Monday, 5 March 2012

My DIY Arduino MIDI controller - 1. The Arduino

This first post will try to sum up everything I had to learn to get where I'm now: shift registers.

The Arduino
Photo by the Arduino Team
First thing I had to do was to understand what an Arduino is and how it works, how hard it is to get it to send MIDI data out, or to read from various sensors etc.

If you have no idea what an Arduino is, it is a programmable electronic device that can receive or send voltages. Basically you can plug potentiometers, pressure sensors, light dependent resistors, audio signals, etc. to its inputs, and LEDs, motors, LCD displays etc. to its outputs. You can as well get it to communicate to computer programs such as Pure Data, Processing and many more, using its USB port. Of course you can get it to send or receive MIDI data. It is easy to program, the upload is done via USB with the minimal Arduino IDE (Integrated Development Environment).

Some Arduino projects I found interesting on Youtube, that made my brain go crazy and think of all I could do with this little device (actually I couldn't find all the videos I watched then, but I added some other ones that can be inspiring too):

Knowing nothing about electronics I ordered an Arduino starter kit and followed the lessons on That is where you learn the "Hello world" of the Arduino: blinking an LED. That's also where you learn everything you need to get started when you know nothing about micro controllers, computer programming or electronics, and it only takes a few hours.

After spending a couple of hours reading the basic tutorials on the official Arduino site, I learned how to:
- read and display data from a potentiometer, a light dependent resistor, a piezo,
- use a tact switch to increment a counter (useful when you want to use a button to browse through different options),
- communicate with Processing (for a different project).

I also learnt how to solder components on a PCB (Printed Circuit Board) thanks to Bleeplab's Pico Paso, which I ordered as a kit, since soldering will definitely be required, though I might have to deal with wires more than PCBs but it's still good to know the basics of PCB through-hole soldering.

I still need now to learn how to send MIDI data (already did but forgot), and how to connect more sensors, LEDs and switches than what the Arduino normally allows. This is what I'm working on at the moment and I'll post soon about my failures and successes at multiplying the Arduino's ins and outs!

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