Compose Any Song With Twelve Buttons

Limitations placed on any creative process often paradoxically create an environment in which creativity flourishes. A simple overview of modern pop, rock, or country music illustrates this principle quite readily. A bulk of these songs are built around a very small subset of music theory, often varying no more than the key or the lyrics. Somehow, almost all modern popular music exists within this tiny realm. [DeckerEgo] may have had this idea in mind when he created this tiny MIDI device which allows the creation of complex musical scores using a keyboard with only 12 buttons.

The instrument is based around the Adafruit MacroPad, which is itself built on the RP2040 chip. As a MIDI device, it needs to be connected to a computer running software which can support MIDI instruments, but once its assembled and given its firmware, it’s ready to rock. A musician can select one of any number of musical scales to operate within, and the 12 keys on the pad are mapped to the 12 chromatic notes within that scale. It can also be used to generate drum tracks or other backing tracks to loop before being used to create melodies as well.

[DeckerEgo] took a bit of inspiration from an even simpler macro pad we featured before which is based around the idea that a shockingly high number of songs use the same four chords. His macro pad includes creation of chord progressions as well, but expands on that idea to make more complete compositions possible. And, for those looking to build their own or expand on this project, he has also made all of the source code available on his GitHub page.

14 thoughts on “Compose Any Song With Twelve Buttons

    1. Yup, true. The 4chord MIDI helps you pick the right notes by automatically picking chord progressions for you (so you can build harmonies) or by highlighting which notes fit inside a scale (so you can build melodies).

      As an example, you can put it in “progression” mode and pick the I IV vi V scale, then the triads for each chord are mapped to each row on the Macropad. Or you can select the “scale” mode and pick the pentatonic scale, then only the five notes of that scale are highlighted (although all remain available).

  1. I’ve had a tune stuck in my head for years – but been unable to reproduce it, due to my total lack of music skills or knowledge. Even with tools like this, I strongly doubt I could do it.

    1. You might be able to… pick a chord progression and then go through each root note (would be the left-most column on the Macropad). After trying out a few progressions you may find it maps to what’s in your head!

  2. So it’s a kind of Launchpad Pro but with less function, less performance, no guarantee of support and you have to build yourself… Ok so I’ll stick to my Launchpad Pro, I prefer to spend my time making music than having to debug a project…

    1. It’s not really intended to be similar to a Launchpad or Launchpad Pro – it’s intended to be more like a teeny-tiny MIDI keyboard that has shortcuts for common patterns & progressions. I would say it is more like a Stream Deck except for MIDI…

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