Nov 9, 2015 | By Tess

3D printing technology, as we have come to see, possesses the uncanny ability to bridge and connect various disciplines simply by virtue of being a computer technology dependent on design and creative input. This aspect of 3D printing has become especially evident to students of the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Wisconsin, ever since the department received an SLS 3D printer in 2012. Since then, the engineering students have teamed up to work with various disciplines within the university to create some truly astonishing projects. Perhaps most notably, the team at the Polymer Engineering Center (PEC) at the university have been helping now former University of Wisconsin doctoral student Yeaji Kim to develop a universal system for helping the blind and visually impaired to better read music notations.

The system, called Tactile Stave Notation, is essentially 3D printed sheet music with the notes and staff slightly elevated from the surface, which allows blind music students to feel the and tactilely connect to the same notes that their teachers are seeing.

Yeaji Kim, a visually impaired musician herself, was inspired to develop the system in order to offer young musicians a chance to better understand sheet music and to be able to better communicate with their music teachers. As it currently stands, blind musicians must read a complicated Braille notation for the music, memorize bits of it at a time, all the while missing certain intricacies in the music that are noted in sheet music.

Yeaji Kim

Todd Welbourne, a piano professor at the UW-Madison and Kim’s instructor while she was there, explains, “The (Braille) letter system is already very complicated. And then to have the symbols also mean something else, to mean music, can be very confusing to a kid.” With Tactile Stave Notation, these same visually impaired musicians will be able to learn to play music in the same room as other musicians and be taught by teachers who may not possess extensive knowledge of the Braille system.

The engineering department got involved in the project when a mechanical engineering graduate student, William Aquite, heard of Kim’s project and approached her to help in actually making the 3-dimensional musical scores. “Kim was interested in the idea and definitely excited about collaborating,” explains Aquite, “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.”

Students at the PEC

Tactile Stave Notation is still currently being developed and refined, as a team of undergraduate and graduate students have been working with Kim to find the best resolution and design to additively manufacture the sheet music to be read by blind students. This process must take into consideration several factors, such as the sharpness of corners, the legibility of the notes, and because they are using SLS 3D printing technology, they must also be careful that the sheet music does not have residual powder on it, which could cut into fingers.

Despite this last concern, SLS technology, one of the most advanced 3D printing technologies, has been the key to creating the Tactile Stave Notation system because of its high-resolution capabilities. Aquite explains, “The main advantage of this process is the resolution you can get. The resolution you can achieve is one-four-thousandth of an inch so it is very high accuracy.”

What is especially impressive is that because there is no existing software or program to turn regular sheet music into a 3-dimensional format, the engineering students working on the project are truly pioneering a new system, and must be extremely precise with their design and process.

Yeaji Kim recently received her PhD from the UW-Madison School of Music in piano performance and pedagogy and has since returned home to South Korea, though she continues to work with the Polymer Engineering Center lab at the University of Wisconsin. The students working on the project continue to send Kim their latest adjustments to the 3D printed sheet music and she provides them with feedback on how to perfect the Tactile Stave Notation system, which she developed.

One of Kim’s professors, Jessica Johnson has expressed her admiration for Kim’s project saying, “This system is incredibly innovative. The potential impact on the way music is studied [and] learned as well as the way that it will allow more people to access diverse types of music is very exciting.”

Kim’s ingenuity and passion is extremely inspiring, as is the commitment to the project demonstrated by the team of students at the PEC. Together, with the help of 3D printing technology, they are sure to bring to the world a new and exciting way for the visually impaired to engage with music. Stay tuned!

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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