An introduction to adaptive musical instruments

Published 15th December 2022

We provide insurance for all kinds of musical instruments, and often get asked about the more unusual instruments we insure. A unique musical instrument category that you may come across in the world of music are adaptive instruments, and assistive equipment or technology.

Adaptive musical instruments are specifically designed to accommodate the needs of disabled musicians, and make both learning and playing a musical instrument accessible to all.

Innovative design and the advancement of technology has understandably been welcomed in the field of adaptive musical instruments. Examples include creating assistive equipment with 3D printing, and manufacturing instruments using lightweight materials. These unique instruments are often game changing both in design, and in giving or restoring a person’s ability to play music - along with all the joy that comes from being musically expressive. 

Our partnership with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO), specifically BSO Resound - the disabled-led ensemble at the core of the BSO, has allowed us to see first-hand how adaptive instruments and assistive technology can be used by musicians to create wonderful and inspiring music. 

BSO Resound and RNS Moves

Next year, the BSO and Royal Northern Sinfonia (RNS) join forces in unique new commission. Both BSO Resound and RNS Moves — an inclusive ensemble which brings together disabled and non-disabled musicians including members of Royal Northern Sinfonia — have made headlines in recent years for championing the inclusion of disabled musicians. The two ensembles unite in 2023 to present two performances which feature a new commission by award-winning composer Kate Whitley, who is known for co-founding The Multi-Story Orchestra. The performances will take place on the following dates:
  • Wednesday 22nd February 2023 - Lighthouse Poole
  • Friday 3rd March 2023 - Sage Gateshead

Both groups will perform using accessible electronic instruments, including: Headspace, created by Rolf Gehlaar, which uses sensors to detect head movements, and breath to create sound; the Linnstrument, created by the legendary Roger Linn, which uses subtle movements rather than pad presses or key strokes, to enable sample playback; and the Clarion.

The Clarion is an award-winning, accessible musical instrument available on iPad and PC that can be played independently with any part of the body, including the eyes. The Clarion was developed by BSO Partners, Open Up Music and the National Open Youth Orchestra.

BSO Resound
Image of BSO Resound courtesy of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra 

Drake Music

Drake Music is a national arts charity working across the UK and has been pioneering the use of accessible music technology for over 20 years. It has worked with individuals to create bespoke instruments such as the AirHarp and the Kellycaster, enabling many more disabled people to make music.
  • AirHarp was developed by Hannah Shelmerdine and Chris Ball for the DMLab North West Innovation Challenge in 2017. Hannah came to the DMLab challenge looking for a way to make music which would allow her to be in a band, and an instrument that would be accessible within her movement and vision range. AirHarp enables Hannah to make music for the first time by maximising her expressive control – achieved through sweeping hand motions that trigger a sensor in order to play notes. 
  • 'The Kellycaster' was the result of a collaboration between John Kelly and Coder Charles Matthews, as part of Drake Music’s hackathon at the Web We Want Festival. This hacked guitar is bespoke to John’s needs - featuring an adapted body shape with a short neck that allows the strings of the guitar to be strummed in the traditional way, whilst selecting chords on a keyboard using his left hand. This makes the full range of chords accessible, and also maintains the full expressiveness of the guitar.

Take it away Consortium

We recognise that it’s impossible to do justice to the range of instruments and adaptions available.

The Take it away Consortium (a partnership between Creative United, Drake Music, Music for Youth, The OHMI Trust, Open Up Music and Youth Music) have created and published the first guide to buying adaptive musical instruments.

The guide was created in response to their major research project which looked into the music making experiences of disabled people, and participation levels of disabled children and adults. The guide is a great reference, and details the extraordinary range of adaptive instruments currently available.

You can access the 'Guide to Buying Adaptive Musical Instruments here.

Adaptive Musical Instruments Guide
The Take it away Consortiums guide to buying adaptive musical instruments

BSO Resound and RNS Moves Performances

To find out more about the 2023 collaboration with BSO Resound and RNS Moves, click here to watch the interview discussing the project with BSO Chief Executive, Dougie Scarfe.

Personal Accident Cover

We've recently updated our Personal Accident Cover to provide up to £1000 to adapt your musical instrument or equipment following permanent, partial, or total disablement as a result of an accident - helping you to keep playing.