Dr. Ben Schögler is the Co-Founder of Skoogmusic. This rising British tech business is the proud parent of the ingenious Skoog, an electronic musical instrument design to be played by everyone, regardless of their skills, abilities or musical talents.
Alongside his university friend, Ben founded the business during a research project that aimed to address the fact that there were no musical instruments designed for children with physical or learning disabilities.
Skoog has now been launched globally online with Apple.com and is also now part of Apple’s education programmes.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about Skoog and how the concept came about?
Back in 2006, I jointly headed up a research project at the University of Edinburgh with my Co-founder Dr David Sklulina. The challenge was to address the fact that no musical instruments existed that were specifically designed for children with physical or learning disabilities. This was a long standing goal of several research strands across various disciplines at the University, but it wasn’t until 2006 that we finally got the funding to take the research to the next level and create a solution. A key part of the project was ‘action research’ which meant we spent time in schools working with students, teachers and all kinds of service providers making music and supporting creative activity in the schools.
What became apparent was that the barriers that children with disabilities face in instrumental music are the same barriers we all face, and if we could address these effectively then we can help everyone. Those barriers are the physical skill and dexterity needed to play traditional instruments and the knowledge and training needed to use them effectively.
By early 2008 with the support of teachers, pupils, professors, friends and family we had a prototype and the kids we were working with helped us name it Skoog.
Since then, Skoog has evolved to become an instrument that anyone can play. The cube shaped squishy Skoog syncs with a free app on your iPad or IPhone allowing anyone to create music. A really cool feature is it can automatically sync up to your iTunes or Spotify account tuning your Skoog to the music so you can focus on letting your hair down and unleashing your inner rockstar.
2. What benefits does the Skoog device give us that we couldn’t get from a traditional musical instrument?
The Skoog requires no musical training or specific physical skills. You just need a love of music and an ability to touch it. It enables you to play and connect with your ‘inner musician’ right out of the box, and it is a lot of fun too! Musicality is a really human thing. It is a natural human behaviour, it is pervasive and not something we have to learn but something we need to nurture and support. Skoog helps you connect with that natural musicality bubbling away inside you. How far you take it is up to you!
3. In your blog posts, you talk a lot about the benefits that Skoog brings to children with learning difficulties. What’s been your most significant success in terms of this?
We are really proud that Skoog is part of Apple’s Field Trip Programme which means that more children around the world are able to experience the joy of making music. As part of the Field Trip initiative Apple offers free music sessions with Skoog and iPad in all their retail stores around the world! Parents, teachers or anyone interested in learning more can now reach out to their local Apple Store and request a multi-sensory Skoog Field Trip.
With Skoog now available in over 40 countries the Apple Field Trips give us the chance to really connect with users and teachers all over the world.
Closer to home, Skoog is being used in approximately a third of the UK’s special education needs schools in addition to a host of services as well as community groups, orchestras and families.
4. The new Skoog 2.0 is priced at £199. Is there any potential for you to work with government bodies to make your product more accessible to lower income families with children in special education?
We are constantly working to try and make our products as affordable as possible. In fact we have just announced a reduction in price in the UK to £179 and to $199 in the US. In the UK Skoog is also available as part of the ‘Take it Away’ programme which offers interest free finance for the purchase of musical instruments from selected retailers. We are keen to work with organisations to try and make the technology accessible to everyone. Skoog was born from a NESTA funded project. The government recognised the need to develop this technology and I am sure they can help us to disseminate it more widely. If you are a music service or part of government body that could help please do get in touch!
5. You currently run a Skooghero programme – can you tell us more about that?
After launching with Apple in 2016 and then partnering on the Field Trip programme in 2017 we have hands on Skoog all over the world and we had a brainwave. Let’s create a community of like-minded musical freedom fighters! The Skooghero program was born.
The aim of the community is to share ideas and experiences and members also get to enjoy the perks of being able to try out new products before they hit the market. So far, the response to the Skooghero campaign has been amazing – with teachers, musicians and practitioners from all over the world enrolling to share their expertise.
And just for fun …
6. What hobby would you get into if money weren’t an issue?
Sailing, somewhere warm. I love being on the water.
7. What are some things you’ve had to unlearn?
Taking yourself too seriously.
8. What song or artist do you like but rarely admit to liking?
I am an advocate of music in all its glory and have no shame in that regard. I am currently listening and liking Vulfpeck, Dolly Parton, Flight of the Conchords, DJ Koze, Betty Davis, Vitamin C, Beyonce, Robyn, Kungs vs Cooking and Pitbull.
9. What technology from a science fiction movie would you most like to have?
Underwater villages, always promised in the books about the future when I was a kid and sadly never delivered…
10. What small gesture from a stranger made an impact on you?
Growing up, I got a few scholarships which got me noticed by the powers that be and I was lucky enough to be sponsored by an executive at Warner films. I think this was the equivalent of sponsoring a goat for busy film executives, and it afforded me some fantastic opportunities as part of my education for which I am incredibly grateful. I never got the chance to thank the executive so if you are out there, a big thank you!
Read more about Dr. Ben Schögler and Skoogmusic over on the Skoogmusic website.
Enjoy our interviews with individuals using music to support children in education? Check out our interview with Dr Christobel Llewellyn – founder of KINDERJAZZ.