Kwese - musical instrument

Shelved this one to work on other things - kept for sentimental reasons

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A musical instrument that uses touch sensing as input. Based around an ATMega328, this has a bunch of wires that can be plugged into conductive things like play-dough or fruit and used to make music. There are two versions - one sends data about which inputs are being touched to a computer or pc, which generates midi messages and synthesises nice quality sound. The other uses the VS1053 chip to generate the sound on-board. Both have a really low BOM cost, and because I based it around the ATMega this can be easily replicated by anyone with an Arduino and a few bucks. Because it calibrates at startup, there isn't a size limit on what you use as an input, and it remains sensitive without the need for you to hold a separate wire to ensure accurate sensing. Will post code for this soon

This idea origionally came out of Startup Weekend Zimbabwe (we won!) and my team have agreed to let me release this openly rather than try to make money off it. Now that I have working prototypes for both the bluetooth version and the stand-alone one I will be putting together my videos for my THP prize entry. After this, I am hoping to partner with a local business to get these manufactured and into some schools and childrens homes here in Zimbabwe, where hopefully it will allow people who have never seen a piano or are incapable of playing an ordinary instrument to experience music. I am learning KiCAD and working on getting the boad files ready so that I can upload them to circuithub and get an idea of cost. If anyone is wanting to contribute then helping with the schematics would great - I am short of spare time for this :) Advice and comments welcome!

  • 1 × ATMega328 Microprocessors, Microcontrollers, DSPs / ARM, RISC-Based Microcontrollers
  • 1 × Bluetooth module (HC-06)
  • 12 × 1M resistors
  • 1 × Battery holder 3xAA
  • 2 × 22pF capacitors

View all 13 components

  • Ready for entry

    johnowhitaker08/19/2014 at 11:39 0 comments

    This project seems to be pretty much ready for this round of the Hackaday Prize. Adding this project log to show how it fulfills the requirements

    Video: Done

    4 Project logs: Done :)

    Open: Hesitant to specify a licence - I used a snippet of code from someone elses work, and I still have to track down the source (somewhere in my browser history) before I confirm the licence. However, assume everything is MIT licenced for now - pretty much everything is my own and I want to see it being used to do cool stuff :)

    Connected: It has bluetooth! This is definitely meaningful as it allows musicians to go a lot more in-depth - custom note configurations, triggering system events on a PC when the right tune is played etc etc. 

    Manufacturable: Should be easy and low-cost to manufacture, provided it's possible to source the VS1053 chip in quantity (for the standalone sound synthesis). I am aiming to get kicad files up on as soon as I have them ready.

    Innovative: Kind of :) haven't seen anything quite like this before... And no, it's nothing like a makey-makey - touch is different, use case is different, cost is different, name is different etc etc :P

    Replicatable: VERY - although my version uses a bare AtMega328, I have instructions for making one with an arduino, 8 1M resistors and a sparkfun musical instrument shield - hardly unobtanium, and very easy. However, it's much cheaper to build the bluetooth version on strip-board, and for under $10 you have a fun new toy to play with :)

    Space worthy? Honestly, no. I think there are other, better projects out there that deserve first prize. However, most of them are complex and expensive, with many ways to go wrong. This is a cheap, fun, educational device that can be helping kids enjoy music a few months after someone with $$$ notices it, so maybe it's worth consideration after all :)

    I think that pretty much sums it up! THP is such a cool idea and even if I go away with a T-shirt or just a digital pat-on-the-back, I will still have benefitted hugely - it got me off my backside and documenting something for once :) thank you Hackaday!

  • Proper entry video :P

    johnowhitaker08/17/2014 at 15:47 0 comments

    Well, it took a day to upload and process but it's up :) I did one longer vid instead of two. The sign I keep holding up says 'subtle hint'  - couldn't resist :p

    The kwese in the video is actually the standalone version for ease of setup - arduino + musical instument shield + 10 resistors (1M) and some wires all twisted together. I'm hoping to get schematics for the bluwetooth version up in the next few weekends. Anyone with a kicad file with a cheap bluetooth communications solution for an arduino-ish thing please share - it would save tons of time :) I hope to have this thing ready to be manufactured on circuithub sooner or later :)

  • Video

    johnowhitaker07/10/2014 at 15:46 1 comment

    So I finally managed to get a video onto youtube - only took 2 hours :) The video quality is rubbish but there you go :) This is my video for the hackaday prize so it is mainly me talking, but I do show off the current prototypes and play a little bit. Not sure what else I need for the contest at the moment - any advise from judges or fellow hackers much appreciated :) I will hopefully put together a text tutorial on my personal website, which I will post when it's ready. I also need to update the build instructions...

  • On board sound synthesis

    johnowhitaker07/02/2014 at 12:48 0 comments

    I got in touch with a very helpfull representative of VLSI solutions, who was good enough to send me some VS1053B chips. I also ordered the sparkfun musical instrument shield that has this same chip nicely broken out. This means that it can be a standalone device of people want. This is very important to me - I am hoping to find a company willing to sponsor the manufacture of some of these to go into schools and homes here in Zimbabwe, where hopefully they will let people who have never played music before experiance something new. I will upload all the code and a video some time tomorrow, once everything is polished. The sound quality of the VS1053 isn't brilliant but definitely good enough for everything I have in mind, and it only costs around $5 in reasonable quantity which, condidering that it negates the need for serial USB or bluetooth, isn't bad. 

View all 4 project logs

  • 1
    Step 1

    First, it will help to build this with an arduino and then switch to the barebones chip version. Thus, you need an Arduino (Uno in this case), 10 1M resistors, a bit of wire and some protoboard (optional) to begin.

  • 2
    Step 2

    Each input needs to be tied to +5V for the capacitive sensing to work. You can test it out by wiring a pin (e.g. pin 5) to a wire (the input) and to 5V via a 1M resistor. Then upload the sketch at

  • 3
    Step 3

    You should now be able to see a bunch of stuff streaming by when you open the serial console. Touch your input and one line of 0's should turn into 1's. Take note of what the serial port name is - it will be needed in the next step.

View all 8 instructions

Enjoy this project?



Greg Kennedy wrote 08/21/2014 at 15:44 point
Your first video is private now : )

  Are you sure? yes | no

johnowhitaker wrote 08/22/2014 at 06:09 point
I don't think the internet is missing out :P
The quality and everything was so bad, and the newer video covers pretty much everything the first one did anyway, so I got rid of it :)

  Are you sure? yes | no

Adam Fabio wrote 06/19/2014 at 04:19 point
Thanks for entering Kwese in The Hackaday Prize! Anything that brings the joy of music creation to the masses is a huge win as far as I'm concerned!
We're about to start our community judging, so get your pictures, schematics, and documents all set!

  Are you sure? yes | no

johnowhitaker wrote 06/19/2014 at 04:58 point
Will do! Is a video necessary at this point?

  Are you sure? yes | no

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