Mug Music: Turn Water Into an Instrument with Arduino and ChucK

Picture of Mug Music: Turn Water Into an Instrument with Arduino and ChucK

What if you could turn any conductive surface into an instrument? Like, say...a mug of water? Best of all, it's cheap; you'll only need $1 worth of extra electrical components (not including the Arduino).

For this project, my friend Harvest and I combined Disney's Touché touch-sensing system with Arduino, and then used ChucK to generate music based on the input. Rain falls gently in the background, and when the user approaches, they can trigger notes on a whole-note scale by touching the mug. Touching the water directly results in some lovely raindrop-inspired, high-pitched notes. Finally, touching the water while also touching a grounded surface will trigger a thunderclap!

Some thank-you's are in order:

  • Disney's original Touché paper
  • madshobye's Touche for Arduino Instructable
  • madlabdk's github project, which implements a more human-readable, less efficient encoding for the data, which we used, because it made it easy to feed the data into ChucK
  • The makers of ChucK, because it's an awesome programming language for synthesizing music (OK, I'm biased, it's from my school)


You will find this Instructable much easier to follow if you have a basic understanding of circuits. Additionally, if you want to edit the musical behavior, you'll have to use the ChucK language.

Common problems, things to watch out for, etc:

Make sure your laptop is properly grounded when you do this (e.g. plug it into a wall). Otherwise you'll get some weird readings. Additionally, you may have to alter some of the values in the file in order for this to work for your personal setup. We used a plain ceramic mug.


A .zip download of all code is available at the next step, but here's the github repo if you want to download the code from there as well.

More projects:
 Check out my blog at to see what I'm up to.

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aviost2 months ago


Great project !

I'm using a Human Body Touch Sensor Module bought on DX for 2.53$ as a shortcut, just to test the idea and then decide about the circuit.

Anyway, it works but in addition to the very nice Chuck sounds I'm getting bad noise from time to time.

Can you tell what is the expected range of values for curVal (and later for maxVal, maxPos) ?

Thanks !


aviost aviost2 months ago

This is what we got (can hear the bad sound interrupting....):

Is it possible to replace the ChucK with Processing ?

how to setting COM in chuck??

why not can sir?

skulur9 months ago

can someone (who has made the circuit) post the different arduino serial output in different cases so that i can stimulate it without the circuit or maybe some other sircuit

nick22211 months ago

Hello there, I loved the final result you get, I have built the circuit and connected to the arduino, just to confirm it was built right, I looked into the SerialMonitor and can see the data being sent over the serial port.

The problem I'm having is with the Chuck program, I have tried both methods you describe in the last step of the instructable, but can't get it to work... my COM port is 12, so I enter it as '12' and as 'COM12' but neither seem to work... both in CMD screen and miniAudicle I do get the list of ports available but don't know how to select my port. At the CMD screen I get COM1, COM2 and COM12 as options 0, 1 and 2, so I press 2 and there's no response, same goes for miniAudicle, I can see the same option in the Console monitor, can't write in the console screen, and don't seem to send as argument either... what am I missing? I have made sure the port is not reserved by arduino IDE or any other program, hope you can help...

bonniee (author)  nick22211 months ago

Hi nick, you have to **launch** it with the right arguments. So run it once to figure out which port number you need, then remove the shred and run it again with the right arguments. (I think.) So in miniAudicle, try launching it with 2 as the argument to begin with.

Make sure you do NOT have the Serial Monitor in Arduino IDE open when you're doing this!

Hope that helps. :)

nick222 bonniee11 months ago

Thanks for your reply, for some reason when I attempt to remove the shred it prompts me an error (see pic), I hit 'Abort' and the VirtualMachine remains open with the shred loaded and can't add any shred after that...

I then close miniAudicle and try again as you suggest above, entering now #3 (as I added another device (phone in diag mode) just to make sure #2 as not being confused with COM2); I get the conditions in the pic shown below (please let me know if this is how it should look like) but the Arduino doesn't seem to communicate as the TX LED is not blinking (it should blink right?), I'm running in XP by the way...

bonniee (author)  nick22211 months ago

Gah, I'm sorry you're having issues with it. This is very strange.

As for the Arduino, I believe it should always be communicating? As you said, you checked in the Serial monitor, so that's probably fine.

Try running the example sketch (included in miniaudicle) to see if you can read from Serial input at all. I've pasted it below, but it should also be accessible from miniaudicle.

SerialIO.list() @=> string list[];

for(int i; i < list.cap(); i++)


chout <= i <= ": " <= list[i] <= IO.newline();


// parse first argument as device number

0 => int device;

if(me.args()) me.arg(0) => Std.atoi => device;

if(device >= list.cap())


cherr <= "serial device #" <= device <= " not available\n";



SerialIO cereal;

if(!, SerialIO.B9600, SerialIO.ASCII))


chout <= "unable to open serial device '" <= list[device] <= "'\n";





cereal.onLine() => now;

cereal.getLine() => string line;

if(line$Object != null)

chout <= "line: " <= line <= IO.newline();


kwinsi1311 months ago

is it possible to put speaker in the circuit? can someone show where to put it there.

So it can have its own speaker wihout the laptop/pc

bonniee (author)  kwinsi1311 months ago

You would need to run Chuck somewhere else, then, or eliminate it entirely and do the music generation some other way. The music generation is entirely done on a computer. (Could you run it on a Raspberry Pi? Maybe, but I'm not sure if Chuck can be installed on Linux/Raspbian/etc.)

msmith21411 months ago


is it possible to get a more detailed picture of the circuit?

I have tried to build this but keep getting an arpeggio playing over and over regardless of whether I am touching the mug or not? Any ideas?


bonniee (author)  msmith21411 months ago

I'll try to post a more detailed picture soon (it's unassembled at the moment).

In general, you can debug by viewing the Arduino serial output directly in the Arduino IDE. It should spit out a stream of lines with two numbers per line; the first number is the one that's usually interesting and it's what this sketch uses. It should remain constant when you're not touching the mug.

If it isn't remaining constant: something's wrong with your circuit and/or setup. Is your laptop plugged in to a grounded outlet? Is the mug on a non-conductive surface? Did you double-check to make sure that nothing's touching that shouldn't be in your circuit, like an alligator clip that's touching a wire? (I've made all these mistakes, haha.)

If the number IS remaining constant: congrats, it's working! You probably just need to mess with the numbers in the sketch. Try loading up and experimenting from there.

nhendrick11 months ago
i don't see a speaker in the circuit. where is the sound coming from?
dakpluto nhendrick11 months ago

From the laptop/computer that the Arduino is plugged into and has chuck installed

nhendrick11 months ago
This sample shopping cart contains enough materials for 10 such projects

It should be noted that the shopping cart linked to has enough parts for 3 such projects, not 10. Still cheap.
eormilla11 months ago

is it okay to use Arduino Uno R3? :)
or what Arduino shall we use?

bonniee (author)  eormilla11 months ago

Yup, that should work! Most Arduinos shouldn't have any problems with this.

laith mohamed11 months ago

its beautiful work and a nice tunes

thundercookie11 months ago

wow! pretty cool man

This is terrific! I've been trying to think of a way to incorporate an Arduino into a local non-profit I volunteer with ( where we teach kids little home projects they can do using electronics, or things around the house. Right now we have a Makey Makey that we make a fruit piano with, and this might pair with it nicely, so I'm going to tackle this next weekend, since we do have some older kids come through who are already experienced with small electronics.

bonniee (author)  piggybankcowboy11 months ago

Thanks, and this sounds like a great project for them, then! Would love to hear if it works out. If you don't have some of the parts around (especially the inductors -- though you can make your own by coiling wire) you can always use the super-basic CapSense library to do touch sensing instead (no extras required, just alligator clips).

jessyratfink11 months ago

This is really fun. A great project! :D

bonniee (author)  jessyratfink11 months ago


petrolon11 months ago

Impressive! I am definitely going to try this.

I don't see it in the Arduino contest yet. You have to enter this. I'll vote for it.

bonniee (author)  petrolon11 months ago

Hi, thanks! I'd love to hear your experience if/when you do try it. :)

I did submit to the contest, hopefully they'll accept it and it'll be up in another day or so.

malamri11 months ago