Jan 13, 2015 | By Alec

It almost goes without saying that 3D printing technology can be applied to just about creative intention you can think of; even musical expression. Just last week, we reported on a Yale student who developed an absolutely unique 3D printed beer bottle keyboard. But mechanical engineering graduate student William Aquite, from the University of Wisconsin, has utilized 3D printing to serve a far more noble musical purpose: to give it to the blind.

Now you might think that music is especially suited for the blind as it is, since hearing tends to be one of the most important senses a blind person can have. But to play music, to recreate it, remains a gigantic challenge for most blind lovers of music. They are generally limited to using Braille scores of music.

As Aquite explained, his inspiring project began when he came across a blind musician Yeaji Kim, who was completing a PhD in the School of Music. Kim is a pianist, and she has found that particularly complex pieces are almost impossible to transfer to braille scores. To cope with that problem, Kim came up with a system of raised notes on sheets of music.

Aquite immediately realized that 3D printing would be the ideal technology to produce these, and they teamed up to produce these unique sheets of music that can be read by hand. ‘Kim was interested in the idea and definitely excited about collaborating,’ he explained. ‘This isn't just building a prototype for her or the School of Music. It's a true collaboration in that we're working closely with Kim to understand her design needs and to find solutions together.’

Not only would these 3D printed sheets of music more accurately capture the complexity and details of certain pieces of music, they could also make collaboration between blind and non-blind musicians easier. After all, both sides would be reading the same music system, rather than two different ones.

Fortunately, the university’s Polymer Engineer Center, led by professor Tim Osswald, had recently purchased a high quality Selective Laser Sintering 3D printer with the help of a gift from alumni Robert and Debbi Cervenka. It has already proven to be useful for a variety of manufacturing projects, but it also turned out to be perfect to produce the high quality music scores for Kim. ‘The SLS machine is a catalyst for new ideas and opportunities,’ professor Osswald explained. ‘It's triggering interdisciplinary collaborations and new thinking among all kinds of people, which is really cool.’

A team of Osswald’s students began working on these 3D printed sheets of music, which have helped Kim to earn her PhD. Though she since returned to her home in South Korea, she is still actively involved in the development and readability of these music scores. The team is still currently working on refining the concept, but hope to be able to share the designs for a wide variety of raised music sheets in the near future. 3D printing is thus effectively putting music in the hands of the blind, though it can take a while before this approach can be widely adopted. 



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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