88 Pianists: University of Sheffield researchers help school children set new Guinness World Record

Primary school children from across the UK have set a new Guinness World Record for the most people playing one piano after teaming up with engineers and musicians from the University of Sheffield.

The '88 Pianists' Project

The pioneering record - part of a national outreach project led by the University of Cambridge - saw 88 children play a piano using a range of mechanical inventions developed by school pupils to mark 500 years since the death of Leonardo da Vinci.

Researchers and students from the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering, Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Department of Music helped primary schools in Sheffield prepare for the record attempt by working with pupils to develop their mechanical inventions.

Combining science and art, the 88 Pianists project saw engineers and musicians from the University take part in engineering and music outreach days, which helped children in the region learn about da Vinci, musical instruments and mechanical engineering.

The world record was successfully achieved in front of over 500 leading engineers from around the world who had gathered in Birmingham’s International Convention Centre (ICC) for an annual meeting.

It’s now hoped the new Guinness World Record can also inspire a new generation of engineers and musicians.

88 Pianists children's idea
The Water Whirler! Children at Woodthorpe Community Primary School designed an invention that uses four pipes filled with coloured water to play different piano keys

 Dr Candice Majewski from the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, who co-ordinated the University’s involvement in the project, said: “This whole experience has been incredible from start to finish. The enthusiasm and creativity of the school children we’ve worked with has been way beyond what we expected, and we’re very grateful to the teachers who so willingly welcomed us into their classrooms!

“The final performance was even more exciting than we'd hoped. There were audible gasps from the audience as the curtain lifted to show all the contraptions on stage, and the standing ovation at the end seemed like it would never end! It was a wonderful end to such an inspiring project!”

As part of the project, academics and students from the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering helped pupils at Hallam Primary School and Lydgate Junior School develop six different finger designs. These designs were used in the final performance that set the new world record.

Engineers from the University’s AMRC worked with Brockwell Junior School, Greenside Primary School and Woodthorpe Community Primary School to design and manufacture seven inventions that were also used in setting the new record. The inventions include:

  • The Flying Rabbit (Lydgate Junior School) – a contraption that launches a wooden rabbit at the piano to play the lowest key
  • Santa (Lydgate Junior School) – an invention that uses Santa, elephants, marbles and tennis rackets to play a single piano key
  • TNT (Lydgate Junior School) – a contraption that uses a visual representation of an explosion to press a piano key
  • I Can’t Think Of A Name 2000 Bicycle (Hallam Primary School) – an invention that uses a bicycle connected to a secret weapon underneath the piano to play a key
  • The Invention (Hallam Primary School) – a contraption that requires a packet of pancakes to be placed in a crucial position on a seesaw to cause a water bottle to fall onto a piano key
  • Chicken Reindeer Penguin Banana Nugget (Hallam Primary School) – an invention that uses a reindeer to push a chicken nugget along a piece of string, whilst skating on an ice floor with a banana and a penguin in order to press a piano key
  • The Metal Cog Thingie (Brockwell Junior School) – a series of cogs joined together to touch the piano
  • Nuts and Bolts (Brockwell Junior School) – metal extensions that are attracted to magnets placed on the piano’s keys
  • The Monkey Machine (Greenside Primary School) – a mechanical monkey held on two pieces of string that relies on friction to move forwards and press a piano key
  • Let it Shine (Greenside Primary School) – a lever on the back of a rainbow tree that can be used to press a piano key
  • The Crow (Woodthorpe Community Primary School) – a carefully arranged collection of wires linked to the piano’s keys
  • Water Whirler! (Woodthorpe Community Primary School) – four pipes that can be filled with coloured water to play different piano keys
  • Hex Bug (Woodthorpe Community Primary School) – a remote control micro robot that can travel along a tube to play a piano key

The University of Sheffield AMRC also machined the large, metallic c-plate which connected the 88 mechanical extendable fingers to the piano.

Senior Technical Fellow, Dr Erdem Ozturk, who led the AMRC’s involvement in the project, said: “Our role was to unlock the inventive, problem solving impulse in every child and to challenge perceptions about engineering in the classroom: what better way to do that than by combining science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with art and music.

“As engineers at the AMRC, we are keen to help foster the children’s sense of creativity by showing that seemingly different subjects like music and engineering have something in common: creativity.”

88 PIanists - children's 'chicken nugget' idea
Chicken Reindeer Penguin Banana Nugget: Children at Hallam Primary School designed an invention that uses a reindeer to push a chicken nugget along a piece of string, whilst skating on an ice floor with a banana and a penguin to press a piano key

Katie Muller, a music student from the University, worked with the STEM club at Brockwell Junior School in Chesterfield to introduce pupils to the different musical concepts that their inventions would need to cope with.

Katie said: “The children were incredibly creative, and came up with innovative ideas that only young adventurous minds could invent – it was a great success!

“A brand new piece of music was written for this world record attempt, so we did lots of exercises involving creating new patterns of notes with chime bars in different groups. The children had the opportunity to explore composition at a basic level, which was new and exciting for many, thus broadening their musical knowledge.

“Each child from the group submitted a mechanism design, and two designs were selected for the record attempt from Brockwell Junior School. These were then made into fully functioning, life-size mechanisms, with the help of the engineers from the AMRC.

“This is a truly innovative and exciting project, and it has been a pleasure to be a part of such exploration and creativity.”

Read more about the 88 Pianists’ Guinness World Record at www.88pianists.com 

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