Thigh-Controlled Piano Pedal

Designers: Devin Odom, Krishana Wooding, and Jesse Longoria

Client Coordinator: Bill Dowe

Supervising Professors: Kevin Caves, Richard Goldberg

Our client is a man with double below-knee amputation who plays the piano, but can’t actuate the sustain pedal reliably with his prosthetic legs. The Thigh-Controlled Piano Pedal allows him to use his thigh to push and release the pedal. The design uses a mechanical lever that is pushed horizontally to actuate the sustain pedal. It also has a mechanism to pre-load the pedal, which reduces the force needed to actuate the pedal, and a wedge system to anchor the device to the piano. The device allows him to reliably use the sustain pedal, thereby improving his playing quality and enjoyment.

The device, which anchors solidly to any piano, allows the client to use the lateral motion of his thigh to depress a pre-loaded piano pedal to sustain chords as he plays. The device is portable yet solid and durable enough to aid the client’s music for years. The client commented, “Life has been a lot different to me in the past 16 months, since my second amputation. I’ve had more obstacles than I’ve ever had but one by one I’ve conquered each negative and turned it into a positive and with the team’s help I’ve now conquered the biggest negative of all. You guys have given me my music back. I will forever be grateful and thankful.”

The Thigh-Controlled Piano Pedal (Figure 1) involves a pedal assist device, a wedge anchoring system, and a lever. The pedal assist device consists of an aluminum frame and an adjustable, spring-loaded cylinder. Once the device is placed over the sustain pedal, the cylinder is tightened against the pedal until the played notes are sustained; it is then loosened slightly to deactivate it. The spring inside of the cylinder is compressed against the pedal, substantially reducing the additional force required. The process lowers the pedal enough so that minimal motion is needed to engage the pedal and sustain the notes played on the piano.

The wedge anchoring system uses the piano pedal casing as an anchor, and can be slid underneath most pianos directly in front of the pedals. A Quick-Grip clamp, typically used for woodworking, is anchored to the top of the pedal assist device. When the clamp is squeezed, it pulls on a wedge that presses against the base of the piano pedal housing and the floor, thereby holding the device in place during use. The handle of the Quick-Grip clamp and the adjustment knob for the pedal assist device are both set at heights accessible by the client when the device is being used.

A right-angle lever is utilized to depress the sustain pedal. The short end of the lever rests on the pedal when the device is being used. The vertex of the lever is anchored with a pin joint at the top of the pedal assist device. The 24″ long arm of the lever makes contact with the outer right knee and thigh of the client. To depress the pedal, the client shifts his leg laterally outward, and to release the pedal, he moves his leg back to the resting position. Varying pedal heights (initial heights and depressed heights) are accommodated by foam pads of varying diameter that can be placed around the lever arm at the contact point with the client’s thigh. These pads also improve device comfort.

Cost of the device was approximately $205.

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