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I have a piano and am disabled -- wheelchair kind of disabled: I can move my feet but not use the pedals. That task is kind of complicated.

I've considered buying some kind of a car hand-control like this, but I'm not sure if it works, and if I want to use the sustain pedal, it means I have to keep holding the controller, leaving only one hand to play music.

Are there tools or ways to solve that problem?

  • I've seen breath controllers to solve problems like this before, but never one specifically for piano. Worth looking into though. – Todd Wilcox Aug 19 '15 at 14:37
  • @ToddWilcox yeah but breath controllers need to be plugged in USB, not an option on acoustic pianos – Lynob Aug 19 '15 at 14:54
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    Apparently the term I was looking for is actually "puff switch". I wasn't talking about a MIDI breath controller. I was thinking you or someone could rig up a sip/puff switch for this. orin.com/access/sip_puff You probably wouldn't be able to half-pedal or anything like that with a sip/puff, but with enough visits to Home Depot and Radio Shack you could build something that pushes down the damper on puff and lets it up on sip. – Todd Wilcox Aug 19 '15 at 14:57
  • @ToddWilcox it has to be DYI tool :) requires to much pressure to push it :D – Lynob Aug 19 '15 at 17:35
  • Agreed. I was suggesting something that would have to be custom built. I'm not aware of anything off the shelf. A Yamaha Disklavier as suggested by @alephzero should be a lot easier to make workable using a typical MIDI breath controller (not all of which require a computer). Disklavier + breath controller might be a more expensive solution than others, though. – Todd Wilcox Aug 19 '15 at 17:40
14

Can't use feet well, but if you could move a knee to one side, it would be a simple lever attachment to the pedal, maybe from your wheelchair. Look at knee levers that pedal steel players use. You only really need the damper pedal - the 'soft' pedal could be added later, but it's not as vital as the sustain.

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    +1. And as a bonus, depending on your range of motion, that same mechanism could serve as multiple pedals. Squeeze your right knee in for one pedal, push it out to the right for another pedal, etc. – Nerrolken Aug 19 '15 at 17:21
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    I might mention that the knee lever was the piano damper mechanism that preceded the pedal. Mozart has some quotes about using it and liking it. The pedal was introduced in the 1770's. – BobRodes Aug 23 '15 at 4:17
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This may not be as "simple" as it first appears, because (apart from the most basic playing technique) the piano pedal action is not just an "on-off switch". You need to control the speed of movement, and not necessarily depress the pedal fully. Also the pedals need quite a lot of force to operate them, which is no problem for normal human feet, but would require some "serious engineering" to do accurately (and safely, reliably, and silently) with an electric motor

Unless you really can't bear to part with the actual gifted piano, you might consider a Yamaha Disklavier, which is a conventional piano plus the mechanics for full MIDI control (of everything, not just the pedals). They aren't cheap, but presumably your existing piano would offset some of the cost. You could then use almost any sort of MIDI controller to operate the pedals - possibly even a set of "digital piano pedals", perhaps mechanically modified to work with the foot movement that you have.

There are plenty of companies who sell kits for the opposite purpose - i.e. to convert an acoustic piano into a source of MIDI data, to record a live performance - but that is not what you want. I don't know of anybody (apart from the Disklavier) selling something that would convert an acoustic piano to be played by MIDI.

Incidentally, even the Disklavier mechanism is quite "wimpy" compared with the old-style pneumatically operated "player pianos" controlled by piano rolls. This http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/aug00/articles/ballet.htm is the saga of some of the problems recreating an avant-garde piece written for 16 synchronized player pianos (!!!) using a stage full of Disklaviers.

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  • How do you mean 'control the speed of movement'? – Tim Aug 19 '15 at 22:19
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    At least in classical piano playing, you don't bang the pedal to the floor as fast as you can and release it the same way, unless that's what you intend to do. If you do that you produce mechanical noise. Lifting the dampers quickly off the strings makes every string in the piano vibrate slightly, and releasing the pedal quickly makes an audible "thump" when the dampers land back again. The pedal drive mechanism on a Diskclavier moves the pedal in 16 incremental steps, each step timed independently by recording what the human player did using his/her feet, not just an "up" and "down" motion. – user19146 Aug 19 '15 at 22:46
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    Actually, the previous comment is out of date. The current "pro" disklaviers record and reproduce 256 steps of pedal movement not 16, and 1024 steps for the keys. – user19146 Aug 19 '15 at 22:54
  • @alephzero: Interesting. I used to sell Yamaha pianos back around 1990, when the unit was a big box that sat beside the piano, and I remember 16 steps of pedal movement too. I'm not surprised to see that they have improved the sampling granularity to that degree. – BobRodes Aug 23 '15 at 4:12
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I'm not sure if this is any help, but I would probably approach the problem first by suggesting you swap out an acoustic piano for an electronic keyboard. This allows for other controllers to be used in non-standard ways (usually using the MIDI control standard).

You might find that this is quite technical to start on, I'm not sure where you stand with music technology.

You could try a MIDI breath controller (for instance http://www.tecontrol.se/products/usb-midi-breath-controller), to see if you can map blowing into a tube to the sustain control.


With less technical jiggery-pokery you could also use a standard sustain pedal (such as this http://www.guitarguitar.co.uk/keyboards/detail.asp?stock=12052310152332&gclid=CM_038GxtccCFa-WtAoduwkGug). With electronic instruments, the pedal can be a lot more easily re-located, so you could try pressing the pedal with another part of your body (putting it under your arm, or rigging up some way to press it with head movement, perhaps).

I don't know of any way you could achieve either of these solutions with a standard acoustic piano.

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  • yeah considered that but the piano was given to me as a gift and I really like it, it's a luxurious item to have in your home :) so prefer to keep it and look for a solution :) – Lynob Aug 19 '15 at 14:55
  • Fair enough, I don't really know what to suggest, then. There may be a technical solution possible, a small processor (Arduino or Rasperry Pi, for instance) to push the pedal with a servo-motor when a button is pushed. But it would be a bit of engineering to make it all work. (If you want to have a try at this, you could ask questions over on the Rasperry Pi stack exchange). – AJFaraday Aug 19 '15 at 14:57
  • tim's answer seems the simplest but im seriously considering pi for the fun of it :) – Lynob Aug 19 '15 at 17:37
  • It would be an interesting project, and possibly one which other people would be interested in. (Disclaimer: I don't have the skills to make that happen) – AJFaraday Aug 19 '15 at 19:19
  • @AJFaraday Instead of pushing the pedal itself, it may be easier to install the actuator at the top end of the pedal rod. – 200_success Aug 21 '15 at 6:48
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There are instruments like harpsichord or clavichord that seldom (or even never) had pedals similar to the pedals of the modern piano. And the music for these instruments is often played on a piano now.

I suggest to practice without pedals and perfect your skill to replace them by manual action where needed.

Pedals just help to control the duration and volume. Both can be achieved through the manual keyboard as well, while maybe more difficult. You may think about your repertoire but not all even really good pieces absolutely require pedals for playing.

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  • and this guy agrees youtube.com/watch?v=XRseYIWteKw – Lynob Aug 19 '15 at 21:11
  • This is a great point. I'm primarily an organist, so sometimes I accidentally forget to use the sustain pedal on the piano. There are quite a few pieces where organ fingerings feel and sound quite natural on a piano. – Karl Bielefeldt Aug 20 '15 at 15:53
2

Depending on the repertoire you want to play you might consider playing Mozart's fortepiano. It is not always built with pedals;

sometimes hand stops or knee levers were used instead -Wikipedia

The music written for these instruments tends to differ in the way that the 'pedals' are used, they might be held on for longer passages. If music of this period did intrest you, then the fortepiano would be the authentic way to play it.

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2

Bite-controlled, wireless system with graduated control

Dr. Rüdiger Rupp / Heidelberg University Hospital

A bite-controlled, wireless system allowing for graduated control of the sustain pedal.

Further information seems unavailable, so I suggest contacting the hospital. (NOTE: On 14 Nov 2020 I have done so and will update with any response.)

Head-activated wireless controller

CanAssist / University of Victoria

Head-Activated Piano Pedal:...a two-part technology: a mechanical device that sits on the floor and attaches to a piano pedal, and a headband containing a wireless sensor that measures changes in its own position. The sensor wirelessly communicates its position to the device on the floor, activating it to push down or release the pedal.

Based on the description on the CanAssist website, this seems to have been a custom-built system; however, the website includes a page for requesting technology, so perhaps it can be provided to others. (NOTE: As of 14 Nov 2020, I've requested further information from CanAssist and will update with any response.)

There is a YouTube video of the device being used by its recipient.

Steingraeber & Söhne

For more than 20 years, there have been electromagnetic pedal controls for paraplegic pianists – mostly accident victims – that were invented by the renowned Bayreuth piano manufacturer Steingraeber & Söhne and are custom made. (SOURCE)

The company has sought technical solutions to simplify piano playing for wheelchair users and, above all, to provide them with a serviceable alternative to working the pedals with their feet. (Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, I don't find further information about the system, including on the Steingraeber website. I suggest contacting the company to find out more. (NOTE: As of 14 Nov 2020, I have requested information from the company and will update with any response.)

pianoman.nl / Michiel van Loon

The system is built into their own instrument and adapted to their specific needs and abilities. The system consists of a solenoid (electromagnet), a control unit for setting the correct forces and sizes depending on the type and brand of the instrument, a 24 volt DC power supply, and a cable set.

The system can be controlled by a variety of different parts of the body, including arm, knee, mouth, and head.

A demonstration video is posted to YouTube, and additional information can be found on the maker's website.

This is the system referred to in the answer by @Michiel and, presumably, in the comments by user32742.

Head-controlled system (no longer available?)

Winfield Clark (dec.)

The Coalition for Disabled Musicians mentions a head-activated device created by Winfield Clark. However, the website is no longer active, I did not find information about the device on the Wayback Machine version, and the inventor is deceased. I mention it here for completeness and in case an adventurous reader wants to try tracking down a family member.

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If you have variable pedaling you could just permanently tie it down at the sweet spot where there is just a little but of sustain. Just enough to bridge short notes together but not long enough to reverberate for so long that it gets muddy.

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On acoustical pianos, I don't know exactly how, but there's some projects on adaptations.

But, in synths and digital pianos (with midi) you can assign pedal functions to buttons of the keyboard or external device. It gets a little tricky in coordination, but doable.

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  • This really doesn't answer the question. It leaves all of the work to the asker and all the information is provided in other answers. The point about assigning pedal functions to buttons is, I believe, unique to your answer. I suggest either leaving it as a comment on another post, or expanding it to show how it's done. – Aaron Nov 14 at 18:55
  • @Aaron Welcome to the internet, let me be your guide – Rodrigo B. Furman Nov 14 at 19:26

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