Music: The Universal Language

Blog: Music: The Universal Language

The benefits of playing a musical instrument are well documented. Research has found that learning to play an instrument improves academic performance, builds social skills, reduces stress and increases self-esteem.

Yet, for individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities, whether congenital or acquired, learning to play a musical instrument can be challenging. Thankfully, advances in technology have made it possible for even the most severely impaired to make music. Here are some options for your budding musician.

1. Switch activated instruments
Adaptive musical instruments available through Enabling Devices include our switch-adapted Drum, Drumbourine, Bongo Drums, Lighted Musical Tambourine, Little Rock Star Guitar and Band Jam. Any of them will have you or your child rocking out in a flash!

2. EyeHarp
Created by musician and computer scientist Zacharias Vamvakousis in 2010, EyeHarp is the first musical instrument that can be played using only eye gaze or head movements. According to the company’s website, the eye harp is appropriate for individuals with “cerebral palsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, amputation of an upper limb or spinal cord injury, as well as to those with intellectual disabilities.” The digital instrument “offers the same expressive qualities as any traditional instrument.” Check it out at

3. MiMu gloves
Musician Imogen Heap developed these groundbreaking gloves that enable wearers musicians to compose and play music by gesturing. According to, MiMu gloves “track the position, direction, velocity, and posture of the hand. They can be programmed to trigger and perform custom musical functions.” Learn more here.

4. Subpac
Like MiMu gloves, Subpac is a wearable device. The Subpac resembles a vest and works by transferring “deep bass frequencies onto the body to create an immersive experience.” This device is most useful for musicians with hearing loss. More information is available at

5. Clarion
Created by Open Up Music in the UK, the clarion is an award-winning accessible instrument that can be played using any part of the body. According to Open Orchestras, “Clarion software works seamlessly with assistive technology hardware that young disabled people use in their everyday lives, such as EyeGaze or Infrared head trackers.” Available on iPad and PC, the clarion is customizable so the musician can change setting to meet their individual needs. To learn more, visit

6. Jamboxx
The Jamboxx resembles a harmonica and is controlled entirely by the musician’s breath. Use the breath to vary expression, bend notes and coolest of all, change instruments with the click of a button. Find more information at

Photo courtesy of JamBoxx

Music Performance for All!

Girl with Disability and musical instrument

The health benefits of making music are well documented. According to research cited by  Vermont Public Radio, “actively participating in making music, actually making the sounds either by yourself or with a group, has been found to boost executive brain function, strengthen speech processing, improve memory and promote empathy.” In addition, “making music can slow the process of dementia and Alzheimer’s, increase the immune response and improve basic motor functions.”

Nowadays, adapted musical instruments such as the ones sold by Enabling Devices, make it possible for people with physical disabilities to make music. Meanwhile, the National Association for Music Education provides music teachers with strategies to teach students with disabilities and learning differences. Yet, until recently, students with disabilities lacked opportunities to perform in musical ensembles. With greater awareness of the values of inclusion and the musicality of all individuals, that is slowly changing. Here are some examples of inclusive orchestras and collaborative music programs that are celebrating the talents of musicians with disabilities.

InterPLAY, Bethesda, Md.

Conductor Paula Moore believes strongly that everyone has musical talent. Twenty-five years ago, Moore founded the nonprofit InterPLAY orchestra for adults with mild to moderate cognitive and physical disabilities. Her son Mikey, a musician who has Down syndrome, inspired her.

The InterPLAY orchestra includes 67 amateur and professional musicians. Approximately half of the orchestra members are people with disabilities; the remainder are trained musicians over age 16 who serve as volunteer mentors otherwise known as “bandaides.”

According to InterPLAY’s website: “The interPLAY Orchestra employs unconventional teaching techniques that enhance cognitive, social and motor skills.”

Together, the orchestra performs concerts throughout the year at the “world-class” Music Center at Strathmore. As Moore recently told online publication Amerability, “We are very serious about what we do and how we did it. It isn’t that we don’t have fun – we do – but everyone knows that this is a serious enterprise.”

Le Cheile, Dublin, Ireland

Recently, Ireland announced a new initiative that will lead to the country’s first orchestra for children with disabilities. According to an article on, “Whether the children are living with Down syndrome, autism or cerebral palsy, anyone with a disability is welcome to join.”

The orchestra teaches young members to play using a technique called conductology. Conceived by Dr. Denise White of Ulster University, the technique “involves all members of the ensemble agreeing on 18 gestures before they play together – building confidence and enhancing communication.” The orchestra will also make use of assistive technologies such as iPads, MacBooks and motion sensors to help children with disabilities access musical performance.

BSO Resound

In 2017, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra began an 18-month program designed to make the orchestra more inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. Among other initiatives, the program led to the implementation of BSO Resound, “a disabled-led ensemble created and directed by James [Rose].” Rose, a conductor with cerebral palsy who uses a head controlled baton to conduct the orchestra, leads a six-person ensemble that performs as a self-contained group and as part of the BSO orchestra.

The Tap Tap

Created in 1999, The Tap Tap orchestra began as an extracurricular activity for students at a Prague, Czechoslovakia school for children with disabilities. Since then, it has grown into an international phenomenon. According to CBS News, “The Tap Tap started with cover versions of their favorite songs. Today it produces music of its own — with help from local musicians — and lyrics that target the world of the disabled.”

United Sound

The mission of United Sound is “to provide musical performance experiences for students with special needs through peer mentorship.” The nonprofit organization provides schools across the nation with the tools necessary to start their own ensembles. “Music is a language that transcends disability and the relationships formed in this way will truly resonate for all children involved.” Teachers and school administrators can learn how to bring the program to their schools by visiting

Shopping to Sing About!

Girl with Tambourine

We’ve all heard Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous quote: “Music is the universal language of all mankind.” Since Longfellow wrote those words, many others have echoed his sentiments. Take blind musician and superstar Stevie Wonder who famously sang these lyrics: “Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand. …” Or the late folksinger Pete Seeger who used music to motivate social justice: “Songs are funny things. They can slip across borders. Proliferate in prisons. Penetrate hard shells. I always believed that the right song at the right moment could change history.” Reggae music giant Bob Marley had this to say about the therapeutic effects of music: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” And pop music star Billy Joel’s opinion? “I think music in itself is healing,” said Joel. “It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.”

In other words, music is immensely powerful, and all human beings, regardless of their abilities have the capacity to experience its healing effects. In fact, studies have shown that music and music therapy provide enormous benefits for people with a range of disabilities.

According to the American Music Therapy Association “Research supports connections between speech and singing, rhythm and motor behavior, memory for song and memory for academic material, and overall ability of preferred music to enhance mood, attention, and behavior to optimize the student’s ability to learn and interact. Rhythmic movement helps develop gross motor skills (mobility, agility, balance, coordination) as well as respiration patterns and muscular relaxation. Because music is reinforcing,” says the AMTA, “it can be used to motivate movements or structure exercises that are prescribed in physical rehabilitation.” Furthermore, musical activities can distract from the “pain, discomfort, and anxiety often associated with some physical disabilities.”

This holiday season, why not give the gift of music? Enabling Devices’ wide selection of adapted musical instruments make great gifts for friends and family members, students or music therapy clients. And this week (Wednesday December 6 to Tuesday December 12), we’ve slashed prices on our adapted Bongo Drums, Tambourine, Ring Around Bells, Drumbourine and My First Music Player. Who knows? The next Ray Charles, Ludwig von Beethoven or Django Reinhardt may be one of your children, a client or a student in your class! Give him or her their big musical break by shopping our newly designed, state-of-the-art website and checking out our musical instruments and toys.

Happy holiday shopping!

Musical Musings

Drummer Boy on Wheelchair

Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination
and life to everything.”
― Plato

The power of music and its significant healing properties are well-known.  According to psychologist David M. Greenberg, writing for Psychology Today, “Music is much more than mere entertainment. It has been a feature of every known human society—anthropologists and sociologists have yet to find a single culture throughout the course of human history that has not had music. In fact, many evolutionary psychologists today make the argument that music predated language. Primitive tribes and religious practices have used music to reach enlightened states for thousands of years, and Pythagoras used music to heal different psychological and physical ailments. Currently, cutting-edge scientific research has shown the effect that music has on the brain, the individual, and society.”

Like their non-disabled peers, people with physical and developmental disabilities can benefit tremendously from interactions with music. While listening to music improves quality of life for just about everyone, some people with disabilities can also experience profoundly positive effects from taking part in adapted music lessons and/or music therapy. While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not the same. In this week’s post, we outline the differences between these two modalities and note the benefits of each.

What are adapted music lessons?

Adapted music lessons have the same goal as conventional music lessons: to teach the musical skills necessary to play an instrument. Yet adapted lessons are taught by teachers or music therapists skilled in providing an especially individualized approach to learning. Trained to evaluate the learning needs and styles of each student, adapted music teachers can tailor their lessons to the strengths and weaknesses of their students. They utilize a variety of strategies to help students to accomplish their goals.

According to Jennifer Hezoucky, a therapist at Life Song Therapy, adaptations for music students with physical disabilities may include: “Color-coding or large-print/chord music; learning songs using color or number codes; over-sized guitar picks; alternate tunings for guitar; adapted equipment for specific needs (such as switch-adapted instruments available through

Adaptations for students with developmental or intellectual disabilities may include the use of “visual aids to structure the lesson and reduce frustration; non-verbal communication; a focus on preferred songs and music genres; communication devices; [the incorporation of] music games, rhythm instruments, movement and singing to maintain and maximize learning,” says Hezoucky.

What is music therapy?

In music therapy, music proficiency isn’t the goal. Rather, music is a means to achieving other goals. According the American Music Therapy Association “Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.”

For example, notes music therapist Geoffrey Keith of Success Music Studio, “a music therapist may teach a student a song to help him to remember how to tie his shoes, or sing a song with him so he can work on saying a particular consonant that he struggles to say more clearly, or to help get out strong feelings attached to a traumatic experience.”

For more information about music therapy, visit

For more information about adapted music lessons, visit




Drum Therapy: The Many Benefits of Drumming

Bongo Drums

Music is widely recognized for its universal healing properties. Arguably, its benefits are even more profound for those who face cognitive, physical, behavioral and psychological challenges. Jordan Goodman, a musician, mental health counselor and founder of Beatwell, a company that brings therapeutic drumming to children and adults with and without disabilities, has seen music’s magic in action over and over again.

A musician from childhood, Goodman developed an interest in psychology while attending college. He went on to earn a master’s degree in clinical psychology while continuing to play and teach music. In his work with drum students, Goodman couldn’t help but notice that they all appeared less anxious and more confident when they drummed. He began to suspect that drumming had significant healing and therapeutic properties.

Curious about his observation, Goodman decided to focus his graduate studies on the physiological and psychological effects of drumming. His discovery of the work of neurologist Barry Bittman confirmed his instincts. Bittman’s 2001 study showed that drumming increases the number of T-cells in the blood, helping the body to fight off viruses, while a 2005 study the neurologist co-authored found that “recreational music making, particularly, drumming, can reverse 19 genetic responses to stress.” Other research by Bittman showed that drumming improves mood, reduces burnout rates, enhances creativity and builds community.

A 2011 article in Psychology Today reported that drumming helps children with special needs develop better “motor strength and control, speech and communication, social skills, emotional expression, and cognition.”

Book cover for "The Healing Power of the Drum"And, when interviewed by the Daily Beast in 2014, Robert Friedman, a N.Y. psychotherapist and author of “The Healing Power of the Drum” reported on the success he has had using drumming to help those with Alzheimer’s Syndrome and autism. “It helps with attention and focus,” Friedman noted. “We’ve also explored therapy with Parkinson’s patients. When a patient listens to the beat, they are able to walk, helping them on a fundamental level.”

Goodman, who is trained in the evidence-based HealthRHYTHMS drumming protocol created by Bittman, has used therapeutic drumming with groups and individuals with Down syndrome, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, addiction and psychiatric illness with great effects.

“When I go into a setting with a population that is new to me, I’m un-fazed, because I believe that we all share more in common than not,” says Goodman. “I did a workshop at a school for children on the autism spectrum with 25 kids from kindergarten through 8th grade. Afterward, the teachers were shocked. They had never seen the whole group stay on task for an entire hour. I find that with people with developmental disabilities, the tactile properties of drumming are very soothing. They feel grounded in the experience and it creates a safe and supportive atmosphere where people can express themselves, take chances and try new things.”

Although children with autism, ADHD and other developmental disabilities may struggle when it comes to forming emotional connections with other people and understanding social cues, Goodman has found that when they are part of drum circles, these difficulties are minimized and they experience the benefits of community.

“It’s too bad that many children get their first exposure to music education in classrooms where there’s this expectation for them to perform in a particular way,” says Goodman. “If they don’t do exactly what they’re told to do then they’re wrong. That’s not fun. When they’re on the playground doing what feels good there isn’t that sort of pressure. That’s what music should be. Just doing what feels good. Just playing. ”

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