One of the reasons to look beyond conventional controllers for music (like the ubiquitous, piano-style black-and-white keyboard) is that these controllers have a certain range of expression. But these constraints also impact people with different physical abilities. The piano assumes a certain kind of physical facility, and even as it makes playing easy for people with that facility, it prevents others from being expressive.

Case in point: reader Niels Schuddeboom has been looking for alternative controllers or software that would allow him to overcome cerebral palsy:

I am looking for a solution to make it easier for me to play complex compositions…Due to my disability I can’t use my fingers all together.

I have cerebral palsy, from a musical perspective, this means that I have very stiff movement of my fingers and wrists. That makes it very difficult to play scales, Chords, loops – in other words, it is very hard to play a complex melodies and completions. When I move one or two fingers, naturally the others go with them.
Of course, there are several alternatives. One of them would be to use the mouse or to use BIAB-like software. Problem with the first solution is that you quickly lose the big picture, the second solution, BIAB like software would in my opinion, kill the nature of musical expression.

About the music I like to play: I actually have a very wide taste, from abient to jazz. Not too technical. But I have to say I haven’t played for a very long time because my mind could think of many things but physically it became a frustration. 2 companies were interested in helping me out, but either their custom solutions were way above my budget or they didn’t get back to me.

Okay, readers: got any advice, even for a place to begin researching? Have any of you had to find a way to adapt musical playing to overcome a physical disability? (I certainly know pianists who have had to redevelop their keyboard technique after an injury — either an accident or repetitive stress.)

It absolutely provides an added impetus to think more broadly about how we play music, in terms of hardware and software. Look forward to hearing what you think.

Photo by talented Flickerer Patrish. Nope, not a digital instrument — but, isn’t that funny, notice the uncanny resemblance to the primary interface on virtually all synths?