How To MIDI Interface Your Toys

There’s a great number toys in the world, many of which make all manner of pleasant or annoying noises for the entertainment of children. If you’re a musician, these toys may be of interest due to their unique or interesting sounds. However, due to their design being aimed at play rather than performance, it may be difficult to actually use the toy as a musical instrument. One way around this is to record the sounds of the toy into a sampler, but it’s not the only way. [little-scale] is here to demonstrate how to MIDI interface your toys. 

[little-scale] starts out by discussing the many ways in which one can interface with a toy. The article discusses how a simple button can be replaced with a relay, or a multiplexer, and be interfaced to all manner of other devices to control the toy. This is demonstrated by using a mobile phone toy which makes sounds when buttons are pressed.

A Teensy 3.6 is used to run the show, acting as a USB-MIDI interface so the toy can be controlled by music software like Abelton. It’s connected to the toy’s buttons through a multiplexer. The toy’s speaker is cut off and used as an audio output instead, allowing the toy to be easily connected to other audio hardware for performance or recording. It’s also fed through a digital pot so MIDI commands can control the volume. A resistor is used to control pitch in the toy, so this too was replaced with a digital pot as well, to allow sample pitch to be controlled.

The project is incredibly well documented, with [little-scale] first tearing down the toy and highlighting the points of interest, before stepping through each stage of interfacing the toy to the digital world. We’ve seen some of [little-scale]’s work before, too – namely, this MIDI DAC for controlling vintage synthesizers. Video after the break.

5 thoughts on “How To MIDI Interface Your Toys

  1. It would be even more interesting to do the opposite, i.e. using toys as MIDI controllers and playing actual synths with these useless pieces of plastic. I’ve converted a broken toy keyboard to MIDI using the same hardware (a Teensy) and it works flawlessly. It’s kid-proof too!
    I’ve also added a simple built-in synth/sampler mode, with the keyboard’s big “demo” button mapped to a Shooting Stars loop (no rickroll, sorry, but Shooting Stars is the new rickroll). That became the most useful button in my home.

  2. I’m still trying to find the specs for V-teck and Leap-Frog LCDs.
    I’ve been getting them for as little as $2 each and have a good stock of them both.
    As soon as I can get them going it will be party time.

    Happy Canada Day.

  3. One of my items on the Big List o’ Projects is to rig up all the various McDonald’s toys we have collected to some external trigger. The ultimate goal would be to create the most annoying keyboard ever: each key mapped to one of eighty or so different junky toys!

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