Breath control instruments for people with limited hand function – Magic Flute and Jamboxx

In this post we will look at two alternatives for musicians whose only reliable movement is their head and breath. There are two currently available on the market (please correct me if I’m missing any others) the Magic Flute from Unique Perspectives and the Jamboxx. Both seem to be excellent options (although I need to point out I have no hands on experience of using the Jamboxx) that while similar in some respects have their own unique qualities that might make one more suitable than the other depending on the user.

Magic Flute

The Magic Flute is one of the more established accessible digital musical instruments being available for about 5 years. Its design enables people whose only reliable movement is the head and breath to play music. When attached to its mount the flute is free to swivel up and down with a nodding motion of the user with mouth piece between their lips. An internal gyroscope detects the angular position and converts that into a note or pitch. Expression can be controlled using the strength of the breath into the mouth piece, blow harder to increase the volume of the note.

Magic Flute accessible musical instrument

It is a versatile instrument that can be made accessible to a wide range of users. For example, a simple 3 note pattern could be recorded into the flute so that up, level and down select the 3 different notes or for more advanced users the flute can also control external MIDI devices like keyboards or synths. With the addition of a MIDI to USB adaptor/interface you can also use it to control software synths or a VST hosted by your DAW.  It just occurs to me now that it might provide a great way of composing with and accessing the E-Scape software mentioned in the previous post. While the Magic Flute can control external hardware and software the fact that it can be played as a stand-alone instrument (with amplification) using either the preloaded or user loaded sounds is a distinct advantage. The notes of the preloaded sounds can be chosen from a set of 20 default scales or the user can record into the flute from a keyboard. This versatility could certainly be considered one of the outstanding features of the Magic Flute. The user can control settings like volume, changing the scales and resetting the angular position to a known starting point in the selected scale independently using “sip and puff” type access.

See the fantastic My Breath my Music site for more details on the Magic Flute

The Jamboxx

Where a vertical nodding motion controls the Magic Flute a horizontal side to side motion controls the Jamboxx, much the same as a traditional harmonica. If fact that it what the Jamboxx is, an electronic harmonica style MIDI controller. Being a MIDI controller rather than a standalone instrument like the Magic Flute means that this device needs to be connected to a computer. This is certainly not a deal breaker because let’s face it the computer is a the centre of most peoples home studio anyway.

jamboxx with three attachments allowing access to 8, 10 or 12 notesIt comes with it’s own software and sounds covering many instruments, with a range of backing tracks and a karaoke tutorial mode. More exciting than this for experienced musicians is it integration with GarageBand on  Apple OSx. You can have between 8 to 12 notes on 11 scales and it had an additional tilt control feature as well as breath pressure. These are the bare details of what appears might be a good option for some musicians with reduced or no hand function. I haven’t used this device so I encourage you to go to their web site to find out more about it.

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