Imagine if you were musically gifted yet paralyzed, so you had great difficulty writing down or performing the melodies that you thought up. Well, scientists at Austria's Graz University of Technology (TU Graz) have developed a system that could help. It allows users to write music using just the power of their mind.

Developed by a team led by Gernot Müller-Putz, the "Brain Composer" system utilizes an existing brain-computer interface (BCI) in which users wear an electrode-equipped cap that measures their brain waves.

Ordinarily, such systems are utilized to help users do things such as writing text. Letters will appear one after another on a computer screen, and when the one that the user wants comes up, they focus their attention on it. The electrodes in the cap register the brain activity, and that letter is chosen. They go on like that, manually selecting letters to form words and sentences.

Brain Composer utilizes the same principle, although instead of selecting letters, users select things like notes, chords and pauses. They can also stipulate tone length and pitch. As these things are chosen, they appear as notations on a separate music-composing program. Once the piece is completed, it can then be played back through that software.

The system has been successfully trialled on 18 healthy test subjects, all of whom had some basic musical and compositional knowledge, since they all played musical instruments. "After a short training session, all of them could start composing and seeing their melodies on the score and then play them," says Müller-Putz. "The very positive results of the study with bodily healthy test persons are the first step in a possible expansion of the BCI composition to patients."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE. And as an interesting side note, researchers at the University of Plymouth have already used BCI technology to allow people to play the piano.

Source: TU Graz