Bruce Carter believes playing music should be accessible to all, so he invented a tool to help others learn to be musicians.

His invention, an affordable 3D-printable violin trainer, harkens back to a gift he received after being accepted into Virginia Tech’s music program. Knowing Carter needed a better trumpet, David McKee, then a music professor and the legendary director of The Marching Virginians, sent him as a scholarship a Bach Stradivarius trumpet, which Carter calls the Maserati of brass instruments.

“The gift was powerful because when I started at Virginia Tech, I wasn’t ashamed of my instrument,” says Carter, who graduated in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in music and went on to earn a doctorate in music education from Northwestern University. “The college took a chance on an average kid from a tobacco farm in Halifax, Virginia. That’s what a great institution does.”

While at Virginia Tech, Carter discovered a passion for the violin. The trainer was born out of both this passion and a desire to pay Virginia Tech’s generosity forward.

“My interest is at the intersection of social justice, technology, and the arts,” says Carter, most recently a visiting research professor at New York University and now a lecturer at Northwestern University. “These first-year trainers cost pennies compared to a real instrument, which can cost hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands. The trainers also help more people learn to play.”

The tool looks like a plastic, futuristic violin without strings, and running a bow across its bridge generates a vibration rather than a sound. This approach helps students learn how to hold the violin and use a bow properly through physical sensations.

Carter, who received a presidential appointment to the National Council on the Arts in 2013, did add one sound to the trainer. The bridge can pull out and transform the trainer into a recorder, which plays an A — the note used for tuning a violin.

“The violin was perfected hundreds of years ago,” Carter says, “but we still haven’t perfected how we teach it. The trainer is one way we can use technology to enhance the learning experience and make mastering the violin affordable to all.”

Written by Leslie King