Play guitar with feeling, without feeling pain. Stretch, Warm, Vibrate — Ahh. Feels as good as you sound.
Contributors: Roger Hackett, Marianne Albay, Sonya Lao, Jayden Sadettan
Problem and Solution Overview
How might we enable people with carpal tunnel and/or arthritis to play guitar pain-free? Arthritis and carpal tunnel should not be show stoppers. With the right therapy regimen, and joint compression support through our Guitar Therapy Glove, an otherwise painful experience can be turned into an expression of joy and musical contentment. We are designing a new Therapy Glove that provides warmth, flexibility, and comfort while strengthening hands and increasing muscle memory.
Design Research Goals, Stakeholders, and Participants
The goal of our design research is to understand the design problems in the low dexterity space, specifically for users with rheumatoid arthritis/carpal tunnel that play guitar. To research the problem, we used directed storytelling, competitive product research, and a review of existing best practices for treating arthritis and carpal tunnel. Moreover, we did a needs analysis for guitar players who have arthritis/carpal tunnel, and gap analysis for the existing products as well as products in adjacent markets e.g. typing, and services that exist on the market. Looking at innovative solutions such as tap as an interface enabled us to see some of the design challenges in developing a new interface centered around playing the guitar. This helped us to shape our thinking around a glove interface, and consider some of the constraints and limitations to designing this new interface.
In terms of stakeholders, we identified music stores, and online forums as stakeholders very early on. As such, we surveyed online sources for modified instruments and interviewed multiple employees at Ted Brown’s music store in Seattle to understand how the stores service existing customers and support accessory products that are potential fits for those with arthritis/carpal tunnel. Moreover, we looked at medical literature such as “Healthy Hands” (Harvard Health Publishing, Barry P. Simmons, MD), a report that discusses carpal tunnel and arthritis in the broader medical field. This report helped us to understand that over 30 million people in the United States suffer from some form of arthritis and that the muscles that control our fingers are actually in our palms and forearm. The fingers themselves do not have muscles related to guitar playing. Finally, from our interviews, we learned that gyms such as the YMCA provide workouts that are designed to help the elderly with their blood flow, flexibility, and strength in their hands, and thus are also stakeholders and influencers in the lives of the user groups we are designing for. This led us to consider more broadly how we might integrate our product into the lives of our user groups.
Prior to conducting the user research, we planned to use the directed storytelling method, with the story being the user taking us through the steps of how they play guitar. However, in practice, we used more of a combination of interviews and directed storytelling, partially due to interview circumstances. We were only able to interview some participants over the phone, so an in-person directed storytelling approach was more difficult to accomplish in that case. When deciding who we wanted to interview for our design research, we narrowed our interest group into three groups. Our main target group is people with rheumatoid arthritis or carpal tunnel that want to learn to play guitar. We were also interested in people who currently play guitar and have arthritis/carpal tunnel, and people who enjoy playing guitar but do not have arthritis/carpal tunnel. Our main goal was to understand how participants who have arthritis deal with the pain as they play guitar, and what the major pain points of playing were. First, we talked with a participant who had carpal tunnel and learned what they did to ease the pain as they played through. He helped us understand that the fingering positions on the guitar are not natural, and are painful for anyone beginning to play. Then, we interviewed someone who has arthritis and is learning how to play the guitar. We talked about the process of learning how to play the guitar with pain and how they wished some things could be different like the tension of the guitar strings. Lastly, we interviewed an employee at Ted Brown’s music store to gain insight into how a current guitar player plays and what they would do if they had arthritis. We learned that it is good to build strength in their hands with a “finger builder” and to use a smaller acoustic guitar with nylon strings to reduce the strain due to the weight of the guitar, and the tension in the strings.
Design Research Results and Themes
The most interesting thing we found that emerged during our research was how much the participant still wanted to play the guitar normally. Most participants focused on playing through the pain, rather than using an alternative instrument, and the information found online supported our claim as well. The users enjoyed having the chance to hold a guitar and going through the motions. They may not be able to play for a long time but they still played.
Another thing we found while going through our design research was the steps that participants took to play the guitar. They found that stretching their hands and running them under warm water helped ease the pain through the initial playthrough. According to posts found on online forums, the participants would try to connect with fellow players who also suffered from arthritis. They would reach out and ask how they deal with pain and if they stopped playing. It was really intriguing seeing the support they received when they reached out to their community. Most users on the online forum would provide solutions for the person reaching out in forums for physical and mental help. When we tried to reach out to these certain users who reached out for help, we could not get a clear answer. However, in general, we saw that each user had their unique method for stretching and warming their hands to prepare to play. The overall theme was that of individualized and customized self remedy.
We are proposing a therapy glove, with heating and massaging elements designed for a guitar player’s hands.
The image at left: Initial sketch of our exoskeleton heated therapy glove
We chose this design since this may be the best for prototyping and can accomplish all tasks with time constraints within this class. Additionally, this design specifically addresses pain associated with arthritis and carpal tunnel whereas other designs were focused on an alternative/modified guitar that helps the user with a way to play the guitar with less pain. The more specific design of a newly designed guitar is more complex, and therefore possibly out of scope for the limited time of this course. The guitar experience might require a more significant investment in materials and integration of multiple modules that could take significant research to simplify into a testable prototype to show and get feedback on.
Moreover, it is possible to customize massage routines and stretches to specific hand positions to play chords, runs, and solos for each hand with the glove design. There are accessible methods of doing these activities today by a more elaborate set of steps, so this is something we could leverage to synthesize into a simpler more targeted design. Thus, our glove design combines the needs of both the condition that our arthritis and Carpal Tunnel group has, with their desire to play guitar. Our focus will be to help them prepare to play, and to make their hands comfortable when warming up to practice the appropriate hand positions, strumming action, and solos. Specifically, the two tasks we want to focus on are the stretching and massaging of the hand prior to playing, and the pain detection for when the hand enters an uncomfortable position. Structural support for an exoskeleton may be out of the scope of this class, as it would possibly require materials, and technology that is hard to mimic or make in such a short time on a reasonable budget.
This design would also allow the player to continue to use a guitar they already own and enjoy the authentic sounds of the guitar. Additionally, there would be a low learning curve associated with using the glove. The glove would allow the user to accomplish all of the new tasks we wanted our design to have and it would be incorporated in the existing task of the finger massages and stretches that the player does before playing. The small learning curve would benefit people with arthritis/carpal tunnel since they are typically older and can find it hard to learn new technology.
Finally, since this glove could improve arthritis and carpal tunnel conditions, this would also be better suited to the user. Many people who want to play the guitar and have arthritis are active in other activities and may want relief while they enjoy those other hobbies.
References: “HEALTHY HANDS”, Harvard Health Publishing Barry P. Simmons, MD