All musical instruments are difficult to learn how to play, even if you’re just reading from sheet music. But even if you’ve mastered that, it can still be a challenge to riff or compose your own melodies. That’s because music theory is an extremely dense and unintuitive science, and most instruments make it really easy to stumble into glaring mistakes like playing an off-key note. It would be much easier if, for instance, your piano only contained keys that sound good in the key and scale you’re playing. That’s the idea behind Starshine, which is a new musical instrument designed to be as easy to play as possible.
Starshine is a bit like a cross between an ocarina and a synthesizer, and the controls have been carefully set up to make it nearly impossible to play notes that don’t sound good together. It’s designed to be held in two hands in the same basic positions you would use to pick up a hamburger, with your thumbs on the side facing you. Your other fingers sit atop a total 24 individual buttons. You can use buttons and switches on the thumb-side to set the key and scale to play in, and then those 24 buttons will only contain notes that fit your choice. You can essentially push the buttons at random and they will at least sound decent together.
From a technical perspective, Starshine works like a standard MIDI controller. You can plug it into a computer running any MIDI software, and pushing the buttons will send the correct MIDI notes to be synthesized as whatever musical instrument you want. It’s controlled by an Arduino Mega board and a small OLED display is used to show information about the key you’re currently in and what note you’re playing. A joystick from a Sony PSP console and a pair of dials are used to adjust the expression of your notes. All of those components are housed within a simple 3D-printed enclosure. While Starshine’s creator, Bardable, has made a lot of the design work available, it isn’t open source in the traditional sense. That’s because the design isn’t really optimized for other makers to build, and Bardable hopes that people will instead use this as a jumping off point to create their own instruments.