The Encephalophone: Create Music with Your Mind

    A new musical instrument allows users to play music using only their brain

    Photo credit: The University of Washington

    Earlier this year scientists at the University of Edinburgh revealed in a study that listening to music while performing physical tasks can change one’s brain structure.

    The study “could have positive implications for future research into rehabilitation for patients who have lost some degree of movement control,” specifically sufferers of strokes or other myriad brain damages.

    Now, those patients have a tool that could further help them. Neurologists at the University of Washington are developing a hands-free, thought-controlled musical instrument called the Encephalophone. Its inventors see the technology being used to help rehabilitate patients who have motor disabilities, resulting from stroke, spinal cord and other injuries, and brain damage.

    “The Encephalophone is a musical instrument that you control with your thoughts, without movement,” explains Thomas Deuel, a neurologist at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute and a neuroscientist at the University of Washington.

    The new technology collects brain signals through a cap that looks like an old, face mask-less football helmet that converts specific signals into musical notes. The Encephalophone is paired with a synthesizer, allowing the user to create music using a wide variety of instrumental sounds.

    One of the amazing things about the invention is that no prior musical knowledge is required.

    “We first sought to prove that novices — subjects who had no training on the Encephalophone whatsoever — could control the device with an accuracy that was better than random,” says Deuel. “These first subjects did quite well, way above chance probability on their very first try.”

    What’s more, the research team is developing the Disklavier, which Deuel says is a “remote control real piano, as opposed to a synthesized piano — to allow patients to play a real instrument, with piano keys moving, without having to move themselves, using only thought control.”

    These scientific advances made possible through research at places like Edinburgh and Washington could completely change the rehabilitation process for amputees and para- and quadriplegics, providing not only physical therapy, but empowerment.