June 3, 2009 “I love the sound of the violin,” explains Carlos Mendez. “Since I was a kid, I wanted to learn how to play it. But born in a poor country such as Nicaragua, my parents couldn't afford lessons.”
It was this childhood affection for the stringed instrument that encouraged the young industrial designer to use part of his final project at the Art Center College of Design in Pasedena, California, where he graduated with honors in product design, to come up with an affordable way of learning the violin. So was born the concept of the “squidolin”.
The squidolin – named on account of its squid-like appearance – is designed to hook up to a TV to instruct students on how to play, although it will play like a regular violin too.
“I decided to try and solve this problem for other people like me,” Mendez tells Gizmag. “I took six weeks of classes to understand the basics and researched the violin culture.”
In the process, he was reminded why he hadn’t learned in the first place. It was expensive. A decent instrument can set you back between USD$300 and USD$500. In addition classes cost up to USD$50 an hour. “It gets expensive very quickly,” he says.
Moreover, Mendez found the conventional style of teaching highly “dogmatic”. “The way you hold the instrument, the music you learn to play, and so on, this turns children off who might have been excited to begin with.”
He also found the instrument was difficult to learn through a book or video because it demanded specific finger spacing, correct bow stroking, timing and a trained ear to know if you were hitting the correct note.
“It's a multi-sensorial experience. In the technological context we live in today, we can create a device that captures the multi-sensorial input that is required to teach someone how to play the violin. The Nintendo Wii is the perfect example (of how it can be done),” he says.
“When connected to a TV, the Squidolin teaches the student how to play through a series of exercises that train each hand at a time. Like levels in a game, the first level teaches you to stroke the bow at a perpendicular angle. The next level might teach you to play that bow at a certain beat, eventually progressing to more complicated things, like using both hands and applying vibrato. It's basically a set of coordination exercises.”
Mendez says he’s now working on demos of the interface that will show what users see on the TV screen.
He explains that it is important also that the squidolin, when plugged into an amplifier behaves like an ordinary electric violin, so it can be enjoyed and used like a regular instrument, whether you’re in the garage with friends or on stage.
In coming up with any design, Mendez always asks himself: “Does this deserve to exist or am I just making garbage?”
With the squidolin, Mendez wanted beauty and comfort. “I think the original violin is attractive, but it has too much stuff on it,” he says, explaining how he conceived of his unusual shape. “The chin rest and shoulder rest in the design look like afterthoughts. They don't look like they belong together. I eventually used the aquatic shape of the squid because of its smooth, attractive shape.”
So will we see a playable version? “I'm working on it,” he says.
Note: Mendez will publish his process book for the squidolin in the near future. We’ll keep you posted.