Music with an Arduino (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing, Science, and Nature.

Fri, 02 Mar 2012

Music with an Arduino

Working on projects that might be fun for a proposed Arduino high school workshop, I realized I hadn't done much with Arduinos and sound. I'd made clicking noise for my sonar echolocation device, but nothing more than that.

But the Arduino library has a nice function to control a speaker: tone(int pin, int frequency, int length).

tone() works much better than trying to make your own square wave, because it uses interrupts and doesn't glitch when the processor gets busy doing other things. You can leave off the length parameter and the tone will continue until you tell it to stop or change frequency.

Random tones

So you can produce random tones like this (SPEAKER is the pin the speaker is plugged into):

uint8_t SPEAKER = 8;

void setup()
{
    pinMode(SPEAKER, OUTPUT);
    // Seed the random number generator from floating analog pin 0:
    randomSeed(analogRead(0));
}

void loop()
{
    // Random frequency between 20 and 1400 (Hz).
    unsigned long freq = random(20, 1400);
    long duration = random(5, 50);

    tone(SPEAKER, freq, duration);
    delay(random(100, 300));
}

Light theremin

Purely random tones aren't very interesting to listen to, though, as it turns out.

How about taking input from a photo-resistor, to make a light theremin that wails as I move my hand up and down above the sensor? The photoresistor I was using typically reads, on the Arduino, between 110 (with my hand over the sensor) and 800. So I wanted to map that range to audible frequencies the speaker could handle, between about 20 Hz and 5000.

uint8_t LIGHTSENSOR = 0;
void loop()
{
    // Set the frequency according to the light value read off analog pin 0.
#define MAX_SIGNAL 800
#define MAX_FREQ  5000
#define MIN_SIGNAL 380
#define MIN_FREQ    20
    int lightsensor = analogRead(LIGHTSENSOR);
    int freq = (lightsensor - MIN_SIGNAL) 
                * (float)(MAX_FREQ - MIN_FREQ) 
                / (MAX_SIGNAL - MIN_SIGNAL)
               + MIN_FREQ;
    tone(SPEAKER, freq);
}

Random music (chiptunes)

That was fun, but I still wanted to try some random music that actually sounded ... musical. So how about programming the standard scale, and choosing frequencies from that list?

I looked up the frequency for Middle C, then used fractions to calculate the rest of the "just" diatonic scale for C major:

float middle_c = 262.626;
float just[] = { 1., 9./8, 5./4, 4./3, 3./2, 5./3, 15./8 };
#define NUMNOTES (sizeof(just)/sizeof(*just))
float cur_octave = 1.;

Multiplying the frequency by 2 transposes a note up one octave; dividing by two, down one octave. cur_octave will keep track of that.

Now if whichnote is a number from 0 to 7, cur_octave * just[whichnote] * middle_c will give the next frequency to play.

Just choosing notes from this list wasn't all that interesting either. So I adjusted the code to make it more likely to choose a note just one step up or down from the current note, so you'd get more runs.

    rand = random(0, 6);
    if (rand == 0)
        whichnote = (whichnote + 1) % NUMNOTES;
    else if (rand == 1)
        whichnote = (whichnote + 1) % NUMNOTES;
    else
        whichnote = random(0, NUMNOTES);

    float freq = middle_c * just[whichnote];

    // Change octave?
    rand = random(0, 10);
    if (rand == 1 && cur_octave <= 3) {
        cur_octave *= 2.;
    } else if (rand == 2 && cur_octave >= 1) {
        cur_octave /= 2.;
    }
    freq *= cur_octave;

It's still not great music, but it's a fun experiment and I'm looking forward to adding more rules and seeing how the music improves.

Bach

But this left me hungry for real music. What if I wanted to play a real piece of music? Certainly I wouldn't want to type in an array of frequency numbers, or even fractions. I'd like to be able to say A, Ab (for A-flat), Cs (for C-sharp), etc.

So I defined the frequency for each of the notes in the scale:

#define NOTE_Ab 207.652
#define NOTE_A  220.000
#define NOTE_As 233.082
#define NOTE_Bb NOTE_As
#define NOTE_B  246.942
#define NOTE_C  261.626
#define NOTE_Cs 277.183
#define NOTE_Db NOTE_Cs
#define NOTE_D  293.665
#define NOTE_Ds 311.127
#define NOTE_Eb NOTE_Ds
#define NOTE_E  329.628
#define NOTE_F  349.228
#define NOTE_Fs 369.994
#define NOTE_Gb NOTE_Fs
#define NOTE_G  391.995
#define NOTE_Gs 415.305

#define NOTE_REST     0.0
#define NOTE_SUSTAIN -1.0

Then the first part of Bach's 2-part invention #4 in D minor looks like this:

float composition[] = {
    NOTE_D, NOTE_E, NOTE_F, NOTE_G, NOTE_A*2, NOTE_As*2,
    NOTE_Db, NOTE_As*2, NOTE_A*2, NOTE_G, NOTE_F, NOTE_E,
    NOTE_F, NOTE_REST, NOTE_A*2, NOTE_REST, NOTE_D*2, NOTE_REST,
    NOTE_G, NOTE_REST, NOTE_Cs*2, NOTE_REST, NOTE_E*2, NOTE_REST,

    NOTE_D*2, NOTE_E*2, NOTE_F*2, NOTE_G*2, NOTE_A*4, NOTE_As*4,
    NOTE_Db*2, NOTE_As*4, NOTE_A*4, NOTE_G*2, NOTE_F*2, NOTE_E*2,
};

And the code to play it looks like:

    unsigned long note = composition[i++];
    if (note == NOTE_REST)
        noTone(SPEAKER);
    else if (note == NOTE_SUSTAIN)
        ;      // Don't do anything, just let the current tone continue
    else
        tone(SPEAKER, note);

It's a bit tedious to type in the notes one by one like that, which is why I stopped when I did. And as far as I know, the Arduino can only emit one tone at once -- to play the real 2-part invention, you either need a second Arduino, or extra hardware like a wave shield.

Anyway, it was a fun series of experiments, even if none of it produces great music. You can see the source at github: akkana/arduino/music.

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[ 18:54 Mar 02, 2012    More hardware | permalink to this entry | comments ]
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