Give Now

A Moment of Science

Your Thoughts Could Be Music

The encephalophone is an instrument you can control with your mind using an electroencephalogram cap.

Here's an example of an electroencephalogram cap (an EEG cap). From the source: "(4 April 2006) –- Astronaut/aquanaut Nicole P. Stott and Ross Hein, a professional aquanaut from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW), assist University of Cincinnati physician Tim Broderick apply a net with electrodes for an electroencephalogram (EEG) study."

The saxophone was too squeaky. The piano was too complicated, and it made your wrists hurt. You hate getting blisters, so string instruments and drums are out. But still, you want to learn how to play an instrument.

Maybe you should give the encephalophone a try. It’s an instrument scientists are developing that you can control with your mind.


It sounds like a joke or something out of a really good sci-fi novel. But scientists are really working on it.

A musician wears an electroencephalogram cap that has electrodes on it. The electrodes pick up electrical signals caused by thoughts or actions the musician has or makes.

The signals then move to a computer that converts the signals into the value from 1 to 8, and then to another computer that turns the values into eight musical notes in the key of C for a synthesizer to make.

There are specific thoughts that the player has to think to make music.

Imagined Gestures Become Sounds

Essentially, a musician imagines grasping and ungrasping their right hand. Thinking about that arm and hand movement lowers the signal from the left motor cortex of the brain, which in turn lowers the note on the scale. If the musician thinks about the arm and hand movement less, this raises the note on the scale.

Still, not sold? The music made by an electroencephalogram sounds like electric piano or strings: basically, any sound a synthesizer can produce.

Thank you to Thomas Deuel, Swedish Neuroscience Institute and U.W. Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS) for reviewing this episode’s script.

Sources And Further Reading:

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from A Moment of Science:

Support for Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science

Search A Moment of Science