Picture of Easy Button Musical Interface
2006-07-31 siggraph 020.jpg
2006-07-31 siggraph 012.jpg
This project modifies a $5 Staple's Easy Button and an inexpensive USB keyboard so that they can be used as an input device for live musical performances (or anything else that requires a button or footswitch). It alllows cheap buttons to be created that each send a keyboard character as input to a program. In addition, the proceeds of easy button sales go to the Boys and Girls Club of America.

The project is standing on the shoulders of two other hacks. First, this project hacked an easy button into a switch for a garage door. Second, Dave Merrill, who I am involved with in the EMI (Experimental Musical Instruments Workshop) at MIT (see inventmusic.org), had taken apart a keyboard to create footpedal for the ctrl, shift, and alt keys for use when his arm was in a cast. His project details are here.

The motivation behind this project was a performance called Mandala at SIGGRAPH 2006 ( video clip ) as part of their electronically mediated performances series. Six musicians sat around a circle projected onto the floor that gave instructions to each individual about what and how to play. A computer program generated these instructions and therefore lead the improvisation of the group. Foot switches were needed so that the musicians could communicate with the program (e.g., when the sheet music should be scrolled, voting for song changes, etc.). The Mandala program was written in Flash but future projects will use Pure Data (PD), Java, and other languages. All that is needed is the ability to programmatically read input from a keyboard.

About one and a half days was required to complete this for someone who had never soldered before (thanks to Ben Vigoda, the main instigator for the Mandala Project, for lessons and helping me figure out the details of the electronics).

NatDaGamer3 years ago
just wondering what happened to the red wires from the jacks, do you join them with the black ones into one wire when soldered onto the PCB?
So awesome.
I did the same thing with the same keyboard! I scanned the layers and used photoshop to track the buttons. I was trying to map it to send it to an older keyboard, but it never worked out because the keys were mapped completely different :/ . Nice project btw.
fariedh4 years ago
wow... very good idea...!! i wan make it
I think your idea is clever and very useful for musicans.
mephinglad6 years ago
There is an easy program called AutoHotKey where you can program certain key to do some kind of macros. this can be used to do things in your own programs.
jgxx6 years ago
what do you connect the + wires to?
avibank9116 years ago
is there a way to solder the wires knowing confidently you wont burn the pcb? i think i fried mine
bkushio6 years ago
Seems to me that it would be easier/cheaper to use a USB keypad instead of keyboard.... fewer buttons to deal with and get confused... sure they are only numbers but if you can map your software to a letter you can to a number too. There are some cheap usb keypads at Monoprice.com I'm ordering one right now so that I don't have to rip apart a keyboard. Great idea.
madcow34178 years ago
Mapping the keyboard can be done easily with a digital camera and a paint program. Just take a picture of both pieces with a contrasting background. Open it in a pain program of some kind, I use Graphic Converter on my mac. Use the fill tool to fill in the trace for the particular key you want to map. Because they don't cross each other it will fill in just that one all the way back to the circuit board. Use a different fill color for any other keys you want to follow back.
This is genius! I've used this USB keyboard hack to build a controller for Serato Scratch. However, I need a lot of buttons and was thinking how much of a headache it's gonna be to trace back all the keys. Thanks :)
cordcole7 years ago
what software did you use
i using guitar rig 3. it doesnt let me use my mouse as a continuouse controller but iv heard people say you can use a joystick--dont feel like goin and spendin all dat cash on a joy stick and then just rip it apart.thats why i wana connect the potentiometer to keyboard . but i dunno if and how it will work????!!!
avibank9117 years ago
any 1?
avibank9117 years ago
could you add an expresion peda/knob control by replacing the easy button with a potentiometer?
ficofeto8 years ago
Man, is there any substitute for the easy button? Theres no staples in Puerto Rico...
yeah just go here and look in the buttons section http://www.goldmine-elec-products.com
Any project box with a simple momentary normally open switch. I would recommend chassis mount 1/4 inch jacks too to prevent future damage to the loose connector. You know how hectic it can get when playing with a group of people.
What software can accept this kind of input. This would be wonderful for those wacky morning DJ's who love those farting, burping and whatever else sound effects. This kind of reminds me of frasier whenever he goes off the air, you see him hit the button on the desk to cut the show...
tryagain7 years ago
Why is it necessary to desolder the capacitor and resistor? Is it just to get better access to a good solder - just wondering if there is any benefit to leaving them in?
I have a 15W Fender Amp with distortion.
I was wondering how i could go about making the easy button into a foot switch so that i wouldn't have to keep on bending over and pressing the button every time i needed distortion on or off in a song.
This is a picture of my amp. http://www.1ant.co.uk/ad-pics/amp.JPG
as you can see, there is a switch on the far left side that says "drive select" above it.
Any help would be appreciated.
If this does end up working i will post pictures.
smidge1477 years ago
I could make this in garrysmod.
AT7 years ago
This is a very cool project! I'm not sure how I would use it but I am going to keep it in my mind just in case. I did think that it would add another level of cool by using a Bluetooth keyboard's guts for this project. Then you could eliminate the USB wire and add a battery pack. But you would gain 30 feet or so without having to worry about your computer placement.
CementTruck9 years ago
Is there a way to change the "That was easy!" phrase to something you record yourself? It would be pretty cool if you could replace the chip with a USB jump drive and change the message from time to time by plugging it into your PC and downloading a cool phrase-of-the-day.
Pretty damn close. Thank you. How did you find this?
I saw it on www.hackaday.com some time ago
i-hacked.com has it also... i think that it is how you spell it...
fredo8 years ago
You can bend them too, like this.. Easy Bent Button
thats awesome!
Punkguyta8 years ago
I saw a mod for a "bent" easy button. It sounded pretty good.
bignothing9 years ago
Are the easy buttons replaceable with N.O. momentary switches? I like this project, but I'd rather have a stomp box with a few switches in it than a bunch of big staples buttons.
jro (author)  bignothing9 years ago
You could use any switch - and the easy buttons are momentary switches (not sure what N.O. means) The constraint is how the PC is reading keyboard input, e.g, the delay before reading a key press as repeated, which is usually configurable.
radiorental jro9 years ago
NO = normally open which can be a state of a momentary switch. Yes they are N.O. otherwise they'd eat batteries.
radiorental9 years ago
very cool, I did something similar with a dance mat and virtual drum
jro (author)  radiorental9 years ago
I just bought one of those mat's (free with $6 shipping from a link on slickdeals.net) and wasn't sure if they'd be hackable
radiorental jro9 years ago
completely hackable. They come in a few flavours, try and get the ones with a PC interface, they'll output joystick HAT controls. Otherwise you'll have to go the route we went and break them in to a keyboard interface. I have a diagram on my instructable with the mapping. Basically a set of switches. Furthermore you can spraypaint over the mat and assign your own interface symbols - doesnt have to be just arrows. Would love to hear about where you go with that - keep me posted - thanks
one of the cooler easy button mods ive seen