Hit the thumb jack! using electromyography to augment the piano keyboard

Jakob Karolus, Annika Kilian, Thomas Kosch, Albrecht Schmidt, Pawe W. Wozniak

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionAcademicpeer-review


Improvising on the piano keyboard requires extensive skill development, which may reduce the feeling of immersion and flow for amateur players. However, being able to add simple musical effects greatly boosts a player's ability to express their unique playing style. To simplify this process, we designed an electromyography-based (EMG) system which integrates seamlessly into normal play by allowing musicians to modulate sound pitch using their thumb. We conducted an exploratory user study where users played a predefined melody and improvised using our system and a standard pitch wheel. Interview responses and survey answers showed that the EMG-based system supported the players' musical flow. Additionally, interviews indicated the system's capabilities to foster player creativity, and that players enjoyed experimenting with the effect. Our work illustrates how EMG can support seamless integration into existing systems to extend the range of interactions provided by a given interface.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDIS 2020 - Proceedings of the 2020 ACM Designing Interactive Systems Conference
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781450369749
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2020
Event2020 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems, DIS 2020 - Eindhoven, Netherlands
Duration: 6 Jul 202010 Jul 2020


Conference2020 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems, DIS 2020


  • Creative support tool
  • Electromyography
  • Expressive piano play
  • Motor tasks
  • Seamless integration


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