The new AI piano that allows disabled musicians to play Beethoven in full harmony

9 January 2024, 18:13

Disabled musicians play on an AI augmented piano

By Kyle Macdonald

The joy of Beethoven and the power of music were on display in Tokyo, as three soloists with disabilities performed on a customised AI piano.

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An extraordinary self-playing piano is using artificial intelligence to open up new musical possibilities for disabled pianists.

The instrument, which has been showcased in concert in Tokyo, augments the notes played by soloists and allows players to play in full harmony, even if they are physically limited to playing one note at a time.

Read more: This one-octave ‘microtone’ piano will change your perception of pitch and harmony forever

24-year-old Kiwa Usami has cerebral palsy, which severely limits her movement. Her dedication to playing piano with just one finger inspired her teachers to work with Yamaha to create an instrument that could augment her notes, while still capturing her musical expression.

A self-playing Yamaha piano was equipped with AI, which allowed single notes to be combined with additional notes to fill the harmony of a given piece. The creators call it ‘Anybody’s Piano’ and it was heard in concert this December, accompanied by the Yokohama Sinfonietta in Tokyo’s famous Suntory Hall.

Usami was one of the soloists in the concert, playing a piano arrangement of the finale to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 backed by a symphony orchestra and choir.

Yurina Furukawa plays on the AI-powered piano
Yurina Furukawa plays on the AI-powered piano. Picture: Getty

The concert on 21 December saw three soloists play the instrument. Joining Usami was 39-year-old Hiroko Higashino, who was born with three fingers on her right hand.

“If the piano helps me and adds two missing keys for me, I can more faithfully recreate the rich harmony, the music that Beethoven intended to express,” Higashino said.

The third soloist was 10-year-old Yurina Furukawa, who has a rare muscle condition called congenital myopathy and requires breathing assistance. Positioned in front of the piano, Furukawa kept time by moving her left arm, pressing the piano keys with the back of her right hand.

“It’s a really powerful experience to play with an orchestra,” Furukawa said after a performance which included the slow movement of Beethoven’s final symphony.

Among the 130 concertgoers was 16-year-old Koki Kato, who told AFP that she was “so touched” by the performances.

“The piano makes it possible for anybody to perform, which is a very good thing for music too,” she said.