Brad Giorio

Robo Drummer

This project is really just a basic concept using electronics to produce sound. This particular project will produce a drum sound. Musicians have always been trying to find better and original sounds. That is what makes the band or the musician sound different from the rest and separates their style of playing. There are different ways of approaching music, for instance: playing, recording, listening to, creating instruments etc... In this case I will be trying to simulate a drum player by actually hitting a real drum head using electronics. The reason for doing this is because there are no high quality substitutions for replacing a real drum player on the market today. There are many other options other than using a real drummer, such as using a drum machine or a sampler. However, the drum machine and the sampler never sound as good as a real drummer and this is why I have created the Robo Drummer

Most people that play an instrument never really stop and think about the mechanics that are involved when they practice their instrument. They keep practicing until they get it right or they move on to a new piece of music to learn. Up until the late 19th century this is exactly what every musician had to do to become somewhat good at the instrument they played. This meant that every time someone wanted to listen to music they would need to have someone play the piece of music for them. Most families before the 19th had someone that could play an instrument fairly well. What if that person what sick or did not want to play? It could lead to an argument.

One of the first inventions involving an instrument to play itself was the Player Piano. It was invented in 1895 in Detroit by Edwin Votey and no doubt because he wanted to hear the music of the piano anytime he wanted. The Player Piano used air to play the instrument. It became very popular for about 30 years because it did not need to have an actual person to play the music for the listener. However because of the depression of the 1920's and 1930's and the ability to record music onto an album the Player Piano sales slowly dwindled. There was not much interest in instruments that played themselves due to the record player or gramophone. No one needed to have an instrument play itself when you could listen to an entire orchestra or jazz band on a record player. Even though the gramophone was invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison the microphones and the record player needed to be improved. Also these pieces of equipment were expensive. Not until the 1970's with the new invention of the computer on the market did people revisit the idea of instruments playing themselves. This was the time when few people understood the power of the computer and what its potential for music really was. The time had changed from using air in the early 1900's to the use of the computer in the 1970's. This is where we see a microchip using computer code or language to decode a signal to play an instrument with the use of solenoids.

Before we dive into the solenoids there were many micro chips that could decode signals but there was no standard for a musical code that would carry messages until 1983. This standardization of code was called 'MIDI' (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). Many musical companies had their own proprietary code, which meant that they could not be used with any other company's instruments. Consumers started to complain that all of their gear would have to be bought from one company if they wanted compatibility, hence the reason for the invention of MIDI. MIDI made each company adhere to the guide lines or protocols of using a universal code. This allowed consumers to use instruments purchased from any company that was MIDI compatible.

The solenoid is a device that when current is applied to it will push or pull a rod up or down. It is used for many applications for example: circuit breakers, machine tools, door locks, pumps etc... In the case of this project the solenoid is used for striking a drum head. The first automatic mechanical percussion instrument was invented in the 1970's. It was the first time solenoids and not air, were used to play an instrument. By using pulse width modification the solenoid could achieve or perform at different volumes. This is known as touch sensitivity. Having control over how hard the solenoid rod would hit the instrument would give the sense of an actual person playing the instrument. Some examples of the using the solenoid on a percussive instrument are: woodblocks, cowbells, chimes, xylophone, cymbals etc...

There have been many mechanical inventions used for music since the 1970's. Through the last 40 years computers, microcontrollers, solenoids and other electronic components have become inexpensive allowing the use of solenoids to become part of the musical creation. It has not been made for the general consumer though, but I cannot see why it would not be in the future./p>

Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) is the one of the best innovations in the history of musical electronics. Introduced in 1983, MIDI standards were designed to control communications between different types of devices, such as synthesizers, samplers, drum machines, computers, tape recorders and other devices. MIDI compatible devices are having a direct effect on the evolution of music. Available at first only to the 'elite', these devices have since come into everyday use. This has given rise to a household production tool, called the 'home studio.'

Creating distinct drum tones is crucial part of a band. If you don't have the drum sound you want or need then your over all sound in your band will be different. MIDI is useful for creating all kinds of sounds, but MIDI triggered drum sounds do not sound like a real stick hitting a real drum head. By creating the ROBO DRUMMER this will permit you to get the sound you want from a real drum head. Also if you do not play drums well you can use MIDI to program the solenoids to hit the drums and have the timing and the sound you need for your song you are writing or playing along with. There is a lot of force that will come from the solenoid hitting the skin of the drum, so the mount needs to be able to hold the solenoid in place and withstand the force.

All parts of the project, including both the electrical and the mechanical, will have minimal interference when listening to the sound of the drum being hit by the solenoid.

The ROBO DRUMMER must be designed to drive the solenoid arm down to hit the drum head and be able to effectively decode an incoming MIDI signal. The MIDI signal will come from a MIDI sequencer or a computer with MIDI software such as Protools by Avid, or Sonar by Roland. The overall project will give the musician control of real acoustic drums instead of using sampled or synthetic sounding drum tones.