Harmony Beyond Sound
The Inclusive Symphony of Yamaha's Technology and Design
Interview: Motoichi Tamura from the R&D Planning Group, Research and Development Division, and Manabu Kawada, General Manager of the Design Laboratory
Over the years, Yamaha has engaged in numerous activities to expand music culture worldwide. Picture yourself seated at a piano, able to perform at new heights. What may seem like a distant dream for many becomes a tangible reality with the Daredemo Piano (Auto-Accompanied Piano). A single touch on the keys sets the melody in motion, as the piano intuitively responds with automatic accompaniment and pedal movements, opening the door for everyone to explore the joys of playing music.
This progressive innovation was born out of the heartfelt desire of a girl with a disability to play Chopin on the piano. Today, the technology not only fulfills her dream but also serves as an inspiration for anyone aspiring to learn the piano, offering new opportunities to take that musical step forward.
As we celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we invite Motoichi Tamura, a key figure in the planning, development, and research of the Daredemo Piano, along with Manabu Kawada, General Manager of the Design Laboratory. Together, they will delve into our collective journey to support music lovers at every stage through our innovative technology and design philosophy.
Both individuals, deeply immersed in the development and design of musical instruments, surprisingly acknowledge the presence of barriers to musical performance. Kawada, reflecting on this, notes, "For example, piano, guitar, drum, or any other instrument is a universal tool to anyone in a sense because creating a sound on them is easy. However, the challenge escalates when attempting to play them with precise timing and completing a musical piece, introducing higher barriers to instrumental performance. Despite being a designer of musical instruments myself, I find playing them to be challenging for me."
While Tamura has cherished a diverse range of music genres since childhood, having a lot of performance experience, he admits his struggle with keyboard instruments, making public piano engagement an inevitable challenge. Tamura states, "In the realm of musical instrument play, perspective on what may be challenging shall change. Regardless of disability, some individuals can play musical instruments effortlessly, while others may face challenges in doing so."
Tamura recalls a memorable episode during an experiment featuring the Daredemo Piano. In this instance, a bedridden elementary school student with limited hand movement and speech was remotely connected to the venue to perform. Tamura shares, "Her disability was severe, and those unfamiliar with her might question her ability to play the piano. Yet, she could memorize quickly and flawlessly play a piece of music. Moreover, she could compose her own music." Reflecting on this experience, Tamura says "It made me think about what I could do to help people maximize their abilities and potential, without being influenced by our first impression of them".
Motoichi Tamura from the R&D Planning Group, Research and Development Division
Manabu Kawada, General Manager of the Design Laboratory
"Everyone possesses limited ability in some areas alongside rich talents in other areas. I envision a world where individuals can embrace the act of playing by compensating for their weaknesses."
Expounding on Yamaha's design philosophy, Kawada stresses, "We emphasize the notion that musical instruments are not just tools for use; they are tools for play. Tools for use, like vacuum cleaners and washing machines, prioritize convenience, efficiency, and clarity of purpose. However, play is a different concept. Musical instruments enable self-expression in a personalized manner. Despite the challenges, the experience is enjoyable, provides a sense of accomplishment, sets new goals, and deepens the overall enjoyment. This is why I believe playing can evolve into a lifelong hobby and companion."
Tamura echoes the use-and-play concept, noting, "The essence of play lies in its proactive and active nature. Playing a musical instrument is an avenue for self-expression and personal growth, evoking profound emotions."
Reflecting on the concept of "growth" through playing music, Tamura sees potential contributions from Yamaha's technology. This realization dawned during his involvement in assisting high school students at a special-needs school in playing the piano during the Daredemo Piano's development. "I learned that sometimes, it is more beneficial for students with disabilities to be assisted by a machine than a human. Different from assistant by a human, technological assistance means extension of individual's abilities, and the experience of practicing without hesitation until mastery brings immense joy to the students," says Tamura. This realization shifted Tamura's focus from "what can be done with technology" to "what technology can do for people."
Musical instruments enable self-expression in a personalized manner. Despite the challenges, the experience is enjoyable, provides a sense of accomplishment, sets new goals, and deepens the overall enjoyment. This is why I believe playing can evolve into a lifelong hobby and companion.
This ethos of "What can technology do for people?" and "How can technology be used to bring joy to individuals?" is deeply ingrained in the Daredemo Piano concept. The term "Daredemo (for anyone)" reflects the aspiration to transform the piano into an instrument accessible not only to those facing challenges due to physical disabilities but to anyone with a passion for playing it. Expressing this, Tamura states, "By thoroughly understanding the unique needs of individuals, we can create something genuinely beneficial for each person. Moreover, by progressively applying our insights, we can develop a versatile creation that extends its reach to a broader people requiring similar functionalities and technology."
Kawada gained a similar perspective through the experience of "inclusive design," which involves stakeholders from the project's inception. "In our Design Laboratory, we tried designing keyboards together with an individual with visual impairment. We also use glasses to simulate the experience of those with color blindness, evaluating color and visibility. These endeavors have sparked a multitude of ideas, some of which are still in early stages. However, if realized, they could result in tools that are friendly not only for those with visual impairments but also for those with full vision. In practice, whether playing in the dark or playing and reading sheet music at the same time, the ability to operate an instrument without visual guidance is crucial. I believe that the concept of applying ideas obtained through methods like inclusive design universally is a principle shared by design approaches driven by various disabilities," Kawada notes.
In conclusion, we asked about the significance and value of sharing sound and music with individuals of diverse identities and characteristics, as well as Yamaha's role in this endeavor.
Tamura shares his perspective, stating, "For me, music serves as a conduit for deepening mutual understanding and empathy. The ability to share this experience with others holds the value of enriching lives by alleviating isolation and loneliness, even if only to a small extent. I believe Yamaha has the potential to connect people from various backgrounds who share similar passion through the universal language of sound and music."
Kawada, reflecting on his experiences at live concerts, emphasizes, "I often find that I am moved more by the people than the music itself".
I believe Yamaha has the potential to connect people from various backgrounds who share similar passion through the universal language of sound and music.
It seems that it is ultimately people who have the power to move others. "People may sense humanity through music that transcends tangible form. This is not a matter of logic but rather of heartstrings touching and resonating with each other." He continues by highlighting the unique power of music to convey emotions and unite diverse individuals. "Yamaha's corporate philosophy is centered on 'creating excitement and cultural inspiration together with people around the world.' It's crucial to remember that 'together' is a fundamental value embedded in this brand. Yamaha, as a company that believes in the transformative power of sound and music, is committed to realizing a society where individuals with different values can coexist harmoniously, transcending diversity in age, gender, nationality, disability and so on while acknowledging each other's individuality."
Using Daredemo Piano as an illustration, Tamura emphasizes, "I believe the inherent value of Daredemo Piano is not just in playing it skillfully. The piano becomes a 'place' where people gather, where someone plays, the player becomes the next teacher, and conversations are born. I aim to foster connections among people with the piano at the center. When you share a love for music with others, you can also share moments together with them, irrespective of the backgrounds."