Although Soundbeam is a great resource it, and other non-contact sensors like the MIDIgesture, suffer from being invisible. The idea of waving around in the air to create sound is abstract to most of us. Add the fact that you can adjust the beam length and the point at which the notes start and you can have a confusing musical instrument. Imagine every week you walked into a piano lesson where someone had changed the size of the keys, the number of notes and the pitch of the notes. Not the easiest thing to get to grips with.
Although I’m going to refer to Soundbeam throughout this article, it applies equally to any ‘invisible’ beam sensor – MIDIgesture etc.
To help people play the Soundbeam we need to be consistent about where we place the unit from week to week. Accurate records can help, but we can also use a few props to help.
Pointing the Soundbeam up and using a silk parachute with a group. The parachute interrupts the beam and creates a simple cause and effect – we can see it go up, along with the musical pitch.
2) A mat
Place the beam sensor so that it’s active range reflects the length of a soft floor mat. A physical object that we can easily relate to.
If you haven’t got a mat then a tape measure and some gaffer tape to mark the floor does a similar job. Equally badminton courts in a school hall fulfil the same job.
3) Use a sound that reflects the playing motion
This was one of those lessons that I learnt by accident. I had a Soundbeam pointing upwards, with a simple pentatonic scale. It just so happened that we were playing with different sounds and reached a Harp sound. A young girl walking through the room saw me playing the beam, came over and immediately started ‘plucking’ in the air above the beam. The same action as you might make with a harp.
4) Take a photo
This works really well if you keep some records on each performer – maybe as part of Sounds of Intent assessment. You need to be consistent week to week – same player, same setup. Take a photo or short video of where the player is in relation to the beam.
Remember to keep the same sound, number of notes, beam length, offset and position.
5) A piece of string
Attach one end to the Beam or stand and the other to a chair or another stand. You can even mark the positions of individual notes on the string using pieces of ribbon or coloured card. This also helps as a tactile guide if the player has a visual impairment.