Wearable Piano Interface





Introduction: Wearable Piano Interface

About: My work combines conductive materials and craft techniques to develop new styles of building electronics that emphasize materiality and process. I create working prototypes to demonstrate the kinds of electr...
This t-shirt interfaces with a toy piano, allowing for people to play music on my back. Fabric Buttons replace the keys, poppers connect to the circuit so that it can be connected and disconnected from the t-shirt. This allows for all of the components on the t-shirt to remain wearable and washable.

This particular Instructable is made for the Electronic Textile workshop that will be held in Zurich/Switzerland on Saturday 7th December 2009 as part of the DIY Festival Zurich. If you are interested in this workshop, please contact the festival.


Even though the outcome of this Instructable is a t-shirt, you can choose to design your own design that incorporates fabric buttons and fabric pressure sensors and fabric bend sensors.

Each step includes both specific and general instructions to help you create your own wearable interface.

I have to admit that I'm not very happy with the way this project turned out. But now I know what to do better the next time. The biggest problem i had was with the connection between the 3V power supply and the circuit. When I used conductive fabric traces it was not getting enough juice to run, although the multimeter showed no loss in voltage. So I had to make a straight wire connection between circuit and battery pouch. Also, the buttons on the back were not made very well and it is not actually very fun to play. Though I hope I got the idea across and that I'll be able to use this Instructable to accompany the workshop.


Step 1: Materials and Tools

  • Pen and paper
  • Fabric scissors
  • Sewing machine
  • Soldering station
  • Wire clippers and strippers
  • Screwdrivers
  • File
  • Small saw or cutting tool
  • Cutting knife

Step 2: Hack the Piano

  • Open up
  • Take everything apart, strip down to the bare circuit
  • Take photos and notes, document the process

Before opening it up, make sure to play with the piano to see how it is supposed to work!

Step 3: Understand the Circuit

  • Exchange wires for more flexible ones
  • Experiment with connections and find out where power, ground, input and outputs are
  • Identify components
  • Use your notes to analyze the circuit and draw a circuit diagram

Results for Schylling toy piano:
  • Power source: 2 x 1.5V battery (see: Fabric Battery Pouch)
  • 23 keys using 11 microcontroller connections (different combinations of the first 3 and the last 8)
  • One 470 K Ohm resistor (can be exchanged for a variable resistor to manipulate sound output)
  • No on/off power switch, but this can be created
  • Two connections that go to loudspeaker

Step 4: Prapare Your Circuit

Minimize your circuit, take all extra material away, see how small you can get it and then decide on interfacing method between t-shirt and circuit:
  • poppers
  • hooks and loops
  • conductive Velcro
  • fixed connection
  • metal magnets
  • ...

Solder wires to connection points on circuit and create strain relief. Attach connectors to end of wires.

How the circuit works after being hacked >>

Step 5: Design Your Wearable Circuit

Draw your t-shirt or other clothing item onto a piece of paper and design your interface. Before you think about how you are going to solve any problems, just draw your design. Be creative, inspire your design from crazy ideas, funny interaction scenarios and wishful thinking.

My example: I'm addicted to back-rubs, so my design places the buttons of the piano on my back for people to play with and rub my back at the same time.

  • How many buttons, variable resistors and switches does the circuit have?
  • How many of these elements do I want to use? (I don't kneed to use all of them)
  • Layout - Where do you want what to be?
  • Colours, shapes, sizes...
  • ...

Now we need to integrate a fabric circuit into your design. For this you need to understand the following soft circuit methods:
  • Sewing with conductive thread
  • Fusing conductive traces to fabric with fusible interfacing
  • Stretchy conductive trace: using stretch conductive fabric and fusible interfacing
  • Isolating stretch conductive traces with stretchy fabric glue
  • Soldering loops to connect between poppers or to sew with conductive thread
  • Forming Shapelock to embed components and make them sewable
  • ...

Step 6: Detachable Interface

Your interface between the circuit board does not need to be made with poppers, but in this example it is.

Step 7: Fabric Conductive Traces

Step 8: Fabric Buttons

Step 9: Fabric Pressure Sensors

Step 10: Fabric Power Supply

Step 11: On/off

Step 12: Plug and Play

Kind of unsuccessful wearable toy piano



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    19 Discussions

    he how did you solder this?? I am trying this project but when I try to solder it either does not stick or I breack to original cirquit :(

    3 replies

    have you cut the circuit down to the bare minimum and are trying to solder to very small areas of the conductive traces?
    be sure to scrape off the greenish isolation first. then get some solder to stick to the conductive trace on the board. add solder to the wire and then bring both together. you'll want to add some good stickytape or hot glue ontop of everything once it is working to take all the strain off the solder joints.

    aha glue ! tomorrow I will try, thank you for the quick reaction :)

    Sorry if this is a kind of stupid question, but are those two wires jumping the R1 place? 

    3 replies

    not a stupid question, but i don't quite understand what you mean by jumping the R1 place? can you explain more. thanks

    Sorry, it just looked  like that there was a wire going across where the resistor should be, but I now see it goes to the speaker. 

    Oooh, I see now... They go to the speaker. 

    What kind of wire do you use? And where do you get it? 

    Wow verry cool nice one; i wish i was Ricard Clayderman to play that pianno :P

    now see, what you could do is just put this into a separate piece of fabric, with the wires hidden, and piano keys printed on the front. This way, it could probably roll up nicely. Then you just go somewhere, tak it out and roll it out. People will then think youre a bit *cuckoo* in the head, until you start playing it!

    . I rarely rate an iBle 5 stars. This is a rare treat, indeed. 5 stars.

    This is awesome! I was totally looking for something like this! Thanks!

    another great project! what with this and the "massage me" project you are going to some great lengths to get a massage! ;p at the end of the video when you rub up and down your back, it sounds discordant, but it would be nice if you somehow got it to sound more pleasing the better it felt, if you get what i mean...

    It's a very complex project with many elements and if something doesn't work the first time - there is always the debugging route ;-) Although some might think it is a minor part but I like the soft, textile battery housing - fabulous, grandiose idea :D In your instruction there is a lot of bits and pieces to learn and get inspired from.

    It's a nice idea! brava! you can refine and make it better .anyway you have to start. I've had a similar thinking to hack a toy piano with wind chimes! The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. -Proust

    This is a fascinating project and looks like a lot of fun to make and to play with. I know you said you were dissatisfied, but I expect you'll find that other people like it very much!