Virtual Music Instrument

Young man in wheelchair looking at a computer screen with other computer equipment around.

The Virtual Music Instrument software download is available for free on Flintbox.


Music technology has been used as therapy and recreation as far back as World War II, when an electric piano was designed to fit on a hospital tray for injured soldiers. Since then, the technology has come a long way.

It is well acknowledged that music therapy has a positive effect on self-esteem and self-identity. Giving a child the ability to be an active participant in music, gives them a sense of accomplishment and success. However, the options for musical access for children with disabilities are still limited.

Often, children are unable to use conventional musical instruments because they are limited by their unique physical challenges and varying levels of endurance. Current technologies are often expensive and require knowledge. The switch technology used requires physical contact and strength, and the musical product may have limited experiential qualities due to limited musical options such as melody and dynamics. To date, there has yet to be a technology that addresses all of these limitations.


The Virtual Music Instrument addresses past limitations by providing children with an interface that enables them to play music without having to hold or manipulate an instrument. The non-invasive, non-encumbering technology translates physical gestures and movements into music, giving children with disabilities access to the therapeutic benefits of music.

To use the VMI a child is seated, facing a large television screen with a Web cam on top, pointing at them. The child’s image is projected in front of them onto the screen. Large coloured dots are superimposed on the space around them. Each dot represents a different musical note. When the child reaches their arm and passes through a virtual dot, the computer software translates their movement into the appropriate note.

The instrument can be customized to meet the unique needs of each child. It can generate musical sounds by translating small movements, such as finger movements, to large ones, such as reaching an arm in the air.

The VMI offers the unique possibility of aligning melodic motion and gestural motion in a visual, aural, and kinaesthetic context. Combining goal-oriented movements and music, the VMI improves a child’s reach, their range of motion, their endurance, motivation, sense of satisfaction, confidence and ability to explore music independently.


The VMI provides individuals the opportunity to learn to play an instrument regardless of their mobility or ability. It also has the potential to address goals in the physical, cognitive, communication, sensory, and social domains. It gives children with disabilities access to a leisure activity, encourages exploration and offers a channel for emotional expression.

Given the portability of the unit, schools from around the world could benefit from access to the VMI. For example, a number of special schools in Adelaide, Australia were introduced to the VMI, where staff and students enthusiastically embraced the program.

While children have been the primary focus of the research, the VMI has great potential to bring the same benefits to adult groups in the future.

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