Dan Daily felt the need for a musical instrument which removes or reduces some or all of the technical difficulties inherent in all traditional musical instruments and existing electronic instruments (which all require the traditional technique of acoustic instruments). The huge technical difficulties of traditional musical instruments are a significant barrier to children and individuals with physical and mental challenges having access to playing music. If an instrument is easier to play, access to playing the instrument is significantly increased. This means that more students (including those students with physical and cognitive challenges) will be able to play this instrument and more students will continue playing this instrument after the typical attrition period in which students quit because it's just too hard (they donít feel they can do it) or not worth the effort.
Because one can plug into MidiWing a wide variety of switches and sensors such as Sip-n-Puff, Big Red, computer mice and the like, it can be adapted and used by virtually any individual.
Since the MidiWing inputs can be remotely locatable, MidiWing can be played by more than one person. Perhaps a typically abled person would be paired with a person with disabilities, further increasing the possibilities of inclusion in school music programs.
Serious academic research indicates over and over that playing music is strongly beneficial for students on a number of levels, not just in the areas of creativity and personal growth. More students playing music is good for music programs struggling for survival, and it's good for the community, which will have access to more live music because more young people will be playing music.
MidiWing is based on the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), a computer communication protocol. MIDI is the protocol which allows electronic musical instruments and other musical hardware to talk to each other and to computers. MIDI controllers tell a sound producing device what note to play, for how long, how loud or soft and other similar information. Instruments built around this 30-year old standard are very flexible and cost-effective. MIDI can also be transmitted over USB and MidiWing also transmits MIDI messages over USB so it can be plugged immediately into any computer to access the resources available such as sounds, music software and video software. Yes, MIDI can control more than music. Most theater lighting is now MIDI controlled and there are software programs which allow manipulation of images with MIDI signals. Therefore, MidiWing means access to anything that can be controlled with MIDI.
The central idea of MidiWing is that electronic controls, which are already highly developed, can be substituted for difficult ergonomic tasks of traditional musical instruments resulting in a fully capable musical instrument which is objectively easier to play and to control. For example, it is objectively easier to activate a touch sensitive switch (requiring no physical travel) than to press down a trumpet valve with a force requirement of many grams and a full inch of physical travel.
MIDI controllers designed exclusively for individuals with disabilities have built-in musical limitations and are not fully capable musical instruments. That is, they are not fully chromatic or capable of playing standard music literature. Although they may facilitate a therapeutic purpose, and are fine for serving the needs of cognitively disabled students such as giving them the experience of volition in a musical setting, they do not allow user to perform music the way a user would playing a real musical instrument.
MIDI controllers designed for the cognitively disabled are valid approaches to access and to a very basic sort of inclusion, but they are not very satisfactory for the purpose of access to meaningful and full inclusion for students with physical challenges who do not also have a serious cognitive disability.
MidiWing encompasses both ends of the music participation spectrum and every step in between!
Only musical instruments based on traditional designs can take advantage of the historically established pedagogy. No MIDI controller or other electronic musical instrument based on a traditional instrument design has been engineered specifically to make one or more given ergonomic tasks related to the playing of a musical instrument easier; they have closely imitated the ergonomics of traditional musical instrument designs. To date, no MIDI controller based on a traditional instrument design is made to adapt to the player or be a gateway to the instrument after which it is modeled.
There are many MIDI controllers on the market, only some of which are discussed herein and are categorized as follows: commercial keyboards, wind instrument and guitar style controllers, exotic performance controllers and controllers specifically designed for the physically disabled student.
There are scores of keyboard-type controllers from manufacturers such as E-Mu, Yamaha, Roland, Kawai, Moog, Korg, Peavey, Alesis, Nord, Gem, Casio, Viscount, Oberheim, Akai and many others, even Radio Shack. (This is because virtually every electronic keyboard made is equipped with MIDI, which makes them all MIDI controllers.) Since each note has a unique physical location, there are intense physical demands and the instruments do not in any way physically adapt to the player.
There are wind instrument controllers which are modeled after and the saxophone such as the Yamaha WX5/WX7/WX11 series, the Casio DH100 and the Akai EWI but once again, their controls are fixed and not in any way adaptable or configurable. Also, their controls are designed to imitate their counterparts of the traditional instrument, not make one or more ergonomic tasks easier. Therefore, these MIDI controllers, by definition, are no easier to play than traditional musical instruments. Also, there is one MIDI controller based on the trumpet, the Akai EVI. The traditional ergonomic tasks of the trumpet have been imitated which offer no improvement in ease of playing and again, the controls are fixed in place and in no way physically adapt to the player.
There have also been numerous experiments to fit an array of sensors onto other traditional instruments like the trumpet so that skilled traditional instrumentalists have some access to MIDI. They require a very high degree of technical skill and accomplishment because the mechanism involves playing the traditional instrument itself in the traditional manner.
There are many controllers manufactured by Roland, Boss, Blue Chip and Yamaha, which are modifications that fit onto actual guitars allowing the combination to send appropriate MIDI messages. There are also dedicated MIDI controllers modeled after the guitar, such as the Synth-Axe and the Casio DG20 which are not actual instruments independent of their MIDI controller function, but again, each note has a unique physical location which entails intense physical demands on the player and the instruments do not in any way physically adapt to the player. An adaptable interface is not offered.
Highly specialized MIDI controllers have been created by and for contemporary composers, most in the academic tradition, such as the Soundbeam MIDI controller made by EMS and the Synth A Beam System made by Interactive Entertainment which use light sensors. There have been several projects that attached various sensors to an accomplished dancer. These MIDI devices are not intended to be adapted to musicians with physical challenges, not intended to be gateway instruments, not intended to play the standard music literature, not intended to make existing musical tasks easier. In fact, they are intentionally designed to avoid traditional elements to challenge the status quo and advance/expand the art.
There are MIDI controllers on the market specifically for disabled people, but none are "real" instruments in the fully-chromatic traditional sense which allow the player to perform standard music literature by following the instructions of sheet music in real time. They are more correctly described as event triggers. There is no connection between these MIDI controllers and traditional instruments. Traditional instrumental pedagogy is useless. Also, they are quite limited because again, despite the flexibility of the sensor choice and arrangement, nothing is made easier; the technical difficulty has not been reduced significantly and the musical functionality is severely restricted. For example, MMB Music's MIDIcreator, developed at the University of York, allows the user to define what MIDI messages will be sent from each of a series of sensors but each sensor performs a unique task absolutely independent of any other sensor, just like keyboards. It's a good and useful device, but it's not a "real" instrument (as defined above) nor does it have any promise as a gateway instrument.
MidiWing reduces or eliminates the technical difficulties related to playing a musical instrument. The reduction or elimination of technical difficulties results in an instrument that is by definition, easier to play than the instrument after which it was modeled.
Another objective of MidiWing is to bridge the gap between real instruments created for students of normal abilities and the music devices for cognitively disabled students. MidiWing is a real musical instrument, adapted to the player, with the capabilities of a traditional instrument but with ergonomics which are purposefully simplified (ex. task separation: tasks which are grouped on a traditional instrument can be separated and approached one by one.) and far easier.
MidiWing can be used as a fully capable, fully chromatic instrument which is objectively far easier to play than either traditional acoustic instruments or electronic instruments; it can play standard music literature at the same time retaining the relevance and benefits of historical pedagogy.
MidiWing is also an electronic instrument which was consciously designed to be a progressive gateway to traditional instruments. By progressive, it is meant that the instrument is designed to have progressive levels of difficulty, complexity and capacity. Such an instrument is made more difficult (but more capable) in incremental steps to accommodate the student's progress as well as made simpler for that student who is losing a given motor capacity. No other instrument has been designed with a conscious effort to provide dual-direction modification.
MidiWing provides an instrument which can be played by more than one person.† This allows a child with disabilities to pair up with another child to further reduce the number of simultaneous behaviors required to play music in the school and other settings.† This makes playing music even easier which means more individuals will have access to music.† It also means that the instrument can be used in General Music classes where the instrument can be played by 3-5 students, giving them the experience of performing music and requiring far less technique then a typical video game.
Because MidiWing is a true musical instrument it is possible to play the instrument within an orchestra or band setting.
MidiWing musical instrument system can be a stand-alone unit or a group of instruments could use a common sound system.
Continuous sensors can be adjusted in the software of the MidiWing to accommodate a broad range of motor movements to produce many useful values as practical according to the capacity and development of the individual musician.
The physical characteristics of the MidiWing can be radically altered without changing the basic functional design of the instrument. The basic functional design can be preserved even if the sensors are not physically grouped together, and if they are not grouped together, terrific potentials emerge for adaptability to various physical limitations. Removal of that limitation represents a dramatic increase in flexibility and an equally dramatic reduction in the technique necessary to play a real musical instrument.
By combining the flexibility of being able to alter the physical characteristics of the instrument and maintaining a traditional instrument functional design, the instrument has a very high degree of adaptability allowing the musician to take full advantage of all the existing pedagogy and literature of the traditional instrument on which it was modeled. Such an instrument will also have expanded pedagogical possibilities. For example, the separation of lip duties in an instrument modeled after the trumpet allows for the distinction between rhythm and melody to be experienced with great clarity and simplicity.
Progressive levels of difficulty are accomplished in several ways characterized as giving the musician progressively more to do. Not only can more control choices be offered one at a time, but also the range of each can be restricted and expanded according to the needs of the individual. For example, if the individual can only deal with the controls for note selection, then volume will be pre-set or controlled by someone else like the band director or a fellow musician. If an individual can control more things, or if a group of students playing one MidiWing desire a more challenging instrument, volume and timbre control can be offered with wider and narrower ranges. Of course, the more complex an instrument is, the more difficult it will be to control, but also it will have more expressive potential.† If the musician needs more help controlling volume, the sensor can be interpreted into a number of discrete pre-determined volume values, so the musician wouldn't have total control over volume, put could still play piano, mezzo piano, mezzo forte, forte and fortissimo. The sensor could have 5 physical positions or other physical attributes like five ganged switches or five detents on a fader path to render 5 different values which would be mapped appropriately.
Analogies have been made between complex, difficult ergonomic tasks and simple electronic processes. For example, when a musician plays the trumpet, lip tension and other factors select a certain range of notes. With the electronic instrument, a range of notes can be electronically selected with great ease with any sort of variable sensor like a dial, slider or joystick; the sort of controls with which most young people have an early familiarity and comfort.
The lips of a trumpeter do more than select the available range of notes. The lips are also involved in controlling the tone, the attack, (the beginning of the note) and the exact intonation of each note. Most of the technical difficulty of playing the trumpet revolves around what is done with the lips. It is not necessary for an electronic instrument to combine these functions. With these functions separated and emulated electronically, the functions can be approached individually and their scope of control can be decreased or increased, all according to the capacity and development of the individual. For example, when the musician first encounters the instrument, intonation, tone and attack can all be predetermined. As the student becomes more comfortable with the instrument, the user can be given control over just two distinct and pleasing tones. Later, more tone possibilities might be added as well as attack choices as the musician progresses.