Joining the band: How new music technologies are helping students with disability access music education

Four students of music face camera happily. They are playing Adaptive Music Instruments.
With the arrival of new adaptive music technologies, those with disability can now learn to play music using a range of standard and adaptive musical instruments.

Dr Anthea Skinner is a musicologist with a lived experience of disability. Inspired by her own experiences growing up, Dr Skinner has launched the Adaptive Music Bridging Program with Melbourne Youth Orchestras to help others with disability access music education and learn a musical instrument.

As a child growing up with disability, the school band was a place where Anthea could compete on a level playing field with her non-disabled peers and make like-minded friends.

Despite her personal success, Anthea was often the only disabled student in any band or orchestra she ever played in. It became clear to her, from an early age, that her disabled peers did not have the same access to music education that she enjoyed.

Today, Anthea works as a researcher at the University of Melbourne helping those with disability access the benefits of music education. Anthea’s latest research project, the Adaptive Music Bridging Program, is connecting disabled students with the latest in adaptive music technologies so they can enjoy the art of learning a musical instrument, no matter their abilities.

Dr Anthea Skinner

What are adaptive music technologies? How do they support those with disability?

Children with disability often miss out on the chance to learn a musical instrument because they can’t access appropriate instruments or other technologies or support.

Fortunately, with the arrival of new adaptive music technologies, those with disability can now learn to play using a range of standard and adaptive musical instruments. Adaptive music technologies have rapidly improved in the last decade, making learning an instrument easier and cheaper for people with a wide range of disabilities.

Student playing an adaptive music technology

For example, advances in photogrammetry and 3D printing technologies mean bespoke tools like stands, braces and prosthetics can be designed and built for a fraction of the cost of other manufacturing techniques. Even specialist equipment that needs to be moulded to the users’ body and would have cost thousands of dollars in the past, can now be printed for the cost of the material it is made from.

There are also a wide range of midi controllers (a device that allows you to control music production software) that can be played without the use of hands or feet, or that operate with eye tracker technology for a completely touch-free experience. Some midi wind controllers can even be played by students who are reliant on a ventilator.

While these transformative technologies have been developed, they are not widely available in Australia and, as a result, there are few music teachers experienced in their use.

In recognition of this, Anthea and her team at the University of Melbourne have established the Adaptive Music Bridging Program in partnership with the Melbourne Youth Orchestras (MYO) to make these technologies more accessible to those with disability.

Student playing an adaptive musical instrument

What is the Adaptive Music Bridging Program? How do I get involved?

The Adaptive Music Bridging Program matches students with a musical instrument that meets their needs.

Students receive weekly group lessons, learning to play their instruments, as well as music literacy, music appreciation, and performance etiquette. Lessons take place alongside MYO’s mainstream ensemble rehearsals. Graduates of the program will be supported to audition for and participate in these ensembles.

The Program is currently recruiting participants between the ages of 8 to 14 who have struggled to access instrumental music education because of any disability or chronic illness. Assessments and lessons are free, although participants will need to purchase their own instruments.

If you’d like to be involved in the Adaptive Music Bridging Program visit the Program website and complete the Adaptive Learning Application Form or contact Dr Anthea Skinner directly.