Laser Violin: "O-Bow" Will Never Compare to the Real Instrument

A new instrument, called the O-Bow, was created to emulate the violin, the musical instrument that takes many years to master. This instrument is in its fifth prototype and uses a “bow sensor and synthesis software.” The user slides a bow across the a laser and it goes into the program where the person uses a keyboard to create notes and desired tones. This instrument does a lot better than some keyboard sounds, but still does not create the sound that a real person or instrument can make.


Music is something that cannot be recreated through a machine. The violin, or any instrument for that matter, takes a lot of practice and skill to learn. While the O-Bow does an excellent job of emulating the sounds of an actual violin and allows for pitch control, it does not allow the expressive nature that a person creates with a real violin. When I attend concerts and see people play violins, the players pour their heart and soul into the instrument. Their bodies move with the music and you can see the expression flow. If you have ever attended an orchestra, you see the band move together as a whole, living, breathing organism that resonates a sound that no machine can recreate.

When playing an actual piano compared to a keyboard, it cannot compare. I never learned violin, so I am relating my experiences to piano. I played piano for 10 years and always loved playing on our upright piano at home and even better yet, a grand piano. Currently I have my keyboard at my apartment and doesn’t have weighted keys. It does not allow for me to use dynamics or allow for phrasing within any music. Phrasing is like a musical sentence, arching the notes and ending on a lift, for those who are not familiar with musical terms. The keyboard is a very useful instrument, but like the O-Bow, does not allow for me to express myself within the music.

For any musician, you can all relate. You have memorized a song so well that you play it by muscle memory. When that happens, you have the ability to pour your heart and soul into the song and have the music move within your body. The O-Bow, or any recreated instrument, cannot compare to that experience.

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Michelle Adams

Currently serving as an AmeriCorps member at the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness with the Campaign to End Homelessness program, Michelle is passionate about ending homelessness. She graduated with a B.A. in Communication and a specialization in public relations and a minor in sexuality and conflict/management from Michigan State University. Her interests lie in writing about culture, sexuality/gender and homelessness. Offline she enjoys quoting How I Met Your Mother, volunteering, swinging at parks and stargazing.

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