The piano, requiring a pedal to operate, is a challenge to learn for people paralyzed below the waist. Dr. Rüdiger Rupp from the Orthopedic Clinic of Heidelberg University Hospital in Germany has been honored with the Innovation Award 2008 from the German Paraplegic Foundation for his invention to solve the problem.
From Universitäts Klinikum Heidelberg:
For more than 20 years, there have been electromagnetic pedal controls for paraplegic pianists – mostly accident victims – that were invented by the renowned Bayreuth piano manufacturer Steingraeber & Söhne and are custom made. Pulse generators such as light sensors, headrests, back cushions, neck braces, and mouth tubes make it possible for disabled pianists to play pieces that include pedal work – the complete works from Beethoven to the contemporary period.
The disadvantage of these technical solutions is that magnets are too undifferentiated for use with pianos because they can only switch the pedal on and off. “Intermediate stages such as half-pedal or flutter were not possible. In addition, traditional assistive devices were visible to concert viewers”, summarizes Dr. Rüdiger Rupp the disadvantages of the current systems.
His ingenious invention allows the Heidelberg researchers to compensate for this decisive failing. Together with his team, he developed a bite splint over almost two years with a pressure-sensitive sensor that the pianist can hold in his mouth to control the pedal according to the markings on the music.
This bite splint was the solution for the problem faced by a paraplegic pro-fessional pianist from Norway with which the piano maker from Bayreuth approached Dr. Rupp. The concert can be held without any visible cables or devices, thus approaching normality. “We assess the strength with which a paraplegic clenches his teeth. Depending on how strongly he does this, he can control the pedal position,” describes the Heidelberg re-searcher his innovation.
A wireless transmitter is installed to an electric motor attached to the pedals of the concert grand. A remote module, a kind of miniature transmitter with minimal power consumption placed in the right cheek, forwards the sensor signals to the electric motor, which then operates the pedal. The remote module, originally introduced by a US company, is customized to the needs of the user.
In his left cheek, the paraplegic pianist has a button cell that provides energy for twelve hours. The innovation in this highly sophisticated system is that analog, i.e. graduated signals are transmitted consisting of far more than just “on-off”. When pedal markings appear in the notes, the paraplegic pianist literally grits his teeth, to a greater or lesser extent – and can achieve the same differentiated sounds as a non-disabled pianist.
Full story: Operate a piano pedal with the mouth