Arduino Lego Tannerin

The Tannerin is a musical instrument that is played by sliding a marker along the length of a wire or pad. This produces a pure sine wave tone, which can extend over as many notes or octaves as you wish, always in a smooth (i.e. portamento/pitch bend) fashion. It was used on the Beach Boys hit, "Good Vibrations."

With everybody building light theremins at the moment (myself included) I thought I'd better release an Instructable for the Tannerin.

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Step 1: The Base

Begin by building the longest base possible. When sat in the middle, you should be able to easily reach either end. I built mine from Lego - just because I can. Then stretch a piece of nichrome wire across the entire width, and finish up by tying each end around a screw. This will help dissipate any heat that it gives off. Keep this wire taught. Measure the resistance of this stretch of wire, as this will give you an idea as the range, and granularity, of the instrument. Mine was 176 ohms, across 1.2 meters.

Step 2: The Wand

Create a "wand" by attaching a long piece of cable to a crocodile clip. This must be long enough to stretch across the entire width of the Tannerin, with a little extra to reach the location where the circuit board will be placed.

Step 3: The Hardware

Attach wires to either end of the nichrome wire, and feed into a circuit board. Then attach the end of the marker wire to the same circuit. I'm using breadboard, as shown here. The schematic follows.

Step 4: The Schematic

The circuit schematic. You will want to replace the resister with some large enough to limit the current through the nichrome wire (lest it gets too hot), but small enough so there's a noticeable drop in potential when the marker short circuits part of the wire. The Arduino has a 0-1023 range for a 0-5v on its analog inputs. i.e. 5 mv per input entry. So if you want 100 possible inputs along the wire, there must be 0.5v across the nichrome wire.

Step 5: The Software

Then write a short program to interpret the input values, and produce a sensible output. I use the Armstrong music system as a means of quick prototyping the instrument. Using Armstrong also allows me to trigger different sounds on my PC, without changing my Arduino code. The Tannerin source code is now available in the examples folder of the Armstrong archive.

Amstrong is a collection of routines to make the building and prototyping of musical instruments on the Arduino very much easier. It abstracts the hardware pins from their function and supports serial communications, allowing sounds to be played on remote hardware (PC or synthesizer) without additional coding.

Download Armstrong

Step 6: Fin!

It's then time for your musical genius to shine. You might find that the slight temperature increases causes the wire to slacken, in which case you can keep it taught by press down on it with your finger, or another screw. You might also like to mark individual notes along the length as guide to performance.

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    9 Discussions


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Nice! I'm getting my first Arduino in the mail soon...and I've always wanted a theremin! I think I know what one of my first projects is going to be :)

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    so am i :) but my first project is a light follower robot :) wich i can do without an arduino, but it isnt so accurate...


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I'm an Elec Engingeering major freshman, and we just made a light following robot, called light spiders, so much fun to play around with!!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Very cool.I'm thinking of doing a similar thing,but using a pot. at the end of the wire and having the 'wand' permanentely attached the the wire ( so when you move your hand it pulls the wire an so turns the pot. Just a thought,as i have so many projects at the moment...

    1 reply

    10 years ago on Step 5

    how do i write this program?


    10 years ago on Introduction

    No.Theremins were invented by Leon Theremin and are not touched in any way-you control the pitch and volume by how close your hands are to the two ariels.Where a this instrument is controled by moving one object along the wire to vary the reistance and therefore pitch and this instrument was definately not invented by Leon Theremin and so is not a theremin. ps.This comment was in no way meant to sound harsh or insulting-it's just as i read through it it sounded (in my mind) a bit harsh but i couldn't be bothered to re-word it.