University of Victoria

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Unique multimedia kit increases participation in music

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A unique multimedia kit is enabling people with challenging disabilities to create music in ways they never have before.

The Mobile Music Therapy Kit was developed by CanAssist and is being used in therapy sessions at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. The kit provides a multitude of ways for people who attend these sessions to create music, even though their conditions may make it impossible for them to play standard instruments.

Music therapist Allan Slade on guitar and (left to right) Kaitlin, Corrine and Sierra. Corrine and Sierra play instruments using the iPods attached to their arms, while Katlin presses a grey accessibility switch.

The kit will be used by the Conservatory's team of music therapists who teach students with disabilities both in the main building on Johnson Street and out in the community. Working closely with therapists throughout the development process has ensured that the CanAssist music kit addresses the specific requirements of students and teachers alike.

“The whole music kit is a great package to help groups play together that would otherwise not be able to do so,” said music therapist Allan Slade. “You can be assured that all the Conservatory music therapists will take turns in their clinical hours in the upcoming year to find applications for the music kit with various populations and in various community sites in our region.”

The kit includes three iPods, each loaded with CanAssist's motion-activated music app. For participants with extremely limited use of their hands, an iPod is strapped to any part of the body over which they have some control. By moving the iPod, the person can create the individual notes of the instrument of his or her choice. Another component of the kit lets people who are only able to make very small motions create music, while four wireless accessibility switches provide other ways to trigger sounds.

Music student Corrine plays the piano during a class by moving her arm. The attached iPod is connected wirelessly to the Music Kit. The music therapist can easily change the instrument, key, octave, music genre at any time during the class.During a recent session at the Conservatory, Corrine triggered the notes of an electric guitar, later switching to piano. Although Corrine's condition means she has extremely limited use of her arms, an iPod strapped to her wrist and connected wirelessly to the music kit made a previously impossible activity – such as playing the piano – suddenly possible.

Fellow classmate Kaitlin used two wireless accessibility switches to play the snare drums, while Sierra played a lovely flute. With music therapist Allan Slade playing guitar, the group moved easily from jazz to rock n' roll, and from soul to Gregorian chant, each playing an impressive variety of “instruments.”

“The kits' adaptability for participants' needs is absolutely remarkable and outstanding,” said Johanne Brodeur, head of music therapy at the Conservatory. “It will assist participants to achieve new therapeutic goals. The CanAssist music kit is an enormous gift to music therapy and all those who benefit from its applications.”

The Mobile Music Therapy Kit was made possible by generous funding from the NRS Foundation through the Victoria Foundation.

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