Turning toy pianos into MIDI keyboards

Building a MIDI device is always a great microcontroller project, and nearly everyone has an old toy keyboard lying around in the back of a closet or in the basement. [JenShen] decided to take one of these toy keyboards and build a MIDI keyboard.

The keyboard [JenShen] used was a simple Casio keyboard with built-in voices. After tearing out the guts of the keyboard, the only thing that remained is the row of push buttons underneath the keys. These buttons were laid out in a row/column matrix, so [JenShen] needed to decode this matrix before sending the result to an Arduino for processing.

A 74HN595 shift register was used to read the 8 rows of buttons underneath the keys, while the rows were tied to different input pins on the ‘duino. This allowed [JenShen] to scan the keyboard matrix with an Arduino and generate MIDI notes and send them to other synths.

In the video after the break, you can check out [JenShen]’s circuit and code that allowed him to turn a toy keyboard into a proper 32-note MIDI keyboard. It’s not velocity sensitive, but he says he’ll show everyone how to accomplish that in a future post.

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LED illuminated isomorphic keyboard looks as good as it sounds

Unlike the traditional ebony and ivory found on pianos, isomorphic keyboards arrange buttons on a grid. This makes every chord the same shape, and to transpose a piece it’s simply a matter of moving your fingers a few places to the left or right. [Brett Park] sent in an isomorphic keyboard he built loaded up with LEDs, and we’re thinking it the perfect instrument for musicians looking to move up from playing their MacBook.

The body of [Brett]’s keyboard is made out of a sheet of acrylic. After drilling 64 holes for each of the clear arcade buttons, [Brett] bent the sides of his hexagonal keyboard into a very sturdy-looking enclosure.

On the hardware side, [Brett] used a 64 button Arduino shield and a Sparkfun MIDI shield. The RGB LEDs behind each button are controlled via MIDI sysex messages generated outside the instrument, making it perfect for a little bit of visual feedback from whatever soft synth you desire.

In the videos after the break, you can check out the light patterns in action along with one of [Brett]’s improvs. Notice how all the chords are the same shape, and changing the key only requires [Brett] to move his hands slightly to the side.

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Refurbing an old piano with carbon fiber

[Chris] picked up a baby grand. Of course for a complex mechanical device made out of wood, it wasn’t in the best shape. He’s doing his best to refurbish this $350 piano and turn it into something that plays and sounds like a $200,000 concert grand

The 1941 Kimball baby grand piano [Chris] picked up for $350 was a complete mess when it arrived in his house. After cleaning up the wood and replacing some felt the piano looked much better, but [Chris] wanted to make it play better.

After picking up a set of hammers from a 1909 Steinway, [Chris] tore apart the action on his Kimball. The Steinway hammers were removed from their shanks, carbon fiber shanks glued into place, and the entire assembly put back into the piano.

With new felt, new hammers, and light weight shanks on every key, [Chris] has a remarkable piano that is most likely better than new. Not a bad result for a $350 piano.

You can check out [Chris]’ build video after the break along with a little [Mozart] (we think) after the break.

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Update: many improvements to optical-sensor-based piano

[Sebastian] wrote in to update us about the optical sensor project he started a couple of years ago. You’ll find his most recent update here, but there are four different post links after the break that document various parts of his progress.

You may not recall the original project, but he was looking to add resolution and sensitivity to the keystroke of an electric keyboard. With the sensors built, he started experimenting with using the force data to affect other parts of the sound. His post back in January shows this bending the pitch as the keys receive more force from the player.

In March he installed the sensor array in an old piano. The video he posted where he plays the piano, but we hear the sound generated from the sensor inputs. We’ve embedded it after the break.

Last week he published two posts. They cover a redesign of the sensor boards, and the panelization work he’s done to help bring down manufacturing costs. The base unit was redesigned to use an AT90USB microcontroller which consolidates the separate chips used in the previous version.

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Piano Box is a digital synthesizer made of paper

We love the look of this papercraft piano which [Catarina] built along with some friends at NYC Resistor, a hackerspace in the big apple. It starts off as a cubic black box with a white top. But just lift that top as [Catarina] does in the video after the break and three of the sides fall flat to reveal a pair of speakers and the single-octave keyboard.

The key’s don’t move when you press them. Instead, she decided to use the CapSense Arduino library to implement touch sensitive keys. Each key is made up of a plane of copper foil tape, with a strip of tape running back to the center of the box where it is interfaced with an Arduino Mega hidden there. The Tone library produces the waveforms which are played by the speakers, and a set of LEDs on the upright side of the box illuminate the keyboard diagram as you press each key. You can see that there are short white bars on that display which correspond to the black keys on the keyboard.

If you take a look at the code, you’ll see the libraries really make the code for the project simple.

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Self-tuning piano can tune itself, can’t tuna fish

At Hack a Day, we don’t throw the term genius around lightly. We’re obligated to bestow that title on [Don Gilmore] for his amazingly simple self-tuning piano. To appreciate [Don]’s build, you need to realize that just because a piano has 88 keys, that doesn’t mean it has 88 strings. Treble notes have three strings per key while tenor and bass notes have one or two strings each. This usually comes out to more than 200 strings per piano, and [Don] can bring them all up to tune in under a minute.

[Don]’s system needs to perform two functions. The first one is sustaining the strings so the computer can ‘hear’ the strings. He does this with a magnetic sustainer that is a lot like an E-Bow. To bring the strings up to the right pitch, there are small heaters underneath the pin block. Running a little bit of current through these heaters allows [Don] to decrease the tension of each string and lower the pitch.

This tech reminds us of the Gibson Robot Guitar, a self-tuning guitar that does it’s trick with motors in the tuners. The Gibson didn’t do well on the sales floor, given that everybody and their mom can tune a guitar. Pianos, though, are another story. [Don] is looking for investors to bring his idea to market, and we hope to see it on the floor of a music shop sometime in the future.

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Wireless MIDI piano glove

Sometimes you just don’t have space for a baby grand. [Abdullah] got around this problem and built a virtual wireless MIDI piano. Unlike it’s inspiration, it’s not bad but we still love it.

[Abdullah] got his hands on some flex sensors and attached them to a glove. These resistive sensors are put through a voltage divider and sent to a microcontroller (a PIC16F778, we believe) and corresponding MIDI notes are chosen. These MIDI notes are sent to a computer and played over a speaker.

Right now, only a single arpeggio is coded into the microcontroller. Depending on which finger is bent shifts this arpeggio up and down the keyboard. That being said, the firmware can be easily modified to recognize standard piano fingering so chords can be played. The only issue is moving the hand up and down the keyboard.

[Abdullah] is planning on making his glove completely wireless with a microcontroller and battery sewn into the glove. Here’s to hoping he’ll keep us posted.

Check out [Abdullah]’s demo after the break.

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