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The Virtual Music Teacher: Children of all abilities banding together in early childhood music education

Children with disabilities are less likely to take part in music learning than their typically developing peers. Learning to play a musical instrument can have positive social and health benefits for children with and without disabilities, especially in the preschool years. Many young children with disabilities are unable to benefit from music lessons because of scheduling, resource, and accessibility barriers. A “virtual music teacher” that can engage young children with disabilities in early music learning at home may overcome some of these barriers.

Objectives and Approach. We will develop a music application (AI-MiRMA) that intelligently responds to children’s play with real-life musical instruments (e.g. maracas) and guides them in music learning. AI-MiRMA will be co-created with the community of clients, families, therapists, music therapists, engineers, games developers, and researchers at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and music educators at the University of Toronto and Humber College. New ways to track a child’s music play, encourage learning and group play, and adapt musical tasks to diverse physical abilities will be created.

We will test AI-MiRMA with 15 children with Cerebral Palsy (aged 3-6 years) and their families to understand: (i) if young children using AI-MiRMA at home can achieve the minimum “dose” of music-making training expected to impact outcomes (i.e. 6 hours over 10 weeks), (ii) if it contributes to family-led goals in music learning and participation, and (iii) what families’ think about the risks and opportunities of using artificial intelligence to support young children’s music learning.

Impact. AIMiRMA will put music learning and its benefits within reach of thousands of young children with and without disabilities. Sharing AI-MiRMA will happen first at Holland Bloorview, then through our partnering organizations, the Ontario Association of Children’s Rehabilitation Services, Humber, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and TVOKids.