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Music & Medicine: Unique Collaboration Combines Performing Arts and Science
Date:7/14/2009

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One possible answer to alleviating the pain certain players feel while performing is the ergonomically modified Steinway piano that UNT students use in an effort to reduce such problems. The keyboard has narrower keys designed specifically for performers with smaller hands.

"We're measuring hand size, hand position and how hard they're hitting the keys," Patterson said. "Our technology will give us a thorough motion analysis as [the student subject] plays. There are 30 students, and we're gathering enough data to keep me busy for a long time. We can easily have two more dissertations' worth of material."

Patterson said the researchers are using sensors on the players' hands that measure how far the hands must move to reach some of the chords common in piano pieces. Sensors under the piano keys measure how hard the player strikes the key while playing.

"We're working on synching these systems properly," Patterson said. "This will make the data easier to analyze."

Yoshimura has played on the modified keyboard in the past -- her first concert on the new piano, also the first at UNT, was a performance in 2006 of the complete 24 Preludes by French composer Claude Debussy.

"We are the first school to offer this [modified keyboard] to students," Chesky said. "It's a major departure from the norm and hugely significant because many people pursuing piano at the college level are Asian females. But this population has smaller hands than the average male, for whom standard pianos were designed.

"It's like someone who is used to driving a 1987 Impala suddenly getting into a Ferrari. They just have much more flexibility and ease of playing. It's really quite remarkable."

Yoshimura, who came to UNT from Osaka, Japan, 10 years ago to pursue a second bachelor's degree in music, a master's degree and now a doctoral degree, s
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SOURCE University of North Texas Health Science Center
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