Good news for people who hate practicing scales: scientists have created a musical instrument you can play with just your thoughts.
The instrument, called the Encephalophone — “enceph” means “head” — is described in a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. It’s not just a source of fun for the lazy but musically ambitious among us; the researchers hope that one day this brain-computer interface can help people with motor disorders.
That’s in the future, though. Today’s study was done with 15 healthy participants. To work the Encephalophone, they put on a cap that can measure electrical signals in the brain. In this case, the cap recorded two kinds of brain signals. One type is produced when you close your eyes and the other when you think about making movements.
The cap turns brain signals into notes, which are then played using a synth. With no training, all the participants could play it easily. The cap was more accurate when the participant tried to control it by closing their eyes, though the scientists are ultimately more interested in what happens when they think about moving.
The hope is that the Encephalophone can be a tool used in rehabilitation. Music is already used to help people regain brain function, and the instrument could be used in this type of therapy. It’s also possible, the authors write, that combining the Encephalophone with physical therapy could help rewire key circuits in the part of the brain responsible for movement.
There’s plenty left to do before we get there, however. For now, the researchers want to make the Encephalophone more sophisticated and able to produce a wider range of sounds. Next, they will test how much people can improve with some training and will begin clinical trials with disabled people later this year. Maybe one day we’ll all be able to create music with nothing more than a cap and what our brains can produce.