Virtual music technology hits high note with kids

When four-year-old Levi first came into the Virtual Music Instrument (VMI) studio, he was shy, withdrawn and quiet. Today, he’s a virtual maestro, making and leading music, growing with confidence, and showing the restorative power of music therapy.  

Levi arrived at Holland Bloorview in August to regain the ability to walk following a serious illness that almost took his life. He contracted an infection that got into his blood stream. It was so severe that Levi was in an acute care hospital for two months and had to be put on life support.

Though Levi’s chief goal is to be able to walk again, music, and specifically the VMI, is an important part of his therapy. 

The VMI is a special, customizable computer program gives kids like Levi the chance to play and create music without having to hold an instrument. Even small gestures like finger movements can create sound, allowing kids with limited mobility to reap the benefits of music therapy. 

To use the VMI, Levi sits facing a large television screen with a web cam on top, pointing at him. His image is projected in front of him onto the screen. Large coloured dots are superimposed on the space around him. 

Each dot represents a musical note. When he waves his arm and passes through a virtual dot, his movement creates a sound. When he waves through a series of programmed dots, he creates a song. 

For Levi, this type of movement and motion is sharpening his visual perception, increasing his reach, expanding his range of motion and boosting his core strength. (When he reaches he has to stabilize his core to maintain his balance while in his walker or wheelchair.)

Emotionally, the VMI gives Levi a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment and builds his self- confidence and self-esteem. 

“He sees himself being successful, and he’s seeing himself as a good musician and he’s having fun,” said Eunice Kang, Levi’s Music Therapist who has been working with him for the past two months.  

Using the VMI twice a week, the once shy kid has since moved from just participating in sessions, to guiding them, telling Eunice the types of computer symbols he wants to see and the sounds he wants to make. 

“He really enjoys this because he loves to be interactive and loves video games,” said his mom, Kelsey. “He laughs and gets right into it! The way the therapists get kids to interact while still providing physio is amazing!”