An estimated 250,000,000 people in the United States would love to play a musical instrument, but they can't.
Either they don't know how - or they don't own one - says Jerry Riopelle, a Scottsdale musician, inventor and songwriter who would like to change all that with his latest contribution to the world of music - the beamz music system.
The beamz has six laser beams on a 25-inch wide and 18-inch high metal "musical instrument" shaped like a "W."
The player uses his or her hands to break the laser beams, which then triggers musical notes and sounds. The beamz and its software program are connected to a computer that emits the musical sounds via its speakers.
The invention, which has five patents and is being distributed exclusively by The Sharper Image stores nationally, including stores in Scottsdale and Chandler, sells for $599.95. The price includes the software program as well as 30 original songs on CDs.
But the beamz was a long time coming.
"I was just a 10-year-old kid back in Florida when I and my buddies walked into an ice cream parlor and we triggered a bell by breaking an incandescent light beam," Riopelle recalled. "That door announcer alerted the store owner that somebody just entered and he came out to serve us ice cream cones. The idea stayed in my mind for many, many years."
Riopelle, raised in Tampa, Fla., eventually moved to Los Angeles where he began his music career. He has played and recorded music and written for top stars through the years, traveling throughout the world and eventually buying two homes - one in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii and the other in Scottsdale, headquarters for his new company, beamz Interactive.
Riopelle, a guitar and keyboard player, is best known among Valley music lovers for his New Year's Eve concerts at Celebrity Theatre.
"I started working on my music performance system, my beamz - I don't call it a musical instrument because its much more - in 1994," Riopelle said. He completed the invention several years ago, and has been developing and promoting the new product nationally, internationally and on the Internet ever since.
"The beauty of the beamz is that it allows anyone, regardless of experience or talent, to easily approach making music," said Riopelle. "It unleashes their creativity and leads them to their inner musician. It's very futuristic."
As the laser beams are broken, musical sounds are emitted but the player doesn't have to find the correct note or key as when playing a traditional instrument. The music is always harmonious and it can be played by an individual or simultaneously by several people.
The beamz also helps children and adults with disabilities, Riopelle said. He took one to Phoenix Children's Hospital for the patients to interact with and saw positive responses.