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AI-Powered Piano Helps Disabled Tokyo Musicians Perform Beethoven

Photo by Johannes Plenio / Unsplash

In Tokyo on Thursday, Yurina Furukawa, diagnosed with congenital myopathy, a rare muscle condition requiring respiratory assistance, rehearsed for a Christmas concert, skillfully utilising an AI-powered piano. Yurina is one of the three disables musicians performing Symphony No. 9 with the Yokohama Sinfonietta at Suntory Hall.

24-year-old Kiwa Usami is another musician who captivates the audience with Beethoven's Ode to Joy, her single index finger guiding an orchestra and choir. Usami, living with cerebral palsy, is part of a performance made possible with an artificial intelligence-powered piano, named "Anybody's Piano," supporting musicians with disabilities.

The piano, developed through collaboration between Yamaha and educators inspired by Usami's perseverance, tracks musical notes and complements the performance by adding necessary keys that remain untouched. The technology allows individuals like 10-year-old Yurina Furukawa to play from a specially arranged bed in front of the grand piano. Furukawa uses her left arm to maintain rhythm while pressing keys with the back of her right hand, with the AI-assisted piano seamlessly filling in the gaps.

Image credit: AFP-JIJI 

Unlike traditional auto-play systems, the Anybody's Piano pauses if a musician hits the wrong notes. This feature compels performers like Hiroko Higashino, born with three fingers on her right hand, to push forward and hit the correct keys. Higashino, who began learning the piano specifically for the "Anybody's Symphony No. 9" concert, expressed how the technology enhances her ability to faithfully recreate Beethoven's intended harmonies.

The Christmas performance, attended by a 130-person audience, left a lasting impact. The concert not only showcased technological innovation but also celebrated the power of inclusivity and the transformative impact of music on diverse individuals.