A pentatonic keyboard and synth for encouraging musical experimentation

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Pentasynth uses a keyboard based on a five note pentatonic scale, so it’s easy to play for people with limited background in music (such as young kids) and encourages experimentation and improvisation. Pentasynth creates a user-selectable accompaniment including different drum patterns, bass lines and chord progressions and allows the user to play a pentatonic melody line over the top. Under the hood, Pentasynth runs on an Adafruit Metro Mini (ATmega328 microcontroller) and generates three channel audio (two square-wave tones and one pseudo-random noise drum beat), which is passed through and onboard amplifier and speaker, while simultaneously passing all outputs as MIDI messages via the USB for either a lo-fi or hi-fi audio experience. Pentasynth has controls for volume, tempo and selection of different accompaniment patterns. The keys and case components are 3D printed, with the main case panelling carved from clear acrylic using Carvey.



3D Print and Carve Files:

  • 1 × Adafruit METRO Mini
  • 1 × 3W, 4 Ohm speaker
  • 1 × Mini Breadboard
  • 1 × NPN Transistor, 220 Ohm resistors, potentiometers, buttons

  • Pentasynth in Action!

    randomprojectlab10/07/2018 at 11:30 0 comments

    Here's a little video of me playing around on Pentasynth showing off what it can do:

  • Pentasynth Code and Operation

    randomprojectlab10/07/2018 at 11:28 0 comments

    The Metro is used to read key presses and to output an audio square wave to the amplifier/speaker. The Metro also routes MIDI messages across the USB, so you can have a software synthesizer on a computer/laptop playing the sounds. The code also implements an accompaniment system. This consists of a drum beat, base line pattern and four-step chord progression that runs along at the user selected tempo. The control button for each of the drums/bass/chord is used to cycle through the available patterns: the player can therefore experiment and choose a combination of drums, bass pattern and chord progression that they like and then improvise a melody over the top of this using the keys. A fourth control panel button is used to switch between different pentatonic modes (at this stage either a major or minor pentatonic scale).

    The main keyboard audio square wave runs on Timer 1, accompaniment square wave on Timer 2 and Timer 0 is used to run a pseudo-random noise generator a 1kHz which is used for the accompaniment drum beat. 

  • Designing and Building Pentasynth Electronics

    randomprojectlab10/07/2018 at 11:22 0 comments

    I ended up going with the Adafruit METRO Mini, programmed via the Arduino IDE to run the whole synth. Since there are only 10 keys, I linked each one directly to a digital input pin on the Metro. The remaining inputs are connected to 4 digital inputs and 2 potentiometers which are used to input accompaniment controls, and audio waveforms are output via three different output pins that are then combined together using a voltage divider. This is then run through a simple amplifier circuit using a single transistor and straight into a 3W, 4Ohm speaker on the front panel.

    I 3D printed custom knobs for the potentiometers.

  • Designing and Building Pentasynth Keyboard

    randomprojectlab10/07/2018 at 11:16 0 comments

    I built Pentasynth a few months ago as an experimental project around a musical instrument that could be played by people with limited musical knowledge. My local makerspace had got in some carvable PCB blanks for Carvey last year, and I wanted to try them out. I'd been thinking about making my own 3D printed keyboard, but wanted to find a better way to detect key presses than mounting horrible "clicky" switches under each key. From a salvaged toy guitar, I pulled out a bunch of these little rubber contact things that were used to drive the buttons: I carved my own PCBs to detect the switch presses and glued these rubber contacts into the bottom of some 3D printed keys I designed and made. The resulting feel is quite nice, and no clicky sounds.

    I originally wanted to 3D print the whole case, but it was going to take too long, so I opted to design the case to be carved from clear acrylic on Carvey, a "soft" CNC. The case has a fairly open-plan sort of design, which gives it a bit of a rough look, but I like it. I kept the electronics connected in via a breadboard, so I'd always have the options of swapping and changing things easily in the future.

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