Square up to the music cube

IT may look like some kind of newfangled toy, but this colourful cube is actually an innovative piece of technology which can emulate the sound of 12 different musical instruments.

The Skoog, as it is known, has been designed by researchers at Edinburgh University to enable children who cannot play traditional instruments to make music of their own.

It converts the way it is touched into the sound of various musical instruments, such as flute, guitar or keyboard, using computer technology.

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Children can squish, punch or twist the cube to make different sounds and change the pitch and volume through a range of different movements.

The invention is designed for children with mild, severe and profound disabilities to enable them to make music while also improving their communication and concentration skills.

And some schools are using the Skoog in early-years education to encourage music development in their younger children.

Researchers Dr Ben Schgler and Dr David Skulina from Edinburgh University developed the Skoog as part of a project, led by Professor Nigel Osborne, to make music more accessible.

The research started in 2006 and ran for two years, with the finished product taking another two years to complete and be introduced into schools.

The team worked with schools in East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, Fife and North Lanarkshire throughout the research project and the Skoog was set to be officially launched in Ayrshire today. Dr Schgler said: "Making music can be a huge help in a child's development through boosting learning and creativity, but many children are unable to use conventional instruments.

"It's been a long journey to get here so when we go into a school and see kids using it it's really exciting. It's suitable for children with mild, severe and profound needs, including conditions such as Down's Syndrome and autism.

"But some schools are starting to use it in early years just to get kids involved in music as early as possible.

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"The Skoog allows non-music professionals to engage with children, instead of just professional music teachers.

"One of the reasons it's just ready to go is because we developed it with teachers and children."

While the current technology only allows the Skoog to emulate 12 instruments, it has the capacity for more, and further instruments will be added in time.

It can also use samples and can record voices.

A new company, Skoogmusic Ltd, has been set up by Edinburgh Research and Innovation (ERI), the research and commercialisation arm of Edinburgh University. The Skoog sells for 500, which Dr Schgler says is a competitive price given its capabilities.

Ian Murphy, head of commercial development at ERI, said: "The Skoog is an excellent example of how innovative thinking can be turned into a useful and exciting product that could improve peoples' lives."