Trainer Piano
Hyperinstruments Group, MIT Media Laboratory, Summer 2008

Undergraduate Research
Team Size: 3 people
Duration: 2.5 months

The Trainer Piano is a computer-controlled player piano that has a series of electromagnets embedded into and underneath each of the 52 white keys. The computer can be programmed to make the piano play any number of songs or rhythmic sequences. To play a note, the electromagnets in a key are activated along with the electromagnet underneath the tip of the key; this causes a magnetic attraction between the two that draws the key down and sounds the note. This magnetic force created by an activated key can be put to use in a second way as well. If a user puts on gloves that contain magnets in the fingertip, as the piano plays a note sequence, the user’s fingers will “feel” the song being played due to the magnetic attraction between the fingers and the keys. This user could be guided through a song beyond their un-aided ability level.

Electromagnets underneath the tip of each key are paired with two electromagnets embedded into the key.

CAD models show the attraction of electromagnets inside keys to those underneath the keys.

It has been shown that a combination of haptic and audio (touching and hearing) learning is more effective than audio learning alone, so this piano can be useful in allowing musical beginners to pick up piano playing more easily and/or effectively. This type of technology could also be useful in the future for other applications, such as physical rehabilitation.