Tag Archives: MIDI

Turning an old-school player piano into a modern-day MIDI machine

This retrofitted player piano is like Disney’s Haunted Mansion meets Daft Punk.

As seen back at Maker Faire Bay Area, Maker Ramon Yvarra has innovatively transformed an antiquated, 700-pound player piano from the 1920s into a modern-day, MIDI-powered instrument.


Housed inside the retrofitted Hobart M. Cable digital player piano lies a series of two registers and 11 custom circuit boards to drive the system, all chained together to an Arduino Mega (ATmega2560) and an Ethernet shield. The unit can be connected to his Mac and controlled over Wi-Fi via rtpMIDI.

For those who may not know, old-school player pianos work using vacuum pressure and a series of bellows connected to hammers tasked with hitting each key. A paper roll passes over a tracker bar attached to those bellows, and with each hole in the roll, allows the vacuum pressure through to close the bellow and the hammer to strike the key. Meanwhile, a solenoid valve handles the airflow.


Next, the Maker needed to determine how to proceed with driving the player mechanism digitally. To do so, each of the instrument’s control boards have a single shift register.

“I knew that I could turn on eight items at a time and therefore only need 11 registers to control 88 keys. I started out by reading the specifications for the 74HC595 shift register, but the voltage and current supported by that chip was insufficient to control 12V solenoids, so I found a higher current chip that looked like it would fit the bill perfectly,” he notes.

While it may’ve strayed just a bit from its near 100-year-old aesthetics, the Maker inserted a massive 49.5″ x 15.25″ LCD panel into its existing wooden frame for enhanced visual effects.


“I think people forgot player pianos existed and making it digital makes it all more enjoyable,” Yvarra tells MAKE: Magazine.

Those wishing to learn more can head over to the Maker’s elaborate write-up, which takes you through the entire build process. Otherwise, watch it in action below!

Synthino XM is a 5-note polyphonic MIDI synthesizer

This MIDI synthesizer is ideal for any musician or Maker looking to create some grooves.

In collaboration with Alex Dyba of GetLoFi, Nootropic Design founder Michael Krumpus recently debuted the Synthino XM, a five-note polyphonic synthesizer packed with a four-track sequencer running on the versatile ATxmega128A4U MCUSuccessfully funded on Kickstarter where it garnered just over $17,000, the open-source device boasts a fun, aesthetically-pleasing interface with just enough buttons and knobs to let users change parameters on-the-fly.


The gadget is equipped with a 1/4” output jack that not only works with headphones, but serves as a line output for recording and a direct connection to any guitar amplifier. With its standard five-pin MIDI input jack, both musicians and hobbyists alike can easily plug-in any MIDI keyboard, sequencer or drum machine to control the Synthino XM. Arguably one of, if not, the most exciting features has to be its integration of MIDI over mini-USB, which enables any model device with MIDI or DAW software to immediately recognize Synthino XM as an available output. The synthesizer can be used standalone as well, with just a 9V battery and a pair of headphones.


Synthino XM has three modes: synthesizer, arpeggiator, and groovebox. Synthesizer mode permits users to play the Synthino XM with a MIDI controller connected to the MIDI jack or from their favorite DAW software over USB. The arpeggiator allows users to play predefined arpeggios or set their own arpeggio notes with MIDI. Meanwhile, groovebox mode is a bit more sophisticated with a “live” 16-step sequencer that lets musicians lay down four different tracks through a MIDI controller.


Visual indicators are in the form of four bright orange LEDs that can be found beneath each button. When powered on, a series of blinking LEDs prompt users to select a mode by pressing one of the buttons, numerically denoted by “1-3,” respectively. In certain modes, the pots have secondary functions labeled as “fn:” These functions are activated by simply hitting the “4” button, which if held down for three seconds can also reset the program and let users choose a new mode.

To round out its sleek design, all of the electronics are housed between a two laser-cut frosted acrylic layers. Other notable features include:

  • 5-note polyphony for superb playability
  • 12 waveforms, 4 drum samples
  • 12-bit audio at 25KHz output rate
  • 4 MIDI channels, each with separate waveform and ADSR envelope settings
  • Low pass filter with cutoff frequency and resonance controls
  • 2 independent low frequency oscillators (LFOs): pitch and filter
  • Selectable waveform for LFOs
  • 1V p-p audio output voltage with enough current to drive headphones
  • Arpeggiator mode, up to 16 notes
  • 4 arpeggiator patterns: up, down, up-down, random
  • 4 built-in arpeggiator chords or use MIDI to specify up to 16 notes
  • Arpeggiator pitch transposition control
  • Tempo control with MIDI clock input
  • 16-step live performance “groovebox” sequencer
  • Pitch fine-tuning adjustment
  • Programmable/upgradable over USB


The Synthino project was first conceived back in 2014. However at the time, it was limited by only five buttons and three pots with no way of playing notes, and like any other prototype, it wasn’t too visually appealing either. Beyond that, the aptly named Synthino ONE was built around an ATmega328 MCU. According to the Krumpus, the latest iteration of the instrument called for a faster processor with double the speed and four times the memory. And so, the ATxmega128A4U was chosen.

DrumPants puts an entire band in your pocket

This kit lets you play music right from your body using 100+ sounds and 300+ music applications.

Ever catch yourself drumming on your pant leg? Your table? Your desk? Your steering wheel? Well good news, starting a one-man band is now as simple as wearing DrumPants. Dubbed by its creators Tyler Freeman and Lei Yu as “the world’s industrial quality wearable musical instrument,” the kit magically transforms your outfit into a full ensemble with 100+ high-quality sounds.


As previously reported on Bits & Pieces and recently seen on ABC’s Shark Tank, DrumPants is comprised of two wearable sensor strips and a control box, that when attached to any item of clothing, enable a wearer to play a beat by simply tapping their body. The pair of sensors can easily be removed as well, making it the ideal portable instrument.


Though DrumPants were originally designed with the music industry in mind, the sensors actually provide a number of additional uses. In fact, each strip can be reprogrammed to trigger actions within a wide variety of apps, ranging from answering their phone, to controlling a streaming video, to playing a game. The software can also take output data from certain Atmel based Arduino boards and manipulate it in real-time, in case any industrious Makers wish to utilize the sensor strips to drive another gadget entirely.


Its control box — which is based on an Atmel | SMART ARM Cortex-M3 MCU — is equipped with an ultra-low latency Bluetooth 4.0 chip, an embedded sound engine for a 1/8″ headphone jack, 128 instrument sample banks and a Micro-USB for connecting to a laptop or PC. Meanwhile, its sensors can be placed anywhere on the body, whether that’s a snare drum on an upper thigh or a cymbal on a knee. Want a kick drum or a looping pedal, too? Wearers can bring that functionality right inside their shoe through a set of footpads.


DrumPants comes with its own apps — DrumPants PRO and Neil Peart — allowing users to easily adjust the tone and pitch of each sound and to upload their own customized effects. What’s more, the kit is compatible with all MIDI or OSC apps, including Loopy, Ableton Live, Reason, Animoog and Pandora to name just a few. This lets users record, loop and edit their own musical masterpieces, or even map taps to keystrokes for games. And for those wishing to extend their system’s capabilities, an Expander Kit offers users with six additional sensors.


Co-founder Tyler Freeman first developed DrumPants as a prank to play on his drummer friends, but went on to modify the innovation into an industrial, production-ready wearable music kit. Since its successful launch on Kickstarter, its creators have gone on to make numerous event appearances and modify a few of its features, some of which were stretch goals during the crowdfunding campaign. These include a built-in metronome for those looking to hone that rock steady tempo while on the go — whether that’s on the bus, on a coffee break, or just at home waiting for your videos to buffer. Beyond that, the device now boasts a volume range of audio samples, customizable MIDI note duration, more robust firmware, and improved pedal algorithms.

Interested? Check out Tappur’s official project page here, and watch it in action below. Heading to Maker Faire Bay Area? Get ready to rock out with the team inside our booth!

Video: Using your brain and visual stimuli to play music

This biotronic art installation creates a unique musical experience based on thoughts and emotion.

What if moving your eyes from left-to-right or up-and-down could trigger lights, play music and control other devices? That’s what digital artist Fèlix Vinyals has set out to accomplish with his latest project entitled Torval. Well sort of, at least. In collaboration with EEG and BCI researcher Oscar Portolés, the Maker has designed a hybrid brain computer machine interface (BCMI) installation that allows him to create music and control the lighting while on stage, all through the reading of the electric potential of his brain and visual stimuli.


The project combines two independent BCI systems. The first makes use of the steady state visual evoked potential (SSVEP) technique to enable the musician to switch on/off a set of music tracks from a MIDI sample. Meanwhile, the other determines the musician’s index of relaxation that is read through the alpha rhythm to alter the illumination of the installation. The communication between the BCMI, the MIDI sampler and the set of floodlights via DMX protocol is done with an Atmel based Arduino.


Beyond that, Torval is comprised of six main modules: the visual stimuli tool, the EEG signal acquisition unit, the signal processing algorithms for both BCI systems, the output control box (Bebop), the music sampler, and the illumination system.

“On one hand, the visual stimuli tool elicits a SSVEP in the user visual cortex when he gazes at one of the six flickering stimuli. Then, the signal-processing algorithm searches the EEG data in real time for a SSVEP. When a SSVEP is found at a frequency coincident with one of the flickering stimulus units, the outputs control box will send a MIDI command to switch on or off the musical loop associated with the particular flickering stimulus unit,” Vinyals explains.


“On the other hand, a signal-processing algorithm constantly monitors the level of relaxation of the artist – the power within the alpha rhythm of the occipital cortex. Continuously and smoothly, Bebop modifies the illumination of the stage through DMX protocol in correlation with the relaxation of the user; a shade from the color spectrum that ranges from red to blue is projected onto the stage. Therefore, the user can actively control the color of the stage. Yet, as he fully engages in the performance, he loses his ability to self-control his level of relaxation and mental load; turning the stage illumination into a genuine portrait of both physiological states.”

What’s unique about this project is that is relies only upon imagination and emotion, enabling a wearer to create a unique, irreproducible musical experience. As the video eludes to, there are eyes that speak and there are other eyes that can perform… Trust us, you’ll want to see this!

Rocking out with a DIY Arduino synth guitar

Maker creates a slick synth guitar out of an old drum machine, ribbon potentiometers, a joystick shield and an Arduino. 

Recently brought to our attention by our friends at Hackadaya Maker by the name of “Gr4yhound” has devised a slick synth guitar comprised entirely from scratch using an old Yamaha DD-55 drum machine, some SoftPot ribbon potentiometers, a SparkFun joystick shield, and an Arduino Micro (ATmega32U4).


The device itself consists of two components, a guitar body and neck. The body is made from a piece of pine that was cut using Gr4yhound’s homemade CNC machine, while three circles were routed out to make room for the Yamaha drum pads, wiring and the joystick shield. Meanwhile, the neck was actually derived from a de-fretted Squire Affinity Strat neck.


Three SoftPot membrane potentiometers were added to the neck to simulate strings. Beyond that, the drum pad trio acts as touch sensors, allowing Gr4yhound to play each string simultaneously and form tunes. The joystick shield enables Gr4yhound to add additional effects to the overall sound, and an Arduino Micro serves as the primary controller and transmits the musical notes as MIDI commands. The Maker used a commercial MIDI to USB converter in order to play the music on a computer, while converter lets him power the Arduino via USB.

Ready to rock out? Head on over to the project’s official build log here, or watch it in action below!

MIDIWidget lets you control anything via MIDI

This new Kickstarter project is converting MIDI messages into general-purpose output.

The MIDIWidget is a new MIDI decoder designed by John Staskevich. Recently launched on Kickstarter, the device was created as a way to make it super easy for users to control real-world items using MIDI messages from their computer or controller.


Impressively, the MIDIWidget can function as the brain for an assortment of projects, ranging from robotic musical instruments to guitar effects switcher to studio recording lights. Based on what looks to be an ATmega32U2, the device accepts input via traditional 5-pin MIDI connectors or from a direct USB connection to a computer. The MIDIWidget is plug-and-play with no special drivers, and appears as a standard MIDI port in your favorite music software and is compatible with the iPad Camera Connection Kit.

What’s more, no programming is required. The MIDIWidget already understands MIDI note, CC, program change and sync messages, thereby allowing anyone to add their own relays and driver circuitry to control just about anything. With its companion Configurator App, users can select a behavior for each of the MIDIWidget’s 24 digital logic outputs.


Optionally, users can also program up to 128 presets that each contain output states of some or all of the 24 outputs. These presets can be edited, stored and recalled via the MIDI messages of choice. MIDIWidget outputs can be used to control LEDs, relays, or anything else that requires a 5V on/off signal.

The device can be powered by USB, or can operate independently from the computer using a battery or other DC power supply. Interested in learning more? Head over to its official Kickstarter page, where Staskevich is currently seeking $6,000. Following a successful round of funding, the Maker plans to also publish the PCB design, the embedded application firmware and the Max patch used to create the MIDIWidget Configurator App. Shipment is slated for May 2015.

gTar uses an iPhone and LEDs to teach you to play the guitar

This isn’t your traditional axe, but an electric guitar-digital device hybrid that makes sound via MIDI processed through an iPhone.

Have you always wanted to be a rockstar but lacked the necessary musical talent? After all, learning to play the guitar can be a daunting (and expensive) task. But thanks to our friends at Incident Technologies, there is now an easy-to-use, cost-effective solution: the gTar.


Previously seen on Kickstarter and more recently, inside Eureka Park at CES 2015, gTar is a fully digital guitar that enables anybody of any experience level to play music quickly and easily with the help of LEDs and a docked iPhone. Users simply affix their smartphone to the guitar body, load its accompanying mobile app, and follow an array of interactive LEDs along the multi-touch fretboard — which can play various sounds and triggers via its MIDI compatibility. Not only does the gTar show you what to play, but tracks whether you’re doing it correctly. According to its creators, the learning system will have you rocking out in under 15 minutes.

“We think that everybody should be able to have fun playing music, regardless of how long they’ve been playing or how much time they have to practice. That’s why we built an intuitive feature called SmartPlay, which mutes out incorrect notes as you play and nudges you along as you play through difficult songs,” a company rep explains.


Don’t be mistaken, the device possesses the same aesthetically appealing design of an everyday electric guitar. In fact, gTar is constructed from basswood and maple, giving it the look, feel and durability of a time-tested axe while packed with some additional components like an ATtiny48. It should also be noted that the hardware is open-source, enabling endless possibilities for Makers.

On the software side, the app features three modes: SmartPlay, Free Play and Create. It comes bundled with a library of over 150 preprogrammed songs from third-party sites that allow users to begin shredding right away. SmartPlay mode teaches users specific songs and scales, which are ranked by color in terms of their difficulty level: green for easy, yellow for moderate and red for hard. During the easiest stages, gTar will automatically “fret” for beginners and mute out incorrect notes. Using its ATtiny48 powered LEDs, you can learn some of the biggest hit songs, ranging from The Beatles to David Bowie.

As you make your way through the ranks to FreePlay, users are given free reign over the multi-touch fretboard, where musicians can then choose from a variety of 15+ sound kits, including guitar models, keyboards, synths, and even drums. This mode also provides an expression pad for tweaking four built-in sound effects, like echo or distortion, and a panel that offers full control of the LEDs. Feeling confident? Once ready, through the company’s new Sequence app, you can create beats, melodies, and rhythms without any previous musical skills. Sequence can be used either standalone, or with the gTar fretboard acting as an interactive controller.


If AVR Man can do it, anyone truly can! Interested in learning more? Head on over to gTar’s official page here.