Rock Band As Therapy? Modified Controllers Make IT Possible
Berklee College of Music has long been a pioneer in the aural arts, and its Music Therapy department is among the most cutting-edge in the country (it's also the only one to focus on contemporary, not classical, music). Staff there have recently begun embracing new technologies to aid in that therapy, leading to an innovative use for devices that may be thought of as simple toys.
For the average gamer, temptation to get angry at a Rock Band or Guitar Hero controller may run high. 'I totally hit that note' is among the most common things yelled in frustration at the popular series of video games. 'This controller's a piece of garbage!' But while some of us take out our frustrations on these gaming devices, others are finding clever ways to make them do real, good work.
Researchers at the Berklee College of Music have begun to adapt plastic guitar and drum controllers for use in musical therapy. Their interface, which works based on light touches, offers several advantages over traditional instruments, notably in their ease of play. That means that differently-abled therapy patients can use these lightweight game controllers to simulate the feeling of being a rock star, just like the rest of us do when we pop those games in our Xbox or Playstation.
Berklee students have altered the controllers to provide the simplest experience for their patients. Instead of trying to match colored notes that scroll across a television screen, users now merely press buttons - or hit pads - on each device, which produces sounds that are in-tune with background music they're jamming along with. Thus, instead of replicating an original recording, patients are encouraged to create their own music. Therapists can record that music to monitor progress or just to put a patient's creativity on display.
The Marriage of Technology and Therapy
This is part of a move by Berklee to embrace the ways that technology can facilitate music therapy. Some more traditional therapists don't exactly support that merger, arguing that a computerized device can never make up for the human touch. However, it's not as though Berklee is removing the human element - in fact, almost the opposite is true. They're employing devices that increase human engagement, and live therapists are right there with the patients to help them express themselves through these modified video game controllers.
In many ways, Berklee's the hub of the therapy/technology intersection. In April of this year they even hosted a conference entitled 'The Future of Music Therapy: Developing Technologies.' In November, a joint team of electronic design students and therapists from the school will present their work with these controllers at another music therapy conference, where perhaps other schools will become hip to the usefulness of electronic devices in therapy.
A New Use for Video Games
In fact, the last few years have seen video games make a serious splash in the general therapeutic world. A lot of that has to do with gaming giant Nintendo's newest system, the Wii, released in late 2006. Its simple interface embodies the term 'user-friendly;' many games employ intuitive motion-sensing controllers for a range of actions, and some don't need you to push any buttons at all. Since its introduction, many nursing homes, therapy groups and more have used the simpler Wii games (like Bowling) to get their patients active. It's a fun, engaging way to work the body.
Even Guitar Hero's seen its fair share of use; one Wisconsin techie modified its controller to respond to a footswitch input as well, thereby allowing stroke patients who lost control of half their body to still play along with the game. One therapist told The Washington Times that it gives those in therapy 'bragging rights' - they can compete online against someone half a world away who has no idea they're disabled and enjoy a level playing field. In the end, all such efforts help not just patients' bodies but their minds, keeping them engaged and hopefully free from the depression that can sometimes come in such situations. Ask any musical performer - you're likely to hear that for them, going on stage is 'therapy.' It seems that actual therapists are catching on to that fact.
Interested in rock and roll? Check out this fun way to learn popular music theory.