to allow the children to write programs on a computer and then to embed it into objects [6]. Since then, educational TUIs concern a wide range of areas, covering for instance mathematics for children from six [7], or learning spelling to children from three to six [3].

Bakker et al. [1] especially developed the notion of embodied metaphor in TUI. The connexion between the action from the user and the output relies on embodied metaphors, which consist in metaphorical extension of the embodied patterns, that is, cognitive structures that are applied unconsciously in learning. They show that the use of this embodied metaphors seems promising to support learning.

The cube : A digital manipulative

This project draws from previous studies using the cube as a learning TUI. I was notably inspired by the promising results found by Terrenghi et al. [8] and Van Laerhoven et al. [10], described below:

  • Terrenghi et al. [8] designed a cube-based learning platform for test-based quizzes, where questions and answers can be text or image based, that can support a wide range of applications. The user has to spin the cube and then shake it to select his choice. The wireless appliance is controlled by a micro-controller inside, connected to a display on each face, a speaker and two two-axes acceleration sensors. The wood cube can be picked up, rotated, thrown, shaken, and put down again. The device was tested with three-year old children to learn how to read letters. It revealed that the dice was appealing, because considered more as a toy rather than a traditional learning tool.
  • Van Laerhoven et al. [10] designed a cube-based TUI for navigation and input. I was interested by their choices in the design because they chose the components in order to get a low-cost, robust, and accurate dice.



Designing the dice


Since the targeted audience is children, this implies crucial constraints such as:

  • No use of any cumbersome equipment such as video tracking
  • robustness
  • wireless design
  • light-weight
  • power-efficient
  • fun and fiendly
  • low-cost to be affordable


The augmented dice sends information to a connected device (smartphone or laptop), this one sending the sound over the loudspeakers in the room. The dice triggers a sound each time a child takes it and throw it, depending the top- face when it stops moving.


  • Adafruit Feather 32u4 Bluefruit LE
  • GY521 Gyroscope / MPU-6050 module
  • Wood cube : made with a Lazer cutter
  • Coloured fabric : to make it soft and protect it against possible shocks
  • Velcro tape


In order to get the incoming Bluetooth LE data and send it to MaxMSP through OSC, a Python3 script is used (hugo thanks to Tom Kaplan who build it). It uses two python libraries: osc4py3, and Adafruit Python Bluefruit LE library.

To detect the different faces of the dice in the Arduino IDE we built a finite state machine depending on the following actions: the child takes the dice in his hand; he throws the dice; the dice stops and emits a sound. We used the acceleration data from our module to go from one stage to another.

We built a user-friendly via MaxMSP software intended for people with no technical background that would be intuitive.


We here designed a creative and educational framework that we believe could have a great potential in the hands of creative educators as a playful educational tool, to create tailored music lessons. This work is ongoing.


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  2. Norman Brosterman. 2002. Inventing kindergarten. New York : Harry N. Abrams.
  3. WooiBoonGoh,L.L.ChamaraKasun,Fitriani,JacquelynTan,andWei Shou. 2012. The I-Cube: Design Considerations for Block-Based Digital Manipulatives and Their Applications. In Proceedings of the Designing Interactive Systems Conference on - DIS ’12. ACM Press, Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom, 398.
  4. Maria Montessori. 1964. The Montessori method. New York : Schocken Books.
  5. Jean Piaget. 1971. Genetic Epistemology. W W Norton & Co Inc.
  6. Mitchel Resnick, Fred Martin, Robert Berg, Rick Borovoy, Vanessa Colella, Kwin Kramer, and Brian Silverman. 1998. Digital Manipula- tives: New Toys to Think With. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - CHI ’98. ACM Press, Los Angeles, California, United States, 281–287. 274644.274684
  7. Eric Schweikardt and Mark D. Gross. 2006. roBlocks: A Robotic Con- struction Kit for Mathematics and Science Education. In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Multimodal Interfaces - ICMI ’06. ACM Press, Ban , Alberta, Canada, 72. 1180995.1181010
  8. Lucia Terrenghi, Matthias Kranz, Paul Holleis, and Albrecht Schmidt. 2006. A Cube to Learn: A Tangible User Interface for the Design of a Learning Appliance. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 10, 2-3 (April 2006), 153–158.
  9. Sherry Turkle and Seymour Papert. 1990. Epistemological Pluralism: Styles and Voices within the Computer Culture. Signs 16, 1, (1990), 128–157.
  10. KristofVanLaerhoven,NicolasVillar,AlbrechtSchmidt,GerdKortuem, and Hans Gellersen. 2003. Using an Autonomous Cube for Basic Navigation and Input. In Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Multimodal Interfaces - ICMI ’03. ACM Press, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 203.
  11. Karyn Wellhousen and Judith E. Kie . 2001. A Constructivist Approach to Block Play in Early Childhood. Delmar/Thomson Learning, Albany, NY.
  12. Oren Zuckerman. 2010. Designing Digital Objects for Learning: Lessons from Froebel and Montessori. International Journal of Arts and Technology3,1(2010),124.