The Beamz Electronic Musical InstrumentWhen you really think about it there have not been many advances in musical instruments in the last hundred years or so other than in electronic instruments.  The most recent acoustic instrument to become a standard part of the band is the saxophone (someone correct me if I am wrong on that one), but as we move forward with the digital revolution one has to wonder when a truely unique  electronic musical instrument (other than those based on piano keyboards) will come to be accepted by the mass market.  It is to early to tell if the new Beamz Electronic Musical Instrument will become readily accepted by the upper levels of classical literature, but it is already being accepted as a legitimate musical instrument by some popular musicians and improvisational DJ's.  What exactly is the Beamz Electronic Musical Instrument though?  And can it be used in a contemporary music education situation?

What Is The Beamz Electronic Musical Instrument?
Imagine a large letter "W" sitting on your desk.  Each half of the W has three laser beams point toward the center, creating six trigger zones which can be activated by breaking the laser with your hand or another object.  Breaking the beam sends a signal to an attached Windows computer running the Beamz software and the software plays a tone or series of tones depending on how long the beam remains broken.  At first glance it seems like a toy but after a little practice and play one finds that it actually is an interesting way to compose unique musical compositions.  A player's performances can be saved as an audio file to be imported later into whatever audio editing software they choose.

Where Does The Beamz Electronic Musical Instrument Fit In Music Education?
First it is necessary to point out that the Beamz system comes in two forms.  The consumer version is $199 and includes the Beamz instrument, software with several dozen musical tracks, and five free downloads of current, popular musical tracks.  The consumer version by itself could be used in a music education classroom but it is not very flexible in terms of what it can do.  In order to be something that a music teacher might be able to use as an Orff type accompaniment instrument a teacher would need to invest instead in the $299 Beamz Studio version which has additional features built into the software to allow editing and creation of custom accompaniment tracks.  Luckily you can download a free trial of the Beamz software to see what the system can do even without the actual Beamz instrument.

With the Beamz Studio software the instrument can be set to provide almost any type of musical output that is desired, making it ideal for use with physically disabled students or as a fun, reward activity for students that do well in class.  Remember when everyone in music class wanted to play the cabasa or the vibraslap?  The student's desire to be allowed to play on the Beamz will be much greater and unlike traditional acoustic instruments the tones generated by the Beamz can be changed to anything that the teacher needs (if he/she is running the Studio version of the software).

  • Guest - Chad Criswell

    Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of the laser beam musical instrument thing, but in reviewing this from a music education perspective I can see a few good points and a few not so good points.<br />Good Points:<br /><br />It is a lot of fun to play and kids are drawn to it like flies to a bright light bulb. I literally had to set a timer and cut my kids off into two minute chunks because they all wanted to do it at once. The coolness factor doesn't have much to do with teaching music, but it is definitely not a bad thing.<br />The flexibility of this kind of system is perfect for special needs situations. Almost any child with even the most minimal of movement can immediately begin to play this instrument and in more ways than simply hitting a wood block or shaking a tambourine.<br />Using the Beamz Studio software allows a teacher to bring in a whole new dimension in sounds and activities into their classroom and into their concerts<br />When done correctly I could see the potential for covering several of the MENC National Standards for Music Education with this device, especially in terms of improvisation.<br /><br />Not So Good Points<br /><br />In some ways it is almost too sensitive. Students can easily trigger notes at times when they do not intend to. However, like any musical instrument more practice leads to more control and better mastery of how to play it<br />Limited curriculum inclusion ideas at this time. Although as more people begin to use it I am sure this will change. <br />It is not a diatonic musical instrument. In that I mean that while you could set it up to have each beam play a specific note or tone you would be limited to only those six tones. The instrument is intended to play a sequence of notes, triggered at whatever point the improviser desires. As such it is not like playing a trombone or a flute.

  • Guest - Noel Anderson

    As a music therapist working with moderately and severely disabled students I have found the Beamz to be a fun tool to allow children to play an instrument sound which they could never be able to play on a conventional instrument.<br /><br />From a music therapy standpoint, it is a great tool!

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