Augmented Xylophone

[Ania’s] been working on extending a xylophone in a project called Multixylophoniomnibus. She’s fitted a piezo sensor on the bottom of each xylophone key, interfacing it with an Arduino. When a mallet hits a key the corresponding box augments the sound in one of several ways. It looks like she’s prototyped a box that twangs a rubber band, one that uses a solenoid to clap mini cymbals together, one that rattles a glass full of beads, another that vibrates a glass full of water, and yet another that rattles a chain.

It’s nice to see how versatile the xylophone is for instrument hacking. Her Flickr set is linked above but we’ve also embedded some prototyping videos after the break.


Motors jumping around when the keys are struck.


Motor vibrating beads in a glass.

34 thoughts on “Augmented Xylophone

  1. “is it really “augmented” if the xylophone no longer functions as a xylophone…? neat idea, but sounds lousy now.”

    Yeah have to agree with that, rubbish sounding xylophone or maybe it was just rubbish to start with…

  2. Wouldn’t it have been easier, and made more sense, to just use a board of regular buttons mounted to sufficiently large plastic tabs? You could still hit them with the mallet if you felt you really had to…

    Just seems like destroying the sound of the original instrument invalidates the need for it in the first place.

  3. Get rid of the piezo sensors. Replace them with reluctance sensors… a solenoid wound on a core and biased with a permanent magnet… like a guitar pickup. This is a clean, non-contact way to detect the xylophone key has been struck. You can get a nice hot signal without damping the movement vibrating metal parts too much.

    BTW, I thought xylophones used wooden tone-making elements. Isn’t that more correctly referred to as a glockenspiel?

  4. When I first saw the title I thought they had it where a mic would pick up the xylophone sounds and create the right non-audible resonant frequency to vibrate the other and create chords. I’d like to see that, as I don’t have the time on my hands to do it, though I’m sure it’s easy to do.

  5. seems to me that the same result could be accomplished with a simple pressure switch and an individual circuit for each key. You will get the same result as whats shown in the videos. This looks more like somebody’s kid is just learning about electronics.

  6. When you said extending a xylophone I thought you meant she had taken the sound and augmented it to extend the range. But I see she has extended it in the direction of motor control instead. Wouldn’t that be a site, to see a robot controlled by xylophone.

  7. Not Impressed, this is the artsy fartsy crowed tries to do electronics. ooooh look what I can do with some wires and an expensive micro controller that does nothing. At least do some programing to do something cool not just on and off. Schmuck

  8. @chrisjohnson2003: I see where you’re coming from with this but I disagree. I think that screwing around like this (I’m not trying to belittle her work) is they way you end up stumbling on a usable and unique concept.

    Most great ideas don’t usually just spring into being but rather are built up over time through trial and error.

  9. Yeah, maybe that post was some bull, but it’s still sortof a cool idea. I think it especially shows promise if you use the piezos as both sensors and transducers, using active feedback to change the characteristics of the xylophone, allot like that new electric guitar that magnetically modulates the strings in addition to sensing their vibrations.

  10. Come on guys, relax a bit. sure its not a giant cyborg hamster with laser eyes and DD cup breasts. But its creative, its a hack, and its inspiring. It makes me want to go buy a toy xylophone.

  11. I like it, the project has split the input device away from the sound engine and given it a new sound engine, could do with something to deaden the noise of the xylophone ‘bars’ as their pitch has been killed already, easily done though, turn the output up on the sound engine part :D

  12. look, if you angry people are just going to criticise, constructive criticism is good, but plain insulting people is shit and not the good shit.

    chill out people, and stop expecting every hack, every day, to be a monster hack, why not just check in once a month, and you might be more impressed, furthermore, if not, find somewhere that doesnt leave you so unhappy..

    about the hack, i like it, its interesting,
    i like how the original sound is kept, but also
    the extra sounds are added

  13. Puts me in mind of the (possibly true) myth that Pink Floyd spent six months working on a follow up to ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ by making instruments themselves out of nails and rubber bands and canibalized toys and things. They gave up and went back to synths in the end but I can’t be the only one who’d be interested in the aborted tracks.

  14. Dunno…

    This is kinda silly.

    A long while ago I took a xylophone glued a touch mic to it’s bottom, with the mic’s cable going through a pitch bender and ends with a 3.5 plug. I later removed the 3.5 and used a large PL instead, and used to feed the signal into delay, reverb, and distortions pedals.
    The mic was really sensitive, so it even picked up my voice singing along, so I didn’t even have to use an extra mic for vox.

  15. Piezos don’t have to kills the sound. You can put them on the nodal point of the bar (where it sits on the frame) and it won’t suck up the sound but in this toy metallophone there isn’t a convenient way to do that.

    Some professional vibraphone pickup systems use one piezo pickup glued to each note (Yes, it’s really fiddly).

    I think the goal of this (class) project was to make a toy, and i think they were successful, it’s just for people to play with for a minute, not for taking to gigs. I think that in that context, the simple connection between the gesture and result is a good thing.

    To the haters: maybe you should send blog posts of *your* augmented xylophones?

    Here’s a blog post about my augmented vibraphone.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.