Pushing Boundaries: Specdrum rings let you turn any color, any surface into sound

Published: May 15, 2017 By

As a drummer, Steven Dourmashkin was always tapping out drum beats with his fingers whenever and wherever he could find a flat surface. Harnessing that energy, he developed Specdrums, app-connected rings users wear on their fingers that turn colors into sounds.

Specdrums can be connected to mobile devices to make music. Using the app, you assign musical notes and sounds to specific colors. When you tap the ring on the color, it plays the designated sound.

“The original goal was to make something I could use to drum anywhere,” Dourmashkin said. “It’s a fun way to learn about notes and rhythm. It’s for anyone who wants to make music anywhere.”

Steven Dourmashkin and Jack FitzGerrell play Specdrums

Steven Dourmashkin and Jack FitzGerrell play Specdrums

Dourmashkin started Specdrums while an undergraduate at Cornell University and went through Cornell’s eLab business accelerator. Since coming to CU Boulder to earn a graduate degree in aerospace engineering, he’s perfecting the innovative product with CU Boulder teammates, Jack FitzGerrell, a junior majoring in marketing and technology, arts and media; and Jenna Palensky, a doctoral student in ethnomusicology.

The three of them came together last semester. Dourmashkin had put up fliers asking for marketing help and that’s how he met FitzGerrell. Palensky and Dourmashkin met at a meeting held at the College of Music’s entrepreneurship center. Palensky’s role with the team is to ensure musical consistency and improve Specdrums’ educational potential.

To connect a Specdrums ring to a mobile device, open the app and tap the ring close to the phone. Many rings can be connected to the app at once.

Users can add sounds to any colors by tapping on colors—magazine pictures, photographs, sticky notes, even clothes. Any sound can be connected to any color, or you can cycle through sounds whenever the ring detects a new color. Specdrums can reliably play up to 36 colors at once.

Specdrums has a large database of sounds, from hand drums and piano keys to guitar chords and animal sounds. Users can also record their own sounds. The beats, melodies and vocals that music-makers can play with the rings can be looped into a short musical piece, named Sloops, which can be saved and shared with others.

Palensky and another colleague are starting a nonprofit music school where they will pilot a SpecDrums youth ensemble.

“When I met Steven, he talked about this device he made, Palensky said. “I thought it was the coolest thing and wanted to be a part of it.”

Making music accessible to all ages is the goal of Specdrums. Dourmashkin is planning to develop additional Specdrums music products, including Specdrums drumsticks and a foot pedal that allows users to tap colored surfaces with their feet.

The colorful handcrafted rings made from silicone and 3D-printed molds are being beta tested. Dourmashkin and his team are planning a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for manufacturing and future product development.

For more information, visit the Specdrums website.

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