Accessible Music: Advanced

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When music enters your life, whether you are listening to or playing an instrument, it can’t be denied that the power it creates is unlike any other. Whether used for recreational or therapeutic purposes, having musical instruments available opens doors for everyone. In the second of this two-part blog series, we are going to focus on musical instruments designed to support people once they are already well underway on their musical journey that are either accessible from the start or can be adapted to support the needs of most any musician. The instruments we have featured for this second part are more advanced, from adaptations to software to instrumentation.

A dimly lit music studio with a mixing board with a laptop sitting on it. Other electronics surrounding the mixing board are turned on and a pair of headphones are off to the left side. Text reads, “Where It’s AT: The Ability Tools Blog. Accessible Music: Advanced.”

Percussion instruments

Experienced drummers can develop arthritis and other recurring injuries due to constant vibration. For those with existing arthritis or joint pain, this may make drumming seem out of the realm of possibility. However, there are options to prevent the onset or the ongoing development of effects resulting from vibration. A great alternative to the wood used for traditional drumsticks is aluminum. Coming from Big Bang Distribution, Ahead aluminum drumsticks reduce shock by 50%, have silicone handles for better grip and last six to ten times longer than wooden drumsticks. 

a pair of aluminum Ahead brand drumsticks

American drum has a great selection of adaptive mallets with thicker than traditional handles, T-bars and cuffs specially designed to support holding any stick.

Adaptive Mallets with thick and t-bar handles

For those who would like to play percussion using their feet, Westco offers a foot tambourine that slides right over your shoe for easy toe tapping percussion playing.  

Foot Tambourine

Jason Gerling is a drummer who acquired his disability in the middle of his career. No longer able to activate his bass drum using his lower limbs, he adapted his drum set to use strike pads and ring triggers under his cymbals in combination with a sip and puff switch to activate a subwoofer in his bass drum. He also mounted his set on a frame with wheels to ease with set up, placement and breakdown.

Wind instruments

Check out Akai Professional’s line of Electronic Wind Instruments (EWI). EWIs are designed to require less breath than traditional woodwinds, making them ideal for those with limited lung capacity and are also incredibly lightweight making them far easier to hold than a typical wooden clarinet or Alto Sax. Additionally, with 200 synth and acoustic settings, it provides the versatility to produce an astounding variation of sounds, enabling the user to operate the same instrument for nearly limitless musical variation.   

Electronic Woodwind Instrument (EWI)

Ergo Brass’s line of wind support systems are phenomenal. They sell devices that enable users to support their instruments (from a lighter-weight EWIs to Saxophones to Trombones and even Euphoniums!) using brackets and metal arms that can provide balance and weight support from a point on the ground, allowing people to play from a seating or standing position or attached to a harness or belt to facilitate playing while standing and moving around! This would be a game changer for someone who dreams of playing with the Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps.

For those who are looking for an instrument that requires only the movement of their head, The Magic Flute might be a great fit! The magic flute is an electronic woodwind instrument that has two primary parts, a flute that you mount into position using a mount that allows for tilting the mounted object and a control module with an integrated display that allows users to select notes based on the users head movements. Users can change the scale of the instrument and produce 128 different instrument sounds (including flute, sax, trumpet, or even a screaming guitar.) Their website even offers workshops to get you started playing your new instrument!

OHMI is a great resource to find out about a variety of adaptive instruments, with links to demos and some vendors. Although OHMI’s shop is not as extensive as Ergo Brass, they do have fantastic mounts for trumpets and trombones to support the weight of the instrument and maintain a set position. And they also have one-handed instrument fingering charts that are super useful!

String instruments

The Wheely Guitar is the first electric guitar designed to be played by wheelchair users. The designers modified the body with cut-ins to rest comfortably on a person’s leg and to not strike the arm of the user’s chair, repositioned the jack, so it isn’t hitting the arm of the user’s chair and damaging any of their equipment (musical or mobility), and so much more. You can order your Wheely today on their website.

Drake Music, from London, England, focuses on creating musical accessibility through custom instruments, community and creating an art collective. One of their bespoke instruments is the “Kellycaster”, designed to meet the needs of musician John Kelly. With its shortened neck and interface with a keyboard, the full range of chords are accessible to John. Although they do not mass produce this bespoke instrument, Drake Music has a resource page for makers and have said that the code to build one is all open source, so connecting with them could be a great option.

Electronic instruments

How about playing a guitar without actually holding a guitar? The MiMu Gloves are a game changer, turning every movement you make with your hands, (lifting motions, clenching your fingers, shaking your fists…whatever works best for you) has the ability to play notes. So, if you want to play the guitar, you will be able to strum with one hand and use the other to determine the chords. 

You aren’t limited to the guitar though, the MiMu is essentially a synthesizer controlled by movement, so you can produce the sounds of entirely other instruments or control effects as desired.

The EyeHarp is gaze-controlled or head-controlled digital instrument software that works with your Tobii eye tracker. You can download the software and get the first month of the full version for free once you complete your first month, you can either continue to use the free version or pay for the full version.

We’ve all heard the theme song to Star Trek, right? Well, that spacey, entrancing sound is produced by a theremin. A device that works exclusively by not touching the device. Now, don’t be fooled, a theremin is very hard to play well, that is why it is being included in our advanced music installment, but it is a great alternative for those who would benefit from a touch free instrument.

If you find the theremin interesting, you can also check out the Theremini. Imagine if a theremin and a synthesizer had a baby, that baby would be the Theremini!

Apps for creating music 

The most basic and popular home recording app, Garageband is a great music creation studio on your mac!  It can do voice recordings, offers “Smart Drums”, and piano composition and can interacted with really well using Voiceover. Check out Tony Gebhard’s tutorial on how he uses Voiceover to interact with Garageband

With the free Keezy Classic app, any user can record and associate eight different sounds to multicolored sound tiles. Large accessible color tiles go across the screen so, depending on your need, you can use this app on your phone or on a tablet. By pressing down on each square you can record vocals, whistles or a beat, or you can also utilize prerecorded beats and sounds.

Similar to the Keezy Classic app, the free AUMI app carries the same function of recording raw sounds to the app and using them to create your own music. Sounds musical phrases can be played by the app tracking movement and gestures using your devices camera. 

For even more information on apps, check out Drake Music’s “Top 5 iPad Apps for accessible music making”. The list is from way back in 2016, but all the recommendations are still active apps with strong followings.

Not at your local music store? Asking is advocating! 

If you go into your local music store and don’t see any of the instruments listed here, then the most important way to get these instruments is to simply ask! Asking music store owners about new technology and instruments gives them an opportunity to work with their full community.

Please know that we only scratched the surface of available adaptive musical instruments. If you want to learn more, please check out Creative United’s, in partnership with the Musicians’ Union and Normans Musical Instruments, Guide to Buying Adaptive Musical Instruments