Building a new musical instrument for disabled users

Summary 

Researchers developed a new musical instrument for disabled users called the ‘Skoog’ that enables expressive control of sound.

What was the problem? 

The idea from the Skoog came out of Professor Nigel Osborne’s interdisciplinary research with colleagues from the Reid School of Music, psychology and physics into the benefits of the creative arts.

The research revealed the difficulties some children had engaging with creative arts due to physical and learning disabilities. This showed the need for a musical object that people of all ages and abilities could use.

In 2006 Osborne received funding from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) to support research into this musical ‘object’. This research was conducted with four Scottish local authorities in collaboration with the Tapestry Partnership.

What did we do? 

The Nesta funding supported the formation of a research team to design and create this new musical instrument. 

Principles

The researchers needed to design an instrument with an interface that could support a wide range of body movements. The design needed to simple and intuitive but still afford creative potential.  The instrument also needed to be capable of interpreting the musicality or expressiveness of those movements. Finally, the instrument had to be able to translate these movements into a flexible source of expressive musical sound. It was important that the instrument be adaptive, so that users could experiment and learn from their interaction with it.

The Skoog

The research team created the Skoog prototype in 2008. It was unlike any other computer music-based musical therapy tools then available. It allows a direct relationship between the Skoog user’s movements and the sounds the Skoog makes.

Our students on the autism spectrum are very motivated by Skoog. They seem to continuously discover new methods of performing with Skoog that completely surprise us in the most wonderful ways.
Craig Smith, Apple Distinguished Educator and Deputy Principal at Autism Spectrum Australia.
What happened next? 

In 2009  Dr David Skulina and Dr Ben Schögler, post-doctoral researchers, continued to develop the technology needed to make Skoog a reality after the initial research funding ended.

Commercial company

They formed a commercial company to produce, sell and support the Skoog. They raised £400k in investment funds to do so. Skoogmusic launched in 2010 and have since sold close to 2,000 Skoogs in 16 countries. Skoogmusic has also grown in that time, and has taken on four new employees.

Impact on education and health sector

Most Skoogs are bought by schools and education services. Its potential to enhance creativity in people of all ages and abilities has been praised by educators, music therapists, and reviewers.

Athens Special Olympics

Skoogmusic donated Skoogs to the 2011 Special Olympics held in Athens. They also set up a Skoog Zone so that delegates could try out the instruments. Many athletes enjoyed the opportunity to make music with the Skoogs. This can be seen in videos on the Skoogmusic website.

2012 Cultural Olympiad

The Skoog was one of the technologies that inspired the composer Oliver Searle’s composition for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The composition, called Technophonia, was based on Searle’s experimentation with three new instruments including the Skoog. Technophonia premiered at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh. It was later performed in the South Bank Centre as part of the London Olympic celebrations.

Schögler and Skulina continue to develop and innovate with the Skoog. They launched a new version to work with the Ipad on the Apple store in 2016.

About the researcher(s)

Professor Emeritus of Musical Acoustics
Professor Colwyn Trevarthen
Professor Emeritus of Child Psychology and Psychobiology
Professor Dave Lee
Professor Emeritus and Honorary Professorial Fellow of Perception, Action and Development
Professor Emeritus

Research unit

Subject area:
  • Reid School of Music

Funder(s)

  • Banwell plc
  • Daedalus Investment Fund
  • Nesta
  • Scottish Enterprise
  • The University of Edinburgh

Related study programmes