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YouTuber “The Mixed Signal” has come up with a fun way to make music: spinning a gear-like ferromagnetic tonewheel next to a homemade coil pickup. 

A stepper motor turns the wheel using a CNC shield under Arduino control. When set up, it’s simply a matter of programming in the proper speed via G-code to create the correct sound.

The concept isn’t entirely new, as this type of assembly was used in Hammond organs produced in the middle of the last century. The Mixed Signal’s project, however, is a very interesting take on this technology, with the use of 3D-printed parts including the iron-embedded tonewheel, as well as the integration of a MIDI keyboard. 

As shown in the video below, Tristan Calderbank is a very talented singer and guitar player, but what’s perhaps most interesting about his performance is the percussion section. Instead of a person (or an entire band) standing beside him, a robotic shaker, tambourine, snare drum and bass drum all play together under MIDI control.

Each device is activated by an HS-311 servo—or two in the case of the snare—powered by an Arduino Uno and MIDI shield. Signals are sent to the Arduino by a laptop running Ableton Live, and servo velocity can be varied to further control sound. 

A write-up on Calderbank’s build process can be found here, including what didn’t work, plus info on sound isolation from the servos. Arduino code is available on GitHub.

You’ve seen barcode scanners register the price for your groceries, and likely in many other applications, but did you ever consider if one could be made into an instrument? Well we now know the answer, thanks to this MIDI guitar by James Bruton.

Bruton’s amazing device presents a matrix of barcodes arranged on the instrument’s four necks, allowing him to select the note to be played with a scanner gun.

The scanned code then triggers a note that’s piped to an output device via an Arduino Mega and MIDI shield. A joystick, spinner, and arcade buttons are also available for functions such as note cutoff, changing the octave, and pitch bends.

Hearing live music is certainly enjoyable, but if the musician is using a drum machine, things can eventually get static. To add a bit more spontaneity into this class of robo-musician, Matt Bradshaw has created DrumKid — a handheld, battery-powered unit that uses random numbers to determine the rhythm and sound of a beat.

The device goes through a drum sequence, with a series of LEDs to indicate its progression, but also inserts randomly generated drum hits to the original beat. It features a variety of controllable parameters to alter how it sounds when played live via four knobs and six buttons.

The DrumKid was developed on an Arduino Uno and breadboard, then transferred to a PCB for the final version that will be for sale later this year. More info on the build is available in Bradshaw’s project write-up, while code and design files are on GitHub if you’d like to make your own!

When you need a distraction, or perhaps even now, you may turn to tapping on your desk. While a good way to keep your hands active, or pass a few uninteresting seconds, if you want to get serious with your finger drumming, then the “Arduino USB Drum” by creator colonelwatch may be just the thing.

The 3D-printable device hooks onto the edge of the table, and reads taps on its pads with a pair of strain gauges. Signals are amplified and passed along to an Arduino Uno—including tap intensity—which sends MIDI data to a computer via serial. 

Code and other build info are available on GitHub, and you can see a video of it in action here.

Apparently not content with a traditional laser harp, Jonathan Bumstead set out to take things in a different direction. What he came up with is a device whose laser strings are arranged horizontally, and loop though its boxy structure for an amazing audiovisual effect. 

The aptly named Upright Laser Harp is divided up into six rows, which each contain two laser/photoresistor pairs for an instrument total of 12 notes. Each laser is reflected once before hitting its photoresistor to wrap the entire structure in light, and values are sensed by an Arduino Mega as note inputs. Sounds are then generated by an Adafruit Music Maker Shield, and different MIDI instruments are selected with a rotary switch and a stepper-based electromechanical display system. 

Laser harps are musical devices with laser beam “strings.” When the beam is blocked, a note is played by the instrument. Usually laser harps have the beams travel vertically in the shape of a fan or vertical lines. 

In this project, I built a laser harp with stacked laser beams that propagate horizontally. The beams reflect off mirrors to form square shaped beam paths. Instead of a MIDI output like my previous laser harp, this device has built-in MIDI player so the output is an audio signal. This means the device does not have to be connected to a computer or MIDI player (e.g. keyboard) to play sound. Both built-in speakers and audio output jack are available for playing music.

Be sure to check out the mini-concert and build details in the video below!

How we see colors is an interesting concept, and as a conversation starter about the physics of color and sound, maker Marcin Poblocki created his own ‘Color Instrument.’

Poblocki’s device rotates a wheel of colors around under a TCS3200/TCS230 sensor via a continuous rotation-modded SG90 servo motor. An Arduino Nano then spits out the tone corresponding to the color it senses using a small speaker, allowing for simple songs to be produced according to hue arrangements. 

It’s a neat idea that could be taken in many different directions. At the very least, it would certainly spark conversation, perhaps questioning, as noted in the project write-up, why the color pink isn’t included in the natural light spectrum.

There are a wide variety of ways to create electronic music. For a capable machine that fits in the palm of your hand and is loud enough to use outdoors, however, it’s hard to imagine a battery-powered device cooler than Bitty from Curious Sound Objects. 

The pocket-sized drum machine and synthesizer, currently on Kickstarter, was prototyped using an Arduino Nano and will be fully Arduino-compatible when released. This means that in addition to changing the sound and interface around with readily-available sound packs—which include Theremin Bitty, Techno Bitty, Basement Bitty, Trap Bitty, Lofi Bitty, and Beach Bitty—it can be programmed with the Arduino IDE. The device can even run sound software written for other Arduino boards.

Bitty features four sample trigger buttons, a pair of knobs, and a speaker. Designed for entry-level EDM enthusiasts and studio musicians alike, you can play the drums and melodies manually, as well as trigger patterns to produce dance music or hip hop beats. These can be chosen via the left knob, while the right knob handles pitch, note selection, and arpeggiation.

Check it out in action below!


Keytars may have had their moment of popularity in the 1980s, but instruments of the day can’t hold a candle to “The Blade” by makers Sam Wray, Siddharth Vadgama, and Greig Stewart. 

The musical device feeds signals from a pair of Guitar Hero necks, along with a stripped down keytar from Rock Band, into an Arduino Mega. This data is then sent to a Raspberry Pi running PD Extended, and is used to control a pair of Game Boys to produce distinct 8-bit sounds. Audio output can be further modified with a Leap Motion sensor embedded in one of the two necks. 

What makes up The Blade?

– 3D-printed housing

We custom modeled and printed a housing for the instrument to ensure it would be ergonomic to wield, hold together with all the components, and also look badass.

– Two Guitar Hero necks

The necks, hacked off a couple of old Guitar Hero controllers, were totally rewired to output the button presses to jumper cables.

– Arduino Mega

All the wiring from the Guitar Hero necks fed into the Mega, which then registered the button presses and output appropriate MIDI signals over USB serial into the Raspberry Pi.

– Rock Band keytar

We stripped this down to the bare keyboard and had the MIDI also going into the Pi.

Raspberry Pi

Taking in all the MIDI, and running PD Extended we got this to manage and re-map all the button presses we needed. This then output to a MIDI thru box.

– Arduino Boy

This fed the MIDI signals from the thru box into the Game Boy.

Game Boy

These were heart. With MIDI fed in from a multitude of sources, the Game Boy, running mGB, was the synthesizing the signals into sound, output via a standard 3.5mm jack. 

Leap Motion
The Leap Motion was used for further sound modulation.

If you’d like to visualize your music, VU meters make an excellent tool. While they are generally built into audio equipment, maker James Bruton had the idea to construct his own using lasers. His setup features an MSGEQ7 module to separate sound frequencies, sending data on seven different ranges to an Arduino Mega board.

The Arduino then uses this information to selectively lower seven shutters via servos. When lowered, these shutters hide part of the lines formed by lasers and a spinning mirror assembly to indicate each sound frequency’s intensity.

The resulting machine not only effectively projects a visual of the music playing on a nearby wall, but also looks like some sort of mythical beast or contraption, progressively waving its appendages while emitting eerie green light!

Although this kind of project can be fun, be sure to wear the proper safety equipment when dealing with powerful lasers!




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