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Case Study
Adults with a Learning Disability

This document provides and in depth report for 2 of the clients at Cedarwood.  The researcher worked with a total of 20 clients at Cedarwood. The clients were selected because of their uniqueness and the researcher’s personal interest in their development. It should be noted that no participant reacted adversely to the Skoog.


For ease of explanation the following case study and discussion have been written from a first-person perspective with the names of all participants being changed for their protection.

Cedarwood provide a range of activities to cater for individuals with a variety of disabilities and needs. Staff members were present throughout all sessions and, in interviews, acknowledged the benefits of music:

Music can have lots of benefits from concentration to listening to therapeutic benefits...relaxation, working with musical instruments, good expression of how people are feeling or not feeling and, depending on the mood of the service users we work with, we tailor the music to meet their needs.’

(Cedarwood, 2010)

At Cedarwood, I worked with a total of 20 clients and sessions were organised into small group situations. Initially, the Skoog was used as a way for the service users to express themselves and to promote sharing and cooperation with others. I would often sing each group members’ name to a simple chord progression (hereafter referred to as The Name Song) to indicate who’s turn it was before stepping back and allowing them to direct the musical expression.

Robert has physical disabilities which prevent him from walking without assistance and has very limited communication skills. Robert can use his limbs to move on the floor from a seated position. He communicates using noises and gestures and likes to explore objects and people through touch. Robert responds to instruction erratically with his body and voice but understands direction when spoken or communicated to using Makaton.

To encourage Robert to leave his wheelchair, the Skoog was placed on the floor. Robert favoured the drum and vocal-sample sounds and seemed pleased to be making music. At times, he smiled, laughed, rolled his sleeves up and moved his head in a dance-like manner to indicate that he was enjoying using the Skoog. In the following weeks, I introduced real instruments such as a guitar (which I played) along with drums, percussion and glockenspiels.

Robert seemed to enjoy using beaters and drum sticks and was encouraged to use these to hit the Skoog. This led to more interaction with both the Skoog and other instruments. However, I limited beater and drum stick usage to the first half of the session and, over the course of each meeting, I was able to slowly reduce sensitivity on the Skoog software as Robert became more confident in his ability.

Over the course of the project, the group played along with backing tracks of different styles, tempos and timbres and I was able to discover which tracks stimulated each group member. Music was chosen to reflect the moods of the service users and direct activities. For example, when the group had a lot of energy, I allowed them to play loud or fast music. If I wanted to focus the group, I would trigger a slower or gentler track.

Robert usually needed encouragement to play the Skoog but he enjoyed his name being sung. Therefore, I recorded Robert’s verbalisations and me singing his name so these sounds could be activated using the Skoog’s built-in sampler. Robert reacted to both sounds positively and began to rapidly tap the Skoog’s panels unprompted. Whenever these sounds were assigned to the Skoog, Robert would immediately play it along to a backing track or The Name Song while smiling and laughing.

John has visual and auditory impairments and cannot verbalise. He has full physical mobility but does not respond directly to instruction. Initially, I noticed that John responded well to loud, upbeat music and often shook his head and clapped his hands in response. I also discovered that John was interested in touching musical instruments carefully and liked to explore objects before engaging with them.

John was involved in sharing the Skoog, mainly on the floor or from a chair at the side of the room. John would ‘get a feel’ for the Skoog by picking up the portable speaker to feel the vibrations while I touched a panel to trigger a sound. However, even after familiarising himself with the Skoog, John was cautious when playing and was shy to actively participate despite hearing a song or a piece of music.

After several weeks, I had noticed that John seemed to favour the drum sound and began to prompt him through The Name Song, adding the lyrics: John plays the drums. John would then instantly press the top panel on the Skoog several times excitedly. For members of staff, this was a breakthrough and, in subsequent weeks, I was able to sing this song and John would immediately participate. At first, John would only play the drum sound but, through repetition, he could play a multitude of sounds along to the song. When I sang John’s name to a loud backing track, John played the Skoog while rocking back and forward rhythmically. Gradually, John became more involved and touched the Skoog with more confidence and enthusiasm. If I were to work with John again, I would focus on his fondness of deep exploration and aim to reduce the sensitivity of the Skoog so that he was pressing it harder and touching it in different ways.

The case studies demonstrate that the Skoog can benefit a range of service users with a variety of disabilities. It was also found that all the participants were able to use the Skoog regardless of how severe or complex their needs. John liked to feel the vibrations of the speaker which allowed the Skoog to become a vibrotactile communication system which, according to Özcan (2004: 326), can ‘ people with impaired hearing to recognize the sound related to their surroundings.’

The ability to customise the Skoog to the needs of the user was vital to the success of this project and members of staff were highly complementary of the Skoog:

‘I think it’s been a fantastic tool in terms of working with service users, particularly service users who have very complex needs. For them to be able to touch something and get a response and then understand the response is absolutely incredible.’ (Cedarwood, 2010)


From Watson, E. J. (2010). SKOOG MUSIC: NEW MUSIC TECHNOLOGY FOR SPECIAL NEEDS (Unpublished master's thesis) University of Edinburgh.