Inspiring Story of the Week:

With the Blink of An Eye, Even the Paralyzed Can Play Musical Instruments


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While many say the eyes are the windows of the soul, a Greek music professor sees them as windows of soul music… or rock, or electronica, or jazz.

Zacharias Vamvakousis is the creative mastermind behind EyeHarp, and while he missed the opportunity to call it “EyeTunes,” his new digital musical instrument is allowing hundreds of quadriplegics to create music using only their eyes.

With a Ph.D. in music technology, and possessing expert computers skills, Vamvakousis made the field of disabled musicianship a specialty after a friend suffered a motorcycle accident which impaired his ability to play the guitar.

EyeHarp is currently in its fifth iteration, and Vamvakousis launched the EyeHarp Foundation in 2019 to try and get his instrument out to more people.

Notes appear on screen in a color-coded wheel set to pentatonic or heptatonic scales, and are selected for sonification by the user’s gaze. The same note as the one previously selected will remain on the screen for fast power riffing, or another can be chosen.

To help students learn, a visual aid in the form of a circle will drag across the screen to direct the gaze at the next correct note, but can be turned off so that disabled people can go through the rigors of practice that anyone trying to learn an instrument have to suffer.

A little like the Guitar Hero video game, EyeHarp comes with accuracy scores and other gamifying metrics, as well as an option to silence errors.

“Playing music is a process that requires studying and having music classes,” Vamvakousis tells the Christian Science Monitor. “So if we want it to reach many people, we have to reach first the music teachers.”

650 people are currently using EyeHarp, including Joel Bueno, a Spanish guy with cerebral palsy and the focus of the Christian Science Monitor feature, who wanted to play music with his older brother.

EyeHarp is a very important instrument for my life because I always wanted to play music,” says Bueno. “It is an innovative instrument; great, and very fresh.”

“We knew certain activities like playing soccer or music would be impossible for Joel,” says Ms. Bueno. “When EyeHarp appeared, we felt, my God, if we can do this we can do anything.”

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