Adafruit Learning System Weekly Update: Make Magnificent Music

This week on the Adafruit Learning System we are going to take a look at a whole bunch of guides involving music and MIDI. Some of the most creative guides on the Adafruit Learning System. Learn to modify and make your own musical instruments, and learn ways to manipulate sound electronically. But first lets take a look at what’s new on the Adafruit Learning System.

Favorite New Guide

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This week Liz Clark put out a couple amazing DIY instrument guides, which is what got me into digging through the Learning System to see what other music related guides there were out there. This is my favorite guide this week. Learn how to make to make Wireless LED Maracas!

Wireless LEDs look magical but what do they sound like? In this project, you’ll build some maracas with the wireless LEDs acting as both the visual and aural component. You can use them as a fun prop at a concert or add them to your experimental, DIY percussion instrument collection.

Many ways to make magnificent music

Click here for the photography groups page on the Adafruit Learning System.

MIDI Solenoid Drum Kit

Build a MIDI drum kit using solenoids and CircuitPython! 3D print parts to create a solenoid driven mallet to trigger snare drums, cymbals and much more! Use the Adafruit Feather M4 and ULN2803A darlington driver to create your own custom USB MIDI percussion ensemble.

The Feather M4 and ULN2803A darlington driver are fitted onto a Perma-Proto board housed inside a snap fit case. DC jacks on the side of the case allow for plug and play of the solenoids.

DIY your own cymbals, tom toms, snare and kick drum. Use the mallets to hit any surface to make programmable percussion instruments.

To make the kick drum, a solenoid is mounted to a piece of 2020 extrusion that hovers over a practice drum pad. This creates a direct hit and makes a nice ‘thud’.

Wireless BLE MIDI Robot Xylophone

This project converts a xylophone* into a MIDI instrument, but not just any MIDI instrument: a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) MIDI instrument. This means that it can be setup within range of a Bluetooth connection and receive MIDI data without being tied down with a bunch of cables (besides power of course).

30 solenoids sit comfortably over the xylophone keys, waiting to strike up melodies and chords either live with a MIDI keyboard or playing along with MIDI data from a digital audio workstation (DAW). It has a lot of potential as either a live instrument or for some extra fun in the studio.

*Yes, technically this is a bell kit, or glockenspiel, and not a xylophone. However, most people will recognize instruments in the mallet family colloquially as xylophones. Xylophone is also comparatively easier to say and more commonly heard than glockenspiel or bell kit.

MIDI Laser Harp with Time of Flight Distance Sensors

A laser harp is an electronic instrument that lets you “pluck” laser beams like a harp to play notes. In this guide, you’ll learn how to build your own version of a laser harp using a Feather M4 Express or Feather RP2040, a Music Maker FeatherWing and code written in CircuitPython. VL53L4CD time of flight sensors are used to detect when you’re playing a note instead of simply detecting the break-beam. This means we can do cool stuff like use the distance data from the time of flight sensors to convert into different MIDI values such as modulation, sustain and velocity.

We use a Music Maker wing which has audio output from MIDI input and a wide variety of musical instruments it can generate sound effects for, see page 32 of the VS1053 datasheet for a full list! Of course you can also generate MIDI-over-USB signals that can be used to control your favorite software synth.

Light-Up Reactive Ukulele

Ukuleles are little joy machines. They’re easy to play, portable, light, and really inexpensive – you can get a fairly good sounding one for around $40-$50.

This clear plastic ukulele from Kala simply begs to be upgraded with rainbow lights. Craft an over-the top tacky Tiki musical experience for your audience at your next luau.

This LED ukulele goes even further, with loads of customizable animations and a sound reactive mode. Match your animation playlist with your song repertoire, and bring the music to life as your uke pulses along with your strumming.

ALS Deep Cut

With so many guides on the Adafruit Learning System, some amazing guides of years past get buried and lost. ALS Deep Cuts brings these guides back up to the surface. This week’s guide is from back in 2013.

Gemma-Powered NeoPixel LED Sound Reactive Drums

Light up your drums with sound. This guide will help you upgrade your drums to have sound reactive LEDs. This build uses a mic amp sensor and Gemma to light up NeoPixels to the beat of your drums. The cost of this build is considerably lower than other kits. Its also compact, rechargable and mobile!

We made a circuit for a snare, mid-tom, hi-tom and a drum kick. Each drum is independent from one another but can also trigger other pieces if stricken loud enough. Our project cost one third of the price of other led drum kits on the market! There are other tutorials out there that use a Piezo element and several components (capacitors, resistors, timers, etc) but our tutorial is a lot easier to achieve with Adafruit’s low-cost and powerful micro-controllers, sensors and LEDs.


Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.

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