Building a drum machine with low-cost tangible interface (d-touch drum machine)

Picture of Building a drum machine with low-cost tangible interface (d-touch drum machine)
The d-touch drum machine is a drum machine with a tangible user interface: you can make music by placing and arranging physical objects on an A4 piece of paper. To make tangible beats you need some old stype cut & paste. This instrctables explains how to construct the physical parts of the interface.

The d-touch drum machine software can be freely downloaded from

Here is a video briefly showing the finished product and a very quick overview of the making process:

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Step 1: Get the ingredients

For this instructable you will need:

- a computer running Windows, OS X or Linux
- a webcam
- a printer (ink-jet for best results)
- A4 paper
- 5 or more A4 sheets of thin printable cardboard (e.g 180 g/mm2)
- 4 pieces of size A4 or bigger of corrugated cardboard 3-4 mm tick; this can be obtained from used cardboard boxes
- paper & cardboard cutting tools (scissors or knife)
- paper & cardboard glue
- adhesive tape or masking tape
- the d-touch drum machine software downloadable for free from
- a network connection (this is for our research, see above)
- lentils or other small beads

Step 2: Download & print blocks

Picture of Download & print blocks
Download the d-touch drum machine blocks pdf:
Print it on thin cardboard. For best results use an inkjet printer.

Step 3: Cut & fold the blocks

Picture of Cut & fold the blocks
Cut along all dashed lines, paying attention to the small segments.
Fold each block along the solid lines.

Step 4: Glue and Close

Picture of Glue and Close
Glue the flap and close each block.

Step 5: Fill with lentils

Picture of Fill with lentils
Fill the blocks with lentils to make them more heavy.
This step also augments the blocks sound making potential.

Step 6: Print the camera stand files and glue to corrugated cardboard

Picture of Print the camera stand files and glue to corrugated cardboard
Download the camera stand pdf file: and print it on normal paper.
Glue each of the pages to a piece of corrugated cardboard about 3mm tick.

Step 7: Cut the stand parts

Picture of Cut the stand parts
Using a knife cut the cardboard along the dashed lines on the printout. Make a half cut along the solid lines, so that it will be easier to fold along them.
Assemble the camera stand as shown in the photos.

Step 8: Setup camera on stand

Picture of Setup camera on stand
Place two heavy books, or other heavy objects, on the flaps at the bottom of the stand to make it more stable.
Attach the webcam to the stand using an elastic band.
Are there any future plans that will make it so we're able to import our own drum samples?
d-touch (author)  WillTheRescue5 years ago
Yes, there are. But don't expect anything before October at least. Until then we are overloaded with real-work-TM ;-)

However, did you notice that we now have another application out? It is a sampling sequencer, it's available at the same conditions as the drum machine. There you can record your samples live, or you can also change the wave files. I have to say that changing the waves is not yet very smooth, you have to directly change the .wav files, and make sure you keep the same name and format (just open one of the old ones and see, the rate is a bit unusual).

Let us know if you give it a try and if it works for you..
Suggestion: Midi output! :)
I was playing around with that last night actually. The problem I'm having is I can't seem to locate my firewire cable for my video camera, so I'm stuck using the iSight on my macbook, which means it views everything at an angle, so the calibration is very off until I can find it. I'm just starting to put together more blocks for the sequencer though.
aplauche5 years ago
voted for you this rocks
tudgeanator5 years ago
This is truly awesome. I'm so gonna make this when i get home. But, is its output midi? Can i use it as a midi controller in fl studio or cubase etc?
kissiltur5 years ago
This is brilliant - I definitely want to do this with my kids. Where's a good vendor for A4 materials in the US, though? When I needed some A4 paper a few years ago for my British tax return I actually had to get my sister to send me some.
d-touch (author)  kissiltur5 years ago
Thanks! Hey, did you try to print on US paper format? It should work as well.. Please let us know how it goes. Worse case we'll try to convert the page format of the pdf files..
not tried yet - not at home just now. It looked like the design for the drum machine board goes all the way out to the edges of the sheet, which can cause problems for Letter-size paper. But if the size of the board is not critical then it should be OK because I should be able to scale the image to match.. I'll report back later.
d-touch (author)  kissiltur5 years ago
ok, if you still got some problem please visit and ask there, there is a growing set of answers and questions. Thanks for the "american" feedback ;) Btw it should work if you scale everything, let us know please!

Printed out the page and it got chopped a bit on the long edge, more or less as I expected. I was hoping to try this out last night, but I had huge problems with the registration form (recounted in email already, thank you for the response there) so I don't have the software installed yet to play with it. I'll get back to this on the weekend. Pretty much blocked for now - a slightly ironic turn of phrase given the nature of the project.
I mumbled: "Printed out the page and it got chopped a bit on the long edge" A clarification here - US letter paper is shorter and wider than A4, so the bottom of the page was missing it's border line. It was therefore a short edge that was cropped off, but it was cropped because the long edge was not long enough on the paper. I didn't try any of the scale to fit options on the print dialog, though. That may make this all go away.
Skyfinity5 years ago
I nearly fell to pieces lauginh when the video said "fill with lentils"! Ever since I saw the "reactable" online and many of it's clones, I wished I knew how to use the system for myslef. Thanks for bringing such a device into the open-source world. It sure would be fun to hack your program to make other noises though :D!
d-touch (author) 5 years ago
Thanks for the good vibe!!

If anyone is having issues, they are being discussed on

Short summary (feel free to follow up here):
- activation problems? on vista you may have to disable "User Access Control" ("UAC is the the thing that grays out your whole screen to pop up a box") (thanks Jay)
- multiple cameras? on any WindowsOS if you have 2 webcams the external one is automatically selected, if you have >2 it may be tricky -- one workaround is to temporarily disable the cameras that you do not want from windows control panel (thanks Gasman)
aeray5 years ago
Definitely cool. I'll have to make my brother one (he's the one who got all of the music genes).
trebuchet035 years ago
This is an awesome UI