Paul M. Helfrich

Explore the Cutting Edge of Science, Art & Spirit

What Makes Music?

Exhibit Overview

A traveling multi-component interactive exhibit on the science of music that opened in the summer of 1988.  This 4,000 sq. ft. exhibit was seen by over 3 million people, and grossed over $1 million in revenue between 1988-2000. It is the Franklin Institute’s most successful traveling exhibition to date.


Using state-of-the-art technologies such as synthesizers, sampling keyboards, computers, spectrum analyzers, and videodiscs, WHAT MAKES MUSIC? examines the relationships between science and music.

Twenty-eight hands-on exhibits use instruments from as simple as a strong, to as complex as a synthesizer; from as familiar as your own voice to as foreign as an African lyre. The exhibit also features sixteen ethnic world-instruments from the Lucy Wharton Drexel collection, the Sound Stage–a demonstration area, and the Giant Walk-On Keyboard (from the hit movie BIG).

The exhibit consists of five main areas:

  • Waves: Shapes and Sounds
  • Harmonics: Colors of Sound
  • Patterns: Musical Math
  • Making Music: Acoustic Sounds
  • Making Music: Electronic Sounds

“If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

A video overview of the exhibit.

Waves: Shapes & Sounds

Explore the relation between length and pitch.

Explore the Harmonic Series

Discover the harmonic series, and the basic chords that make up a musical phrase.

Explore the Lucy Wharton Drexel Collection

Listen to ethnic musical instruments from around the world, and explore how
musical patterns have mathematical relationships.

The Sound Stage Demo Area

The Sound Stage demonstration area featured as state-of-the-art Kurzweil K250
synthesizer that was originally demonstrated by Robert Moog at the Franklin
Institute during the summer of 1988.

What’s New?

I am currently the Pedagogical Coordinator and Music Teacher for Grades 1-4 at the Westside Waldorf School in Pacific Palisades, CA for the 2023-2024 academic year.

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