Arcana – An Innovative and Accessible Musical Instrument
By: Noa Nitzan, occupational therapist, Professional Director of The Technology Center, and Tamar Shatz, music therapist at The School for Special Education at Beit Issie Shapiro || 23, January 2020
The story of Arcana is a beautiful example of how technology can expand participation to a variety of activities, and how there is no limit to the dreams we can realize. We met the incredible Arcana team in the product development stage, providing them with consultation support, and today the students of the School for Special Education and of the After-School Club at Beit Issie Shapiro are learning to play it.
Music is universal. It touches every person in some way. We experience and enjoy music on a daily basis from the moment we enter the world, and sometimes even before birth. As a society we talk about the importance of quality of life and promoting the participation of people with disabilities. Together these values strengthen the notion that the ability to play and create music needs to be accessible to all.
From an emotional perspective, music has a central role in our lives. We enjoy and listen to music on a daily basis and many people even play instruments themselves. From the therapeutic perspective, music is a vehicle to express thoughts and experience sensations, including the sense of movement, in a substantial way. Through music, the individual (with disabilities) can express himself and achieve a certain control over movement, and at the same time he can experience physical and emotional relief. The pleasure of musical performance stimulates motivation to deal with challenges and provides gratification from the musical feedback.
The Arcana was conceived to allow people with various disabilities to play an instrument, express themselves through music, and to enjoy the experience of playing music in the most traditional way possible. Arcana was developed over three years of research through trials with tens of students of various ages and disabilities, at leading frameworks throughout Israel. It has options for a variety of methods of musical expression, it includes both melodic and harmonic scales, and includes a wide range of notes. The instrument was developed to emulate a guitar, such that the unique mechanisms allow for strumming movements and sensations with one hand, while the other hand presses on keys similar to pressing on strings, to produce chords. Due to the simple interface and the similarity to playing a guitar, teaching students to play the Arcana is easy for music teachers and does not require any special training. The instrument consists of a special handle for strumming and keys for chords. Adaptations can be made to meet the needs of each user, including adaptations for left- or right- handed people, adjusting the size of the keys, and adjusting the sensitivity of the handle. It can also be adapted to be used with external switches. To produce music, Arcana is connected to an external device, such as an iPhone or iPad.
Boaz Reinschreiber, the product manager and musical technician behind Arcana, is a musician and writer who teaches and creates music. He is the 2006 winner of a prize from the Israeli Ministry of Culture. His passion to create this company and instruments for people with disabilities was inspired by one of his students.
“Five years ago I met Gil Rubin. Gil has cerebral palsy. She was in grade 6 at the time and a student of mine. She told me that her dream was to play music like her peers on regular musical instruments. After much research, trials to make typical instruments accessible, and trials on various apps and tablets, Oren Alsheich, my colleague, and I realized that a suitable option to help Gil realize her dream does not exist. Then we noticed that Gil operates the joystick on her wheelchair with incredible accuracy and the idea for creating an adapted ergonomic instrument based on strumming a guitar was born. After a relatively short period we got a team together and the four of us established our company, Arcana, Chaim Kahiri, CEO, Yonatan Bar Or, industrial designer, Oren Alsheich, marketing manager, and myself, product manager.
At Beit Issie Shapiro we are amazed to see the learning process that our students are experiencing and excited to see and hear their reactions. They are learning chords, learning to read music and play familiar tunes, and most importantly – they are enjoying themselves! Their motivation to learn is high because of the joy they experience in the lessons and because the instrument design meets their physical needs. They don’t give up even when the process gets challenging. It’s amazing to see these students who experience difficulty using their hands and fingers accurately in regular daily tasks but are using their hands effectively to play the ARCANA guitar.
Shir Kutner, coordinator of the After-School Club at Beit Issie Shapiro says: “One time, during the lesson, Yarden shouted with happiness “Wow! It’s so easy!” and this is the essence of Arcana. I don’t think this would be her experience if we gave her something else. It’s amazing that it comes so easily for her. If we would give her something else, we would force her to deal with all the challenges she has. This instrument does the opposite, allowing her to feel successful.”
As with Yarden, it is important that everyone has the opportunity to learn to play music. With an adapted instrument, students can concentrate on learning to play music instead of on the cognitive and physical challenges they would have if playing regular instruments.
For our students, creating high quality music and playing familiar songs is a very meaningful experience which can improve their sense of efficacy and can have a significant impact on their ability to integrate into society.