Holistic Communication


Feeling Music

"Tac-Tile Sounds"

Music Floors






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This project has been developed since 1994, within the Art & Design Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University in liaison with Health and Community studies and product development has been undertaken by Paul Chamberlain (Principal Lecturer Industrial Design) and David Mitchell (Researcher) in collaboration with the "Snoezelen Project" at Walton Hospital (North Derbyshire – NHS Trust) and Russ Palmer (International Music Therapist).

The aim was to produce a ’modular designed’ portable music floor which could be adapted to meet the demands of professionals working at residential centres, hospitals and out in the field. The prime criteria of the design was to meet the needs of the individuals with a sensory impairment including those with severe PMLD. It also needed to be stored into a conventional cupboard, placed into a boot of a car (for travel) and to be able to move it around using a purposed-built trolley.

The TTSS is a therapeutic system, which delivers sound to a series of resonating surfaces where they are converted into mechanical vibrations, which can be felt by people who cannot hear sounds in the usual way. Various sound sources can be fed into the TTSS such as a radio, cassette, CD, microphone or keyboard. Users make contact with the resonating surfaces by lying, sitting or standing on the units. The vibrations are ‘picked up’ wherever parts of the body make contact with the surfaces. For example, through the skull and face, hands, elbows and shoulders, the chest, spine, pelvis and the hips, knees, ankles, heels and feet. Different parts of the body react differently to higher or lower frequencies. Sound through vibration has been observed to affect both the mood and behaviours of deaf users in ways, which mirror the effects of music on hearing people.

The aim of the project has been to design an economical product for manufacture for use in a wide range of diagnostic, therapeutic and recreational applications in clinical, rehabilitational, educational and domestic settings. For example, the system could be used to make users with impaired hearing aware of some of the characteristics of speech, music, rhythm and domestic or other environmental sounds to help them explore and adjust to a world of complex and meaningful sounds. The system allows the users to experience different frequencies, amplitudes, rhythms and intensities of sound and to intersperse these with ‘silence’. The TTSS was recently received a Millenium product award and will be displayed at the Millenium Dome later in the year.


The module system can be used individually as stools or chairs or in combinations to form beds or floors. Legs are removable and a range of surfaces can be inserted into the units to enhance the tactile experience some of the surfaces becoming ‘animated’ in reaction to the sound input. Constructed from a vacuum formed plastic shell the units are easily cleaned and transportable.

The four units of the TTSS allows clients to experience music on their bodies either by lying down (like a bed) or doing movements in a standing position (placing the units without legs in a ’square shape’ combination). Other facilities can also be connected like a microphone to a single unit (for speech therapy assessment purposes), using a compact disk (CD) or cassette players, an electronic keyboard or to use a "Soundbeam" device. These can be used independently or together as required.

Furthermore, from a teaching point of view, the units can be organised in a ’two and two’ units combination, with the teacher for example (playing a keyboard) at the front, facing four individuals sitting on the four units who are able to feel the music being played at the same time (this also be done when using a CD or cassette player).

As a qualified International Music Therapist and a person who has a hearing and visually impaired with Usher Syndrome, the "Tac-tile Sound System" (TTSS) has a great deal to offer, for people with a sensory impairment. It allows a person to experience music holistically through feeling the vibrations from the music being played through a CD, musical instrument or using other forms of auxiliary devices such as Soundbeam. My work with sensory impaired groups including those with Severe and Multiple Learning Disabilities, allows me as a Therapist to select an appropriate environment using the TTSS units both from a therapeutic and teaching point of view.

When I switch off my hearing aids I am unable to follow spoken language and can be classified as profoundly deaf. When playing a favourite piece of music through the TTSS, one is able to feel the quality of the tones, melody and harmony from the music. For example the warmth and soothing sensations of the strings or French Horns from a John Barry’s orchestral piece of music. Another example, one is able to feel the deep rhythms of popular, rock, country music or to feel the hidden depths of New Age relaxation music. These different styles can be felt through our bodies and can give us a whole and new holistic experience, what I call "Feeling the Music Philosophy" as defined by Palmer (1994) below:

"In Music, vibrations producing Low Tones can be felt by body senses in the feet, legs & hips. The Middle Tones can be felt in the stomach, chest & arms, similarly the High Tones can be felt in the fingers, head and hair".

(Source: Norway Music Research Project by R.C. Palmer, 1994, p8)

For the therapist the TTSS offers flexibility, portability at an affordable which can taken in a car, moved around from one part of a building to another and versatility to use other facilities as and when appropriate during a therapy session. For a teacher the TTSS units can be organised in different kinds of combinations such as 2 by 2 units, 3 or 4 units (lying down position) or it can be used as a single unit where there are additional supports for clients with muscular disabilities. In the north of Finland (Oulu), one deaf school has already demonstrated the flexibility of using this system in this way. Furthermore, by using a microphone directly connected to an amplifier allows Speech Therapist to also use the TTSS as a teaching aid.

In Summary, it has taken 4 years of research to design the TTSS and in my view as a User of this system, has tremendous potential for anyone who wishes to feel music in this way, but has the added advantage of being designed for people with a sensory impairment. The TTSS is now distributed by ROMPA.

Paul Chamberlain MDesRCA (Principal Lecturer Industrial Design)

& Russ Palmer IMT (International Music Therapist)

For further information on the TTSS contact Paul or Russ at the addresses below:

Paul Chamberlain (Principal Lecturer Industrial Design)
(Design & Applied Technology), Division of Design, Sheffield Hallam University,
Psalter Lane Campus, Sheffield. S11 8UZ. United Kingdom
Tel +44 (0)1142 532 601 Fax +44 (0)1142 532603
Email :

Russ Palmer, Music Therapist
Email :

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