Don Jaeger has a knack for coming up with adaptive techniques and equipment. Resourcefulness has been necessary when he was faced with drum students with missing limbs and spastic conditions which made it difficult to hold sticks. He ingeniously rigged straps and other contraptions to allow these kids to get a grip.
When John Rinaldo (see below) bass player in Range of Motion progressively lost strength due to Muscular Dystrophy, Don rigged up a stand which allowed him to stand behind the instrument and play it without bearing its weight.
Bass guitarist, John Rinaldo, who owns and manages a recording studio, is one of the founding members of CDM (but currently inactive). He is shown here playing his bass using the stand devised by Donald.
On December 5, 1995, Donald was issued a patent for one of his inventions of adaptive equipment. His patented “Utility Stand” was initially developed for disabled drummers. He designed the stand to hold a drum practice pad, to make it easier for drummers to practice or warm up, easing back strain.
The drum practice pad is removable from the stand and is interchangeable with a table top for use while reading, writing or eating. After many design modifications, the final product not only assists disabled musicians with a drum practice pad and a separate music stand, the “Utility Stand” (known as the “KayJae”) has been found to be useful by everyone, not just the disabled. The KayJae is presently being test marketed in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, with a portion of the sales being donated to CDM.
For more information on this product, go to: www.kayjae.com
The devices above have been developed in-house at CDM for our own particular needs. We also maintain a listing of adaptive equipment from other manufacturers as we become aware of them. E-mail us describing your particular needs and we will pass along any relevant information. Also, if you are aware of any products that we can add to our listings, let us know.
Adaptive Equipment Suggestions from Cyber-Friends
Products and techniques described below are NOT endorsed by CDM, Inc. We are merely passing on information from those who are kind enough to correspond on this topic.
1. From Mic Wells at www.gurusnotgeeks.com:
Voice-to-Midi Converter – this device, when connected to a midi-capable keyboard can produce real-time instrument sounds from the voice. This means that a disabled person who is unable to use his/her arms, could play keyboard by singing.
Look for information at: http://www.digital-ear.com
In response to an email from someone looking for voice recognition software, a commonly available one is DRAGON NATURALLY SPEAKING – information can be found on their website: www.nuance.com/dragon/index.htm
2. From Ryan Thompson of New Hampshire (author, string teacher and lefty violinist): My new book, “Playing Violin and Fiddle Left Handed,” bucks centuries old tradition. Here I propose that left handed people be encouraged to bow the violin with their dominant hands. I lost the ability to play due to a neurological genetic disease. In the process of trying to treat my condition, I discovered that I could relearn to play the violin left handed. Since then I’ve encountered a number of musicians who have lost the ability to play for various reasons, some with my condition, some with injured limbs due to trauma, some who were born with missing or nonfunctional digits, etc. If you wish to read about the personal achievements over 100 string players who successfully made the switch, follow this link – www.captainfiddle.com
3. From Jonathan Sims of Ottawa, Canada (trained as a guitar maker): My brother and I have created an invention for the guitar that we believe may help players with disabilities. Our guitar has been in the works for seven years, but has undergone some big improvements in the last year, and we’d like to share it with you. The invention is basically a single stringed capo system that we put onto guitars. We feel that while any player can get something out of it, it could really mean something to people with special needs. The guitar has “magnetic fingers,” that hold any note that they are left on.
4. From Michael K. of Vallejo, California: When I lost the ability to play the instruments I played throughout my life due to a disease called CMT, I found I could still hold mallets. I began playing a MIDI controller called the Marimba Lumina, and later one called a MalletKat. I mostly play them using a vibraphone sound, but like a synth, they can sound like any instrument. My tip, and this goes for electronic keyboard players too, is that you can buy what’s called a bite switch to wire up to your sustain pedal port (just connect the switch to a quarter inch plug). Oddly enough, you get them from skydiving supply stores. They use them to trigger a helmet-mounted camera.
If any players are interested or have any questions, please feel free to contact us. We would certainly be excited to share it with someone who could use it and have some ideas how to make it accessible to players with special needs. Thanks.
5. From Winfield Clark of New Hampshire – www.winfieldclark.com (free mp3 and sheet music downloads of my original compositions)
Devices for Disabled Piano and Keyboard Players:
Most digital (i.e. electric pianos or synthesizers can be used quite easily by players who can’t activate the sustain pedal with their feet. All that is required is a mercury tilt switch worn on a headband, which is attached to a quarter inch phone plug at the other end of a 5 or 6 foot wire. This plugs into the existing sustain pedal jack on the back of the piano. The voltage is very low on this circuit, so there is no danger of electric shock. To activate the pedal circuit, you simply tilt your head forward. Tipping the head back releases the sustain. Depending on which brand of keyboard you own, you might have to turn the headband around to get the switch working in the right direction. It’s possible to work up and acceptable pianistic pedal technique using this simple device. One advantage of using a headband switch is that you can sing while playing, if you’re so inclined.
The tilt switch is a cheap device: just a drop of mercury in a small glass tube, one end of which is fused around some wire strands. When the tube is tilted, the mercury runs to the end of the tube with the wires, switching on the circuit.
Surf around to find one which has the quarter inch phone plug already wired on – it will save you having to get a techie friend to solder one on for you.
Adapting a real acoustic piano for “pedally challenged” players is possible, but much more expensive. I decided to go this route since the sound of an acoustic piano is so much more satisfying musically.
You can use the mercury tilt switch to trigger this adapter. You’ll need a savvy piano technician to install the setup, so the whole venture will cost well over $100. I’d recommend trying the digital piano approach first. If you’d like to hear an example of what the result sounds like on an acoustic piano, visit:
6. From John Rainbird of Essex, England –
I use a device of my own devising for depressing the keys when I play Pianito software (for info on this software, go to www.aldostools.org/piano.htm). I call this my Double Acting Interrupter Foot Switch. I need this assistance due to my disability from Multiple Sclerosis. After years of doing constructional electronics as a hobby, I have made a good arrangement that enables me to play rapidly repeating sixteenth notes or a rapid three-sixteenth note followed by a sixteenth. What I have done is interrupt the output signal from my computer’s sound card before it gets to the speakers with a rocking footswitch having an on-off-on configuration. In order to make a smooth rise rather than a click when the note comes on, I have made a little electronic circuit using a bright white LED with a capacitor across it, which is switched, and a light dependant resistor through which signal flows. The resulting envelope is about right for the start of an organ note. The interrupter, of course only works for the continuous sounds like the organ or the accordion but that does not matter to me as I like them best anyway. This arrangement works really well and it has allowed me to keep on enjoying playing the Pianito.
7. From Johnny Phillips who plays in Range of Motion for CDM:
We get many requests for assistance from musicians and prospective music students who have suffered accidental injury or deteriorating conditions and no longer have adequate dexterity for playing guitar or similar instruments. One solution, of course, is to mimic instrument sounds using a keyboard synthesizer, but if the musician is committed to making extra effort towards his dream of playing the “real thing,” here’s another approach.
Experiment with “open tunings” on the guitar – a guitar in open tuning requires less complicated fingering of chords and can be played using a slide to bar all strings on a fret to produce the notes desired. The guitar can be played lying face up on one’s lap, with the right hand fingers picking strings, and the left hand using the slide bar to the required fret. This may sound complicated to a non guitar player, but a guitar teacher who is familiar with open tunings and playing blues style guitar will understand this method. It’s important to keep an open mind and have an adaptive approach to the training. Usually where there’s a will, there’s a way. Playing a guitar with a slide is used in many styles of music and it’s kind of a shortcut to playing sooner.
For one-armed guitarists – tune the guitar in open “g”, place face up on lap, place steel or glass slide on left pinky to bar frets. Attempt to strum with remaining fingers – or if the other arm has any gross movement, with that arm.
If a disabled musician wants to follow up on using a synthesizer, here’s an interesting one – the THEREMIN – developed by the famous Robert Moog and played by putting your arm, hand or finger near its antenna – not touching the instrument, but just near it. This produces the notes – information can be obtained at their website: www.thereminworld.com
An inquiry came from the son-in-law of an accomplished accordion player who can no longer support the weight of the instrument. He wanted suggestions on a stand that holds the accordion and allows the bellows to be moved smoothly. A solution for this might be a tripod type stand, normally used for cymbals. The ideal stand would be wide enough so it would not move during use. A visit to a drum center with the accordion would allow for trying different stands and sizes. This type of stand worked well for a saxophone too. Trying a smaller 2.5 octave accordion might be an alternative and be light enough to play without support.
Another cyber friend forwarded the following links with information on accordion stands:
http://www.accordions.co.uk/Accessories.htm – go to bottom of the page
8. From Glen Matheson – former member of Range of Motion and long-time supporter of CDM:
For piano/keyboard players with weak or atrophied hands, consider using a keyboard that doesn’t have weighted keys. Look into using a synthesizer with touch and pressure sensitive keys as a master controller. Weighted keys on a piano can be difficult to use for people who lack the strength or coordination to press down on them. There have been several touch membrane keyboards that were manufactured at one time. This might also be an alternative.
As far as for composing purposes, if the musician has fairly good pitch in his or her singing ability, he/she might want to look into vocorders. Vocorders can be used to control or manipulate midi data in many ways. It’s possible to sing the various parts and then assign a sound module to that part.
9. Responding to an inquiry from a teacher working with a student with SPINAL MUSCULAR ATROPHY – This teacher wanted to know if her student could play music somehow using his laptop computer and a mouse. The following suggestions were offered:
a. Look into a software package called “Making Music – Create, Play, Experience” and “Making More Music” by Viva Media – read about it on Amazon.com. It features innovative software by world-renowned composer Morton Subotnick, endless possibilities to draw original compositions on your screen, cool games to teach rhythm, melody, pitch and musical instruments – choose from 16 instruments, and compose with 23 tools.
b. A more advanced program would be “Band in a Box 2013″ – an award winning program – just type in the chords for any song using standard chord symbols like C, Fm7, etc. – choose the styles you’d like and Band in a Box” does the rest – it automatically generates a complete professional quality arrangement of piano, bass, drums, guitar and strings in a wide variety of popular styles such as jazz, pop, country, classical and more.
Look up these software programs for detailed descriptions on www.amazon.com and try www.musiciansfriend.com – there are many instructional software programs available now – you can also try your local music store or the children’s department in major toy or electronic stores.
10. International Forum on Musical Instruments Adapted for Persons With Disabilities – A forum created by David Nabb, a saxophone professor who lost use of his arm from a stroke. His repair tech then built him a one-handed saxophone. The website contains many different resources for disabled and handicapped musicians, including a page for people to make available adapted musical instruments. They are working to build a body of knowledge in this field. Please share your work and experiences.
The teacher would, of course, have to evaluate the appropriateness of these programs based on her unique knowledge of the student involved.