We asked Audrey Podmore from Full Pitcher Music to tell us about MIDIgrid – a musical instrument that can be played with a computer mouse. It was originally developed out of research at the University of York but Audrey spotted the potential for a much wider audience.
Flexible Friend for SEN/D Musicians
One quality the SEN/D community most needs to find in its resources and services is flexibility! Situations and individuals are incredibly diverse and can change from day to day, or even from moment to moment. The special needs provider must have materials that enable them to respond to these changes. In many years of teaching and facilitating for disabled people, from pre-school and PMLD to end of school exam preparation and adult education, my most useful resource has been the MIDIgrid software, developed by York University. This was not software intended for special needs but a resource for professional composers to manipulate their material.
It is what is termed a ‘content-free’ program – like a word processor but for music. Special needs providers were quick to see the potential of this software for their own sphere. Since it is content free, its effectiveness is dependent on the creative input of the user: it is an authoring program with which users can create their own ‘grids’, each being what we might now call an ‘app’. The software can be run in two modes. In ‘Edit’ one enters and manipulates the musical material, laying out a grid. In ‘Performance’ the musical elements can be played with a mouse or trackball or ‘triggered’ from any MIDI device, such as the keys of a music keyboard or a MIDIcreator switch box. This enables the provider to create virtual instruments, custom-designed for individuals.
MIDIgrid is now very old software – it first appeared on the Atari computer! Remarkably, though, I have still not been able to find anything else that would enable me to create my own interactive music resources without requiring programming skills and considerable financial investment.
Over the years, I urged York to create a Windows version of the software, pared down as a classroom resource and with the simplest possible user-interface. Eventually they created ‘MIDIgrid for Windows’ and also ‘GridPlay’, a ‘Performance Mode’ only version, which I could publish with ready-made content. In GridPlay, various performance related settings can still be changed, ‘on the fly’, though not saved. When York University’s Electronics Centre closed down, I offered to publish and distribute ‘MIDIgrid for Windows’, to ensure its continued availability.
In addition, there is a ‘GridPlay for Carers/Teachers‘ package with grids I found particularly useful in work with more severe disabilities, and an ebook with suggestions for using the grids, lyrics, sheet music, and advice on running music groups for people with profound disabilities. The Full Pitcher offers a free post-sales customisation service for the grids in this package to support those who do not wish, themselves, to edit grids in the parent program.