Accessible Musical Instruments

One of the barriers facing disabled people in terms of writing and playing music is the physical inaccessibility of many traditional instruments. Music is a powerful medium but the reality is that many disabled people are not able to make music because the instruments currently available are not accessible to them. If a person’s impairment is such that they cannot play any existing instrument, then they face a disabling barrier to music-making.

Technology helps

Drake Music uses accessible music technology and supports the invention of new musical instruments, to remove disabling barriers and change this unfair reality. This can range from the use of an iPad app like ThumbJam which allows a person with limited movement to play a guitar sound, through to building and developing complicated technology.

Musician Kris Halpin works with musician Imogen Heap’s invention – gloves, demonstrating their potential as an accessible musical instrument. Kris is the first artist ever to use this incredible instrument in this context, and has appeared on BBC 1, BBC Radio 1, BBC 6 Music and Channel 4 with them, as well as in features in both national and regional press.

The gloves have enabled Kris to completely reinvent his songwriting practice. He has gone from trying to fit his work around conventional instruments which were becoming more difficult to play as his range of movement narrowed, to an almost limitless and entirely personalised approach to creating sounds through gestures.

Accessible Startuppers

They hold hackathons and innovation challenges to ask the creative music tech community to come together and create instruments with accessibility built in from the start, bringing the technologists together with disabled musicians to create a space for creative collaboration. This has led to the development of new pieces of kit like the Kellycaster, an accessible guitar developed by musician John Kelly and coder Charles Matthews.

Marny Thompson