Ask MAKE: Turning Heartbeats into Drum Beats

Pulse Sensor Kit

David asks:

I got your heat rate monitor and I’m planning to use it in a part of my live show where I bring an audience member up on stage and use their heartbeat as the kick drum that we then play along to for a song.

I’m not at all familiar with Arduino or Processing code. I need the simplest way to get the signal to an iPad or iPhone sampler so the heartbeat can be the trigger. Something to convert the signal to midi i think. Do you or do you know anyone who might be able to help me build this?

Hi David,
Using a pulse sensor (now available in the Maker Shed) to translate into a drum beat is certainly possible. The pulse sensor can be plugged into the Arduino and then translated as MIDI data through the Arduino’s serial port. Check out this Arduino Playground page to learn more details. You can also take a look at this tutorial to familiarize yourself with the process. Once you’ve done this, the serial data can be used as an input for lots of different audio programs that accept MIDI.

If wiring directly to the pins of a MIDI plug is a problem, I suggest picking up a MIDI shield from Sparkfun, which has all the necessary hardware to do the job in a more plug-and-play fashion while connecting directly to the pins on your Arduino.

I hope this helps you get started. If readers have additional suggestions, please post them in the comments section.


2 thoughts on “Ask MAKE: Turning Heartbeats into Drum Beats

  1. Drums Beat says:

    Using heartbeats to play drum beats is a great experiment.

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In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens' educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.

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