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Soundbeam: Making Assistive Music Technology More Accessible

12th January 2024

Assistive music technology may seem daunting to some when first introduced. Tim Swingler, co-director of Soundbeam, shares how Soundbeam has addressed potential obstacles through training, product improvements, and encouraging innovation.

Happily, it is now a given that access to creative expression – especially through music – can have massive and positive implications for SEN-labelled individuals. However, if this ‘access’ is to be proactive, independent, controllable by the individual, and providing an experience of genuine agency, then ways need to be found to make it possible, and this inevitably involves technology.

But this is where potential obstacles appear when attempting to introduce teachers and others within the school, community or care environment, with the expectation that they will be able to effectively ‘pilot’ the technology on behalf of their students or service users. Most of these resistance factors are attitudinal rather than real.

These can include:

“I’m not technical”


“I’m not musical/a musician”


“This is the province of other therapists – not me”


“I’ve heard that it’s really complicated”


“We got one years ago but the teacher who championed it has left so it never gets used”

So – how have we at Soundbeam gone about addressing these issues and concerns? This comes under three primary headings:


Our programme of training has always followed a number of guiding principles. There is a strict limit on numbers, ensuring a comfortable ratio of learners to kit. Presentation-style instruction is kept to a minimum, and there is always an adequate number of facilitators on hand to answer questions. We have always invited more experienced Soundbeamers to provide input into the courses, and having the knowledge and insights of professional colleagues has been very effective. Music education expert David Ashworth has produced a comprehensive package of learning resource booklets for us, linked to National Curriculum Key Stages, and we are also positively referenced in several recent music education and music therapy publications and websites, notably Sounds of Intent, which offers Trinity College accreditation for SEN pupils across several levels. The pioneering work of the late Professor Phil Ellis has also furnished us with a major contribution and methodology for what he describes as ‘Sound Therapy’.

Improving the product

Currently in its sixth iteration, our system now incorporates everything that existing users have asked for. We are also fortunate in having friends and connections in the music world who have generously donated musical material, so that users have the chance to play along with ‘This Is The Kit’ among other recording artists.

Sharing best practice and encouraging innovation

In 2013 we launched an international competition inviting schools to submit YouTube films of their students’ work. We received submissions from as far afield as Tatarstan, Sakhalin, New Zealand, Nigeria, Canada and Chile, and the competition judges included Led Zeppelin legend John-Paul Jones and conductor Charles Hazlewood, along with our founder, composer Edward Williams. Alongside these competition entries our website includes links to scores of other examples of good practice, covering solo, duet and group work, and across a broad spectrum of cognitive and physical ability, and age.

The key thing that all of these three strands have in common is that they provide a solid foundation of motivation for teachers and other professionals to engage with the technology: technical know-how as to the functionality of the system, but also – more crucially – a keen awareness of what can be achieved with it, even for those who are described as ‘hard to reach’.

Interested in finding out more about Soundbeam? Take a look at their website and explore how Soundbeam can facilitate inclusive music-making through its innovative technology.