A DIY MIDI Wind Controller

MIDI is more than just keyboards and a matrix of buttons that plays samples; there are MIDI controllers for virtually every instrument that has ever existed, from guitars to harps and even woodwinds. [J.M.] didn’t like the features found in existing wind MIDI controllers, so he’s building his own with features that put it far beyond any commercial offering.

Woodwind MIDI controllers are relatively simple; put a pressure sensor in the mouthpiece and turn that data into note on and note off commands. A few buttons, or in [J.M.]’s case, resistive touch sensors, are easily mapped to different fingerings and notes for the instrument. An Arduino Nano takes care of all this hardware, and a 2.4 GHz radio module to communicate wirelessly to a base station.

Once at the base station, the MIDI data can be output to any number of synths and computers, but [J.M.] added a MIDI codec chip right in the device to play with only a set of headphones. It doesn’t sound great – about the same as an old Sound Blaster card – but with the mod and expression control a wind controller offers, it’s more than passable as a real woodwind.

Videos below.

16 thoughts on “A DIY MIDI Wind Controller

  1. “It doesn’t sound great – about the same as an old Sound Blaster card ”

    Say what?!
    The second video sounds pretty good to me?

    A controller sounds as good as the synth it’s connected to.

    1. Back in the 90’s on my Packard Bell Pentium 75mhz with 8megs of ram, I ran some yamaha called their “Soft Synthesizer”. The Midi’s you pushed through that software sounded AMAZING, try it out if you can find it :)

    1. Hmmm…. the shirt (Dad’s Against Daughters Dating) is more of a statement about young men (and their proclivities to young women) then about my daughter’s free will. I certainly don’t mean to offend any one out there by it, it’s meant as a joke about how protective I am over my two young daughters. I didn’t think that a shirt like that would truly offend anyone… and I am sorry if that was the case.

  2. This is a really interesting product, I’ll keep an eye on this one. Never got used to the cheap look of the brand ones (they might look better now, tho) this way you go as far as you want with the design.

  3. The thing with instruments in a classical form is that it’s not all about pressure, the reed makes sound and has specific properties.

    Also designing this thing needs some planning in how to bleed off pressure and the timing of it, and to prevent jittery input I expect? that’s the interesting part.

    Anyway it’s interesting and I was always thinking of making this kind of thing myself.
    And I saw a sensor like that on sale recently..

    1. You are quite correct that is not just about air pressure. On most woodwinds you have air pressure, lip pressure, interior mouth cavity size, and air velocity that all contribute to the sound coming out of the horn. In most cases learning how to ‘play’ the instrument details keeping the right pitch and sound coming out of the horn for the given note. A lot of that can be made ‘easier’ with the electronic instrument but you have to be careful to not lose the character or tone that you want generated. It’s not just a keyboard. But adding things like modulation control, custom CC messages and such really help you be able to express yourself.

      A lot of magic of this instrument occurs in the software on the microcontroller, which smoothly adjusts the breath amount and keeps the jittering down as well as the glitching caused by fingering timing, and even more processing on the computer based synth.

      1. Well I get it, man. Having actually owned many of the ghastly incarnations of factory produced wind controllers (and later selling them), They only have so much “give” in the initial measurement settings. If you build one that you absolutely know the limitations of, there becomes less limitations (allow myself to introduce myself lol). Fingering also comes into play on this as musicians have nuanced differences of how they lay their fingers, velocity, etc that can vary along the instrument (making their instructors cringe lol) but that again would be lessened by having a sensor that is looking for a narrowed range of values. Not much different than getting it bored out a bit if you think about it. Anyhoo, kudos to you on your build and jam session :) Keep on tinkering :) I may have to give it a try once the snow hits the ground up here and the PICs and avrs come back out to my desk.
        As far as the guff from the shirt goes, the person is just ignorant. They probably parade theirs around with PINK stamped on their swimsuit areas smh, which makes your shirt comedically necessary, while also giving Maury Povich seasons of shows to come ;)

  4. It is a fairly big card and requires 5V along with +/-12V but if you can find a Creative Wave Blaster MIDI expansion board for their old sound cards then you’ll get a much better synth than this little VLSI chip. The interface is quite simple and you get stereo line outputs. The interface was adopted by several manufacturers so you’re not restricted to the official Creative Labs one.

  5. I was at a Celtic music festival in Brittany and there were some stalls selling traditional instruments. As a silly joke I said to a stall holder that I was looking for some midi bag pipes. I couldn’t believe it when the guy straight faced said so and so in the stall over there has one! Apparently very popular for beginners who are under threat of gruesome murder by their suffering neighbours.

  6. I have had 13 electronic wind controllers: 7 Akai EWI 5000s, 3 Roland AE-10s, 2 Yamaha WX5s, and 1 Yamaha WX11. The Yamahas work great but they are all over 25 years old, are beginning to break, and Yamaha no longer makes them.

    All, repeat all, of the EWI 5000s and the AE-10s do not work: notes buzz, detune, deprogram, etc. The EWI 5000 uses capacitance switching, the AE-10 has mechanical switching. The only thing they have in common is me and my environment. Me: I want and need them to work. That leaves environment. I play professionally, so I’ve played in a wide variety of venues–they all fail and there is nothing environmentally common except I am at 5,300′.

    I’m curious about the breath sensor: is it vented or unvented? Have you (anyone reading this) experienced problems related to how the breath sensor work and issues with venting or elevation?

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