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Piano playing without foot pedals

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    Piano playing without foot pedals

    Operate a piano pedal with the mouth

    Novel technology for paraplegic pianists / Researchers at the Orthopedic Clinic of Heidelberg University Hospital honored

    A wish could come true for paraplegics who play the piano and are paralyzed from the hips down: the Heidelberg researcher Dr.-Ing. Rüdiger Rupp has developed a method with which a pianist can operate the right pedal of a concert grand wirelessly – a first in the world. A paraplegic pianist can thus overcome the handicap of being able to play the piano using only his arms and hands. Dr. Rupp, director of the research department at the spinal cord injury unit of the Orthopedic Clinic of Heidelberg University Hospital (Director: Prof. Dr. Hans Jürgen Gerner), was honored for this invention with € 15,000 from the Innovation Award 2008 of the German Paraplegic Foundation (DSQ).

    For more than 20 years, there have been electromagnetic pedal controls for paraplegic pianists – mostly accident victims – that were invented by the renowned Bayreuth piano manufacturer Steingraeber & Söhne and are custom made. Pulse generators such as light sensors, headrests, back cushions, neck braces, and mouth tubes make it possible for disabled pianists to play pieces that include pedal work – the complete works from Beethoven to the contemporary period.

    Pedal controls via a bite splint

    The disadvantage of these technical solutions is that magnets are too undifferentiated for use with pianos because they can only switch the pedal on and off. “Intermediate stages such as half-pedal or flutter were not possible. In addition, traditional assistive devices were visible to concert viewers”, summarizes Dr. Rüdiger Rupp the disadvantages of the current systems.

    His ingenious invention allows the Heidelberg researchers to compensate for this decisive failing. Together with his team, he developed a bite splint over almost two years with a pressure-sensitive sensor that the pianist can hold in his mouth to control the pedal according to the markings on the music.

    This bite splint was the solution for the problem faced by a paraplegic pro-fessional pianist from Norway with which the piano maker from Bayreuth approached Dr. Rupp. The concert can be held without any visible cables or devices, thus approaching normality. “We assess the strength with which a paraplegic clenches his teeth. Depending on how strongly he does this, he can control the pedal position,” describes the Heidelberg re-searcher his innovation.

    This uses a highly sensitive strength or pressure sensor, which is embedded in the chewing surface of a bite splint attached to the upper jaw. “The disabled patient can thus control the entire range of pedal action – including intermediate positions and the speed with which the pedal is depressed,” explained Rupp.

    Transmitter in the cheek

    A wireless transmitter is installed to an electric motor attached to the pedals of the concert grand. A remote module, a kind of miniature transmitter with minimal power consumption placed in the right cheek, forwards the sensor signals to the electric motor, which then operates the pedal. The remote module, originally introduced by a US company, is customized to the needs of the user.

    In his left cheek, the paraplegic pianist has a button cell that provides energy for twelve hours. The innovation in this highly sophisticated system is that analog, i.e. graduated signals are transmitted consisting of far more than just “on-off”. When pedal markings appear in the notes, the paraplegic pianist literally grits his teeth, to a greater or lesser extent – and can achieve the same differentiated sounds as a non-disabled pianist.

    New project: control pedals with the tongue

    For some ten years, the researcher from Heidelberg and his co-workers have been developing systems with which paralyzed people (paraplegics and quadriplegics) can control technical aids. Rupp’s group of researchers have specialized especially in system for Functional Electrical Stimulation, what are known as neuroprosthetics, with which high-level paraplegics can regain part of the grasping function of a paralyzed hand. His newest invention makes it possible for paraplegic pianists whose legs are paralyzed to perform in public again and go on tours – another bit of normality for the disabled.

    With the help of the award money, Rüdiger Rupp and his team are already working on the next step, aimed at the other two pedals of the grand piano and enhancing control – a pressure-sensitive film placed behind the incisors will measure tongue strength and position and convert them to corresponding analog signals that are transmitted directly to the pedals of the concert grand.

    Contact person:
    Dr.-Ing. Rüdiger Rupp
    Orthopedic Clinic of Heidelberg University Hospital
    Spinal Cord Unit, Research Division
    Schlierbacher Landstr. 200a
    69118 Heidelberg
    Tel.: 06221 / 96-9230, Fax: 06221 / 96-9234

    Awesome! I know this is wonderful for someone who use to play.


      Hi Mona,
      I posted it hoping that it might help someone who use to play. As for myself....well, let's just say I couldn't play pre SCI and I can't play now. If I was being judged on musical ability I would be riding the "short bus."


        Well, I definitely play post-SCI (In between midterms). My repertoire has evolved into mostly baroque music due to my lack of pedal use. I may look into this because it is the best idea for pedal usage I have seen yet.
        No one ever became unsuccessful by helping others out


          Originally posted by Eileen View Post
          Hi Mona,
          I posted it hoping that it might help someone who use to play. As for myself....well, let's just say I couldn't play pre SCI and I can't play now. If I was being judged on musical ability I would be riding the "short bus."
          Me too. lol 3 yrs of piano & I can't play chop sticks!


            Thank you for posting this! I gave up piano after four years at age 12 because I wouldn't be able to use the pedals .. I had no idea that there were solutions!

            My old piano still sits at the family farm. Maybe I can finally retrieve it with reason!
            Roses are red. Tacos are enjoyable. Don't blame immigrants, because you're unemployable.

            T-11 Flaccid Paraplegic due to TM July 1985 @ age 12


              Reviving an old thread. Does anyone have any experience with this new device or any other adaptive equipment for working piano pedals?


                After sex and eating I miss playing more than anything. My sister plays recordings of my dad all the time, and there are a couple of my playing on the CD. It is hard to believe that my hands used to work that way. In a way I'm glad that there are some recordings, but when I listen all I can hear are the errors.

                I think for a para to be able to sit and play and be able to modulate and sustain notes. I know a cure is upmost in everyone's minds, but it is great that people are working on making life today easier.
                Veni.Vidi,Velcro...I came, I saw, I stuck around.

                Vidi, Vici, et Veni, et Veni, et Veni...


                  I assume this is the device the pianist is using in this video (concert portion starts at about 40:20). He also talks about working on balance and remaining upright at the piano (he's a T4). Video is in German, but the concert portion is easy to understand:


                    My first post in quite some time...

                    I started the self-taught method on piano at age 5. I found KISS.. Led Zeppelin.. Rush.. Yes.. Pink FLoyd.. etc, and went to guitar. And bass. Never took lessons for piano, now wish I had. Anyhow! When I woke to discover I was a paraplegic (T6 Complete), my first questions were.. brain damage? Will I retain use of my arms at least.. I play guitar, bass, and some piano? And then.. Are you sure it is as bad as you say?

                    I spent some time looking for solutions, most were expensive. And finally one day I said, "Hmm.. it CANNOT be this difficult!" I own a Kurzweil K250XS keyboard/synth/sampler. It has a decent stock set of piano sounds, but I also have some really nice piano libraries for computer samplers (Synthogy's "Ivory" is my fav). But, I needed to have at least the sustain pedal still. I finally took my Kurzweil footpedal apart. I figured I would never have a use for it again, so what would be the worry?

                    Inside the footpedal was a small circuit board, with a small gray rubbery switch. I took some snips, and trimmed away much of the excess board, leaving a small oval (mm.. maybe the size of a stretched nickle or quarter) with two wires soldered to it. I then wrapped the remaining small bit in a plastic baggie to test.. and walla! Worked perfectly! The switch is good sensitivity, reacted well to tooth/jaw pressure, as well as tongue pressure. I build up drool a little, but oh

                    If there is interest, I think I could manage some pics of what I have now, and add the model of pedal I used. It is only one pedal (I use it as sustain primarily), and it is FAR from using my feet. But, I tried so many things, and this is best for me so far.
                    T6 complete since Oct, 2001
                    TiLite ZRa, Spinergy LX 24", Shox Firm tires, 3" volcanic glare rollerblade wheels for casters


                      i've played the piano in church weekly since my SCI 11 years ago. i'm suppose i should be ashamed to say that, when i want sustain, i put a book on the pedal and try to minimize discord by avoiding the bigger culprits in chord transitions. i played ragtime type arrangements for a melodrama recently and used no sustain at all. like so many things, you adapt and go on.