Back Accessible Music: how technology can allow people with physical disabilities to learn and play music

Accessible Music: how technology can allow people with physical disabilities to learn and play music

by Gil Dori (artist in residence and collaborator at the MTG)



Music is powerful. People like to talk about how music has the power to change us, and we all know by feeling that it is true. There is also evidence to the power of music in research. The field of music cognition is abundant with studies and publications (even some by Music Technology Group team members) that prove that music does affect us in many positive ways. However, very rarely do we get to experience something that truly shows us how much power music has; an event that manifests in front of us, in real life, that says: “music is powerful”. The MUSA Project concert was such an event.

But how did we get there?

MUSA, or Música Accesible, is a year long social inclusion project that aims to break barriers in musical practices, using adaptive technologies for playing music. Specifically, participants in this project, all people with severe physical disabilities, learned how to play music using the EyeHarp, a gaze-controlled digital instrument, created by Zacharias Vamvakousis at MTG. The project was funded by Obra Social La Caixa as part of the Art For Change program, with coordination and support from the Phonos Foundation.  

The purpose of this project, however, was not simply to teach users how to play the EyeHarp and to perform with it in a concert. More than that, we wanted to integrate the EyeHarp performers with musicians who play traditional, acoustic instruments. Considering that the MUSA Project participants (all except one) never played music before, achieving this goal was a huge undertaking. And indeed, the process that led to the concert was grueling.


The first phase, of finding people who are willing, and capable of participating, led us to establish collaboration with the Fundació Catalana per la Paràlisi Cerebral, Llars de L'Amistat Cheshire Fundació Privada and Escola Municipal de Música de Sta. Perpètua de Mogoda.

Then, we started giving EyeHarp classes to seven individuals. Sounds simple enough, right? No. With all honesty, that was a very frustrating phase for everyone involved. The lessons were slow, difficult, and it seemed that very little progress was made. We also faced issues that forced us to rethink, redesign, and adapt the instrument. Things did not look promising, to say the least.

And then came Oriol

Oriol Saña, a violinist, teacher, and composer, the musical director of the project, led the final phase of preparing the group for the concert. Right from the first rehearsal with Oriol, a new wind was blowing. Oriol’s endless energy and enthusiasm was infectious, and everyone immediately got a boost of excitement. The group was divided into small ensembles, and practiced several Jazz Manouche songs, playing, for the first time, together with professional musicians.


At last, the big day has come. After all the preparation and hard work, all the difficulties and effort, everything was ready. In front of a full house, on October 20th, 2018, at Sala Aranyó, seven EyeHarpers, accompanied by a professional Jazz group, gave the concert of their lives. The energy was in the air, everyone performed at their best, and it all came together tremendously. Those EyeHarpers, that only last year could not play a note, showed beyond a doubt that music is powerful; that music can change us for the better, and that music can break barriers.




SDG - Sustainable Development Goals:

Els ODS a la UPF