MIDI Controller Looks Good, Enables Your Air Guitar Habit

We all want to be guitar heroes, but most of us have to settle for letting a MIDI board play our riffs using a MIDI controller. [Joris] thinks a MIDI controller should look like a cool instrument and thus the Ni28 was born. Honestly, we first thought we were looking at wall art, but on closer look, you can see the fretboard and the soundhole are festooned with buttons.

Actually, they aren’t really buttons. The Ni in the name is because the buttons are nickel-plated brass plates that act like touch switches. There’s virtually no activation force required and you can easily touch more than one plate at a time.

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MIT’s Knitted Keyboard Is Quite A Flexible MIDI Controller

There are only so many ways to make noise on standard instruments such as acoustic pianos. Their rigidity and inputs just don’t allow for a super-wide range of expression. On the other hand, if you knit your interface together, the possibilities are nearly endless. MIT’s new and improved knitted keyboard is an instrument like none other — it responds to touch, pressure, and continuous proximity, meaning that you can play it like a keyboard, a theremin, and something that is somewhere in between the two. Because it’s a MIDI interface, it can ultimately sound like any instrument you’ve got available in software.

The silver keys of this five-octave interface are made of conductive yarn, and the blue background is regular polyester yarn. Underneath that is a conductive knit layer to complete the key circuits, and a piezo-resistive knit layer that responds to pressure and stretch. It runs on a Teensy 4.0 and uses five MPR121 proximity/touch controllers, one per octave.

The really exciting thing about this keyboard is its musical (and physical) versatility. As you might expect, the keyboard takes discrete inputs from keystrokes, but it also takes continuous input from hovering and waving via the proximity sensors, and goes even further by taking physical input from squeezing, pulling, stretching, and twisting the conductive yarns that make up the keys. This means it takes aftertouch (pressure applied after initial contact) into account —  something that isn’t possible with most regular instruments. And since this keyboard is mostly yarn and fabric, you can roll it up and take it anywhere, or wrap it around your neck for a varied soundscape.

If you’re looking for more detail, check out the paper for the previous version (PDF), which also used thermochromic yarn to show different colors for various modes of play using a heating element. With the new version, [Irmandy Wicaksono] and team sought to improve the sensing modalities, knitted aesthetics, and the overall tactility of the keyboard. We love both versions! Be sure to check it out after the break.

Want to play around with capacitive touch sensors without leaving the house for parts? Make your own from paper and aluminum foil.

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Old Phone Becomes MIDI Controller

MIDI controllers come in all shapes and sizes. Commercial products based on keyboards or matrixes of buttons are popular, but there’s nothing stopping you from whipping up your own creations out of whatever strikes your fancy. [Kevin] has done just that, turning an old telephone into a working MIDI device.

The phone in question is a Doro X20 wired landline phone. Being surplus to [Kevin’s] requirements left it ripe for the hacking. A Raspberry Pi Pico was wired in to the phone’s keypad, slimmed down with a hacksaw in order to allow it to neatly fit inside the original enclosure. Then it was a simple matter of whipping up some code to read the buttons and output MIDI data via the Pico’s serial output.

Later, [Kevin] brought the design into the modern world, setting it up to talk USB MIDI using the Pico’s onboard USB hardware. This makes using it with a computer a cinch, and lets [Kevin] control a DAW using the handset controller.

It’s a fun build, and one that shows how you can easily build your own MIDI hardware using nothing but a soldering iron, some buttons, and a modern microcontroller. From there, the sky really is the limit. Whether you like big knobs, easy playing, or have your own personal tastes, you can build what you like to suit your own style. When you do, drop us a line! Video after the break.

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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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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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Sequence Your Beats With The Magic Of Magnets

Typically, when we think of a music sequencer, we envisage LEDs and boards covered in buttons. Of course, there are naturally other ways to build such a device. MesoTune takes a different tack entirely, relying on magnets and rotating mechanisms to get the job done.

MesoTune acts as a MIDI controller, and is designed to be hooked up to a computer or other MIDI synthesizer device. The heart of MesoTune is a set of eight magnet wheels, rotating together on a common shaft. The rotational speed of the shaft, dictated by the requested tempo in beats per minute, is controlled by an Arduino. Each magnet wheel has 16 slots into which the user can place a spherical magnet. Every time a magnet on the wheel passes a hall sensor, it sends a MIDI message to the attached computer which is then responsible for using this to synthesize the relevant sound.

There are other useful features, too. Each of the eight magnet wheels, or channels, gets its own fader, which can be used to control volume or other parameters. There’s also a handy tempo display, and a 16-button touchpad for triggering other events. These additions make it more practical to use in a compositional context, where it’s nice to have extra controls to make changes on the fly.

Made out of 3D printed parts and readily available off the shelf components, it’s a fun alternative sequencer design that we’re sure many makers could whip up in just a weekend. We’d love to see other remixes of the design – if you’ve got one, hit us up at the tipline. We’ve seen other great sequencer builds before, too. Video after the break.

Synthfonio Makes Music Easy Like Sunday Morning

This one goes out to anyone who loves music and feels it in their soul, but doesn’t necessarily understand it in their head. No instrument should stand in the way of expression, but it seems like they all do (except for maybe the kazoo).

[FrancoMolina]’s hybrid synth-MIDI controller is a shortcut between the desire to play music and actually doing it. Essentially, you press one of the buttons along Synthfonio’s neck to set the scale, and play the actual notes by pressing limit switches in the controller mounted on the body. If you’re feeling blue, you can shift to minor scales by pressing the relative minor note’s neck button at the same time as the root note, e.g. A+C=Am. Want to change octaves? Just slide the entire controller up or down for a total of three.

All of these switches are muxed to two Arduinos — an MKR1010 for USB MIDI control, and a bare ‘328 to provide the baked-in synth sounds. Power comes from a stepped-up 18650 that can be charged with an insanely cheap board from that one site. [Franco] has all the code and files available, so go have fun making music without being turned off by a bunch of theory. Push that button there to check out the demo.

If ‘portable’ means pocket-sized to you, then let this mini woodwind MIDI controller take your breath away.

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