New inventions can make anyone a musician

Piano-learning system can also teach braille

Composing an original piece of music or learning to play Liszt’s “La Campanella” could be as easy as firing up an iPhone app or slipping on a revolutionary new pair of gloves thanks to two  American college professors.

Bandojo, an app created by University of New Mexico professor Panaiotis, recently went on sale for $2.99 at Apple’s app store; it promises a fool-proof method or making music. As Panaiotis recently told the Albuquerque Journal, the beauty of the app is its accessibility.

Writer Mike Bush wrote that Bandojo allows “those with no musical training .. to create original melodies that are automatically harmonized,” in a report this week.

If you’re more interested in simply learning to play music rather than compose it, a new device under development at the Georgia Institute of Technology could turn you into a pianist in no time.

“We have seen in studies that you can wear the gloves for a period of about 30 minutes, and at the end, you can take off the gloves and will be able to play about 45 notes of a song like ‘Amazing Grace’,” said Caitlyn Seim, a PhD student at Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing.

 

While Seim said the “vibrotactile gloves” don’t have an official name yet, they’ve been designed by a group of Georgia Tech researchers mainly to help blind people easily learn to use a braille keyboard.

“There are nearly 40 million blind individuals worldwide, there is a literacy crisis among the low vision population,” Seim said. Research from the National Federation for the Blind indicated fewer than 10 percent of the legally-blind population in the US could read braille, as of 2009.

“Misconceptions about technology are even cited as one of the causes for the decline in Braille instruction in schools,” Seim continued in an email. “It would be spectacular if technology could serve as a solution, instead, to the problem of illiteracy among the blind.”

Here’s how the system works: The user wears a pair of fingerless gloves and a pair of headphones. The system then plays audio clips synchronized to a pattern of vibrations on the user’s fingers, for instance an audio cue would tell the user a phrase and the vibrations would demonstrate how to type that phrase on the keyboard.

Seim said the system works through muscle memory, meaning the user doesn’t need to pay attention to the audio cues in order to learn.

“You just wear the gloves and do other tasks … when you are done with the learning period, you take the gloves off and can perform your skill,” she said.

The system also showed promise as a rehabilitation tool for spinal cord injury patients, according to a study the Georgia Tech team did with the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. The gloves resulted in improved mobility and sensation in the patients’ hands, according to Seim.

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