Four Steppers Make A Four-Voice MIDI Instrument

Any owner of a budget 3D printer will tell you that they can be pretty noisy devices, due to their combinations of stepper motors and drives chosen for cost rather than quiet. But what if the noise were an asset, could the annoying stepper sound be used as a musical instrument? It’s a question [David Scholten] has answered with the Stepper Synth, a device that takes an Arduino Uno and four stepper motors to create a four-voice MIDI synthesiser.

Hardware-wise it’s as simple as you’d expect, a box with four stepper motors each with a red 3D-printed flag on its shaft to show rotation. Underneath there is the Arduino, plus a robot control shield and a set of stepper driver boards. On the software side it uses MIDI-over-serial, so as a Windows user his instructions for the host are for that operating system only. The Arduino makes use of the Arduino MIDI library, and he shares tips on disabling the unused motors to stop overheating.

You can hear it in action in the video below the break, and we’re surprised to say it doesn’t sound too bad. There’s something almost reminiscent of a church organ in there somewhere, it would be interesting to refine it with an acoustic enclosure of some kind.

This isn’t the first such instrument we’ve brought you, for a particularly impressive example take a look at the Floppotron.

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Forgotten Rock Band Drum Controller As A MIDI Instrument

Happen to have an old Rock Band drum controller collecting dust in your living room? If you also have a spare Arduino and don’t mind parting with that plastic college memento then you’ve got the bulk of what could potentially be your new percussive MIDI instrument. In his project video [Evan Kale] outlines the steps necessary to turn that unloved plastic into a capable instrument for recording.

The whole process as outlined by [Evan] in under seven minutes. This looks like a great weekend endeavor for those of us just starting out with MIDI. After cracking the back of the Guitar Hero drum kit controller open, the main board within is easily replaced with a standard sized Ardunio (which matches the present mounting holes exactly). About 4:50 into the video [Evan] explains how to add a basic perf-board shield over the Arduino which connects the piezo sensors in each of the drum pads to the analog pins of the micro-controller. The MIDI jack that comes built into the back of the kit can also be reused as MIDI out when wired to the Arduino’s serial out pin. By adjusting [Evan’s] example code you can dial in the instrument’s feedback to match the intensity of each hit.

The video with all of the details is after the jump. Or you can check out a MIDI hack that goes the other way and uses a drum kit as a Guitar Hero or Rock Band controller instead

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Guitar Hero As An Instrument Or Midi Controller

[Robert] wrote a program using Max/MSP that lets him make music with his guitar hero controller. There’s another video after the break where he walks through the various features but here’s the gist of it. This works on Mac and Windows and allows a sort of ‘live play’ or midi mapping mode. In the midi mode each key can be configured to do your bidding. His example uses the pick bar to scroll through different samples and the green button the play them or the red button to stop.

The live mode us much more involved. In the software you choose the type of scale and the key you’d like to play in. This makes up for the controller’s lack of enough frets to make it a chromatic instrument and these settings can be adjust from the controller. There is an up-pick offset that makes the upward movement of the pick bar a different note than the downward movement. The motion control can also be used as an input. He demonstrates pitch bending and cutoff using that method.

This looks like a lot of fun. He needs to team up with [Joran] to add drums to the mix, forming a much more creative rock band than you can buy in the store.

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Starshine Is A MIDI Controller For The Musically Shy

What keeps people from playing music? For one thing, it’s hard. But why is it hard? In theory, it’s because theory is confusing. In practice, it’s largely because of accidentals, or notes that sound sour compared to the others because they aren’t from the same key or a complementary key.

What if there were no accidentals? Instruments like this exist, like the harmonica and the autoharp. But none of them look as fun to play as [Bardable]’s Starshine, the instrument intended to be playable by everyone. The note buttons on the outside are laid out and programmed such that [Bardable] will never play off-key.

We love the game controller form factor, which was also a functional choice. On the side that faces the player, there’s a PSP joystick and two potentiometers for adding expression with your thumbs. The twelve buttons on this side serve several functions like choosing the key and the scale type depending on the rocker switch position. A second rocker lets [Bardable] go up or down an octave on the fly. There’s also an OLED to show everything from the note being played to the positions of the potentiometers. If you want to know more, [Bardable] made a subreddit for this and other future instruments, and has a full tour video after the break.

If this beginner-friendly MIDI controller isn’t big enough for you, check out Harmonicade’s field of arcade buttons.

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MIDI Slide Whistle Shows The Value Of A Proper Fipple

We pride ourselves on knowing the proper terms for everyday things: aglet, glabella, borborygmi, ampersands. But we have to confess to never having heard of a “fipple” before finding this interesting MIDI-controlled slide whistle, where we learned that the mouthpiece of a penny whistle or a recorder is known as a fipple. The more you know.

This lesson comes to us by way of a Twitter post by [The Mixed SIgnal], which showed off the finished mechanism in a short video and not much else. We couldn’t leave that alone, so we reached out for more information and were happy to find that [The Mixed SIgnal] quickly posted a build log on Hackaday.io as well as the build video below.

The slide whistle is a homebrew version of the kind we’ve all probably annoyed our parents with at one time or another, with a 3D-printed fipple (!) and piston, both of which go into a PVC tube. Air is supplied to the pipe with a small centrifugal blower, while a 3D-printed rack and pinion gear of unusual proportions moves the piston back and forth. An Arduino Due with a CNC shield controls the single stepper motor. The crude glissandos of this primitive wind instrument honestly are a little on the quiet side, especially given the racket the stepper and rack and pinion make when queuing up a new note. Perhaps it needs more fipple.

While the humble author is new to fipple-isms, luckily the Hackaday editors see all and know that there two epic hacks featuring fipples to create bottle organs. These are far from the first weirdest instruments we’ve seen — a modulin, a Wubatron, and the Drum-Typeulator all fit that bill well. But we like what [The Mixed Signal] has done here, and we’re looking forward to more.

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Less Rock, More Roll: A MIDI Barrel Piano

Strolling around a park, pedestrian zone, or tourist area in any bigger city is rarely complete without encountering the sound of a barrel organ — the perfect instrument if arm stamina and steady rotation speed are your kind of musical skills. Its less-encountered cousin, and predecessor of self-playing pianos, is the barrel piano, which follows the same playing principle: a hand-operated crank rotates a barrel, and either pins located on that barrel, or punched paper rolls encode the strings it should pluck in order to play its programmed song. [gabbapeople] thought optocouplers would be the perfect alternative here, and built a MIDI barrel piano with them.

Keeping the classic, hand-operated wheel-cranking, a 3D-printed gear mechanism rolls a paper sheet over a plexiglas fixture, but instead of having holes punched into it, [gabbapeople]’s piano has simple markings printed on them. Those markings are read by a set of Octoliner modules mounted next to each other, connected to an Arduino. The Octoliner itself has eight pairs of IR LEDs and phototransistors arranged in a row, and is normally used to build line-following robots, so reading note markings is certainly a clever alternative use for it.

Each LED/transistor pair represents a dedicated note, and to prevent false positives from neighboring lines, [gabbapeople] 3D printed little collars to isolate each of the pairs. Once the signals are read by the Arduino, they’re turned into MIDI messages to send via USB to a computer running any type of software synthesizer. And if your hands do get tired, you can also crank it with a power drill, as shown in the video after the break, along with a few playback demonstrations.

It’s always fun to see a modern twist added to old-school instruments, especially the ones that aren’t your typical MIDI controllers, like a harp, a full-scale church organ, or of course the magnificently named hurdy-gurdy. And for more of [gabbapeople]’s work, check out his split-flip weather display.

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Raspberry Pi Plays A MIDI Tune Wherever You May Roam

MIDI controller keyboards are great because they let you control any synthesizer you plug them into. The only downside: you need a synthesizer to turn MIDI notes into actual sounds, slightly complicating some summer night campfire serenading. Not for [Geordie] though, who decided to build the nanoPi, a portable, MIDI instrument housing a Raspberry Pi.

Using a Korg nanoKEY2 USB MIDI controller as base for the device, [Geordie] took it apart and added a Raspberry Pi Zero W, a power bank to, well, power it, and a USB hub to connect a likewise added USB audio interface, as well as the controller itself. As the nanoKEY2 has a naturally slim shape, none of this would ever fit in it, so he designed and 3D printed a frame to extend its height. Rather than wiring everything up internally, he decided to route the power and data cable to the outside and connect them back to the device itself, allowing him to use both the power bank and the controller itself separately if needed.

On the software side, the Pi is running your common open source software synthesizer, Fluidsynth. To control Fluidsynth itself — for example to change the instrument — [Geordie] actually uses the Termius SSH client on his phone, allowing him also to shut down the Pi that way. While Fluidsynth’s built-in MIDI router could alternatively remap the nanoKEY2’s additional buttons, it appears the functionality is limited to messages of the same type, so the buttons’ Control Change messages couldn’t be remapped to the required Program Change messages. Well, there’s always the option to fit some extra buttons if needed. Or maybe you could do something clever in software.

As you may have noticed, the nanoPi doesn’t include any speaker — and considering its size, that’s probably for the best. So while it’s not a fully standalone instrument, it’s a nice, compact device to use with your headphones anywhere you go. And thanks to its flexible wiring, you could also attach any other USB MIDI controller to it, such as this little woodwind one, or the one that plays every pop song ever.

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