Meldreth Manor School and The Skoog

Guest post from Petrina Lodge, Head of Education at Meldreth Manor School.

What is a Skoog?

See a Skoog below, and then read how we are using Skoogs at Meldreth Manor School to enhance our students’ communication and IT skills, their self-awareness and sense of control over things in their lives (cause and effect) and, importantly, to have fun!

This is a Skoog.

This is a Skoog. It’s a completely new kind of instrument. But it’s not just one instrument, it’s lots of instruments in a multi-coloured box of technology.

The Skoog is an exciting new musical instrument designed to empower those unable to play traditional instruments. The Skoog is a soft, squeezable object that simply plugs straight into your computer or laptop’s USB port. By touching, pressing, squashing, twisting or tapping the Skoog you can play a wide range of instruments, intuitively.

Simply touch, press, squash, twist, or tap to play the Skoog using any part of your body!

Designed to adapt and fit with your own natural movements, the Skoog sets you free to explore sounds and music in your own way.

By adjusting the Skoog you can challenge yourself and grow as a musician. Whether you have very limited mobility or bags of agility, you can make your Skoog fit your style.

Meldreth Manor School and skoogs

I think this is one of the most exciting technological developments for disabled children and adults of any age, for some time. It has been designed for accessibility for even really severely disabled children and adults, challenging each user at their own level.

At its most simple, this is a touch/sound response user-friendly cube, with different settings of sensitivity: the whole of the side of the cube, the button and area around it, are sensitive to touch of different types and pressures. It can be set to produce one sound per touch or multiple sounds depending on where it is touched, and how hard. It requires a USB connection to a computer – which doesn’t have to be sophisticated though it doesn’t work well on small computers such as notebook. It needs a long USB cable so that the PC or Laptop doesn’t end up on the floor, though The Skoog is very durable – it can be thrown or dropped or bounced and it will simply respond with sound.

Add to this that it can be used with a MIDI interface for as many sounds as you would want, and any sound-effect can be included in this, the fact that’s it’s recordable and can be programmed to suit any child or adult and played at any level, and you can see how exciting it is.

Playing with backing music

Students can play their own sound or play along with any backing music or other students: the musical key of the Skoog can be changed to fit whatever music is being used. All files can be saved using ‘Wave’ as one of several options.

More able students can use scores which consist of blobs of the colour of the face of the cube, linked to length for duration. Interactive scores are available which fill in the circle when the note has been played.

Lastly, but by no means least, the Skoog can be used to record sound – of any sort, from voice to vocalisation, to instrument: the sound file can be amended, so the Skoog can be used to help with Speech and Language therapy for working on vocalisations, and adapting them with students for greater clarity and understanding, or in articulating two separate sounds into one – such as blending sounds.

Words (and tunes) of songs can be pre-recorded for one word or phrase on each face of the cube and the student can repeat the song by getting the sequence correct.

The touch can be adjusted from very sensitive (so the sound is easily produced) to much less so, where there is much more control about producing the sound, whatever it is.

We are seeing really encouraging responses from students with very varied abilities.

Notes written by a music technologist

“I think there is a lot of potential for Tony to become a terrific Skoog player. He (then) played some distorted electric guitar by pressing and rocking the Skoog backwards, forwards, and to the sides. I opened a video on YouTube of Jimi Hendrix and Tony played along with the electric guitar. One of Tony’s favourite bands is The Rolling Stones, so we found a video of a live performance from them and he thoroughly enjoyed playing along…”

Tony is a teenager who has a life-limiting condition which is causing a gradual decline in his mobility and use of hands. Creating a sense of achievement is vital to Tony’s well-being, as well as helping maintain his fine motor skills.

And another excerpt, this time about our student called Kieran:

“I found him a clip from YouTube of David* playing saxophone for Van der Graff Generator and gave Kieran a trumpet sound on the Skoog. Kieran used his left hand mostly but also the right hand when encouraged to do so. He clearly enjoyed the session…”

* ‘David’ is David Jackson, our Soundbeam specialist who runs Soundbeam sessions at Meldreth Manor School for all our students.

The opportunities for using The Skoog are endless, watch this space!