Light Up MIDI Drums

A prototype by Flynn Cooper

2nd Best Overall Arduino and SOLIDWORKS Design Project,
Mechanical Engineering Freshman Class, UCSB

The Problem

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If a rock band clicked play and jumped around while their instruments sat unused, they wouldn't be a band.

Why then do most EDM artists press play on their multi-thousand dollar setups, tweak a few knobs here and there, and sit back, occasionally engaging in lame dance moves? It's because they don't have the performance tools they need. While EDM's knobs, cables, and buttons are cool and can be extraordinarily powerful when used correctly, they lack the raw musicality and visual appeal of traditional instruments in concert. There is a rawness to huge drum fills, headbanging guitar strikes, and epic piano chords that is lost is the digital world of EDM. The future of electronic music really just needs a bit of inspiration from the past.

The Solution

A light up MIDI drum that can trigger kicks, snares, vocal chops, or anything at all

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The final prototype

Combining digital music with analog performance, these light up MIDI drums convey the power and rhythm of traditional drums while adding the digital capability of modern MIDI instruments. Simply plug in any from one to eight drums to your computer and trigger any sound you can imagine. Epic drum fills, deep dubstep growls, melodic vocal chops, or even beautiful piano chords can be played on the velocity sensitive rubber surface. Bright LED lights can be customized to flash any color to further add to the rhythm and emotion of the music.

The Design

Initial concept generation and sketching

Taking advantage of laser cutting

When I first came up with the concept for the drum, I envisioned a traditional cylindrical shape. However, when I eventually had to think realistically about manufacturing my prototype, I realized that machining a beautiful round metal drum was way out of my budget. Instead, I had to rethink my design to work with a more affordable manufacturing method: laser cutting.

At first, this limitation was challenging to overcome; I really wanted the drum to look like a drum. However, after a lot of sketching, I realized that a more industrial look could work. I decided to embrace the limitations of laser cutting and went with a boxy design that highlighted it's laser cut origin. This decision translated to many aspects of the design. While I could have relied on glue for the construction, I went with a tabbed design that slotted together with twelve machine screws. This increased the rigidity and durability of the drum while adding to the industrial aesthetic I was after.

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T-slots allowed for a secure connection between the base and top

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The tabs and bolts reduced reliance on glue, increasing strength

An expandable, modular design

Even though I was only building one drum for the initial prototype, I wanted a design that could incorporate more drums in the future. As such, I build a separate control module that could easily be upgraded to communicate with multiple drums. Using a Mini DIN 6 pin cable, the module can send four channels of RGB power and receive input from the piezo sensor for each drum.

This system greatly reduces the cost for a multi-drum set up as no additional electronics would need to be purchased; the STM32 chip can be configured to control multiple LED strips, the power supply can be upgraded to support the increased amperage requirements, and the Arduino can support up to 8 piezo analog inputs. This design also makes connecting to a computer very easy. One USB connection sets up a class compliant MIDI connection that sends velocity encoded notes and receives continuous control signals from a DAW like Ableton or FL Studio.

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A computer connection, power supply, and drum connection

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Powered by an Arduino Micro and STM32 chip

Fast setup and accurate drumming

Because of the modular design, setting up the drums is very fast. After plugging the control module into power, connecting it to the computer, and connecting each of the drums with the Mini DIN cable, the user can start drumming. A single piezo sensor can detect the intensity of each drum strike and sends that information as a velocity sensitive midi note to the computer with very low latency. This, in combination with a rubber drumming surface, results in a realistic and enjoyable drumming experience.

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A single cable connection from the drum to control module

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A piezo sensor under a tripple layer drumming surface

CAD Modeling

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A render with the LEDs

One of the most time consuming parts of the project was modeling all of the components in SOLIDWORKS. Even though I spent a lot of time sketching, I under estimated how many revisions I would need to make on the computer. However, all this effort payed off when I got the laser cut parts in the mail and they slotted together perfectly!

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The complete drum assembly

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The drum housing