Lab: Arduino to Digital Audio Workstation


This page covers the process of taking MIDI messages sent from the Arduino and creating sound with them via a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) such as Ableton LIVE, Logic or Garageband.

What You’ll Need to Know

To get the most out of this lab, you should be familiar with the following concepts. You can check how to do so in the links below:

Things You’ll Need

A short solderless breadboard with two rows of holes along each side. There are no components mounted on the board. The board is oriented sideways so that the long rows of holes are on the top and bottom of the image.
A short solderless breadboard.
Three short pieces of hookup wire: one is clad in red insulation, one in blue, and one in black. All three have exposed ends approximately 5mm long.
22 AWG hookup wire
An Arduino Uno. The USB connector is facing to the left, so that the digital pins are on the top of the image, and the analog pins are on the bottom.
An Arduino Uno.
Photo of a 5-pin MIDI socket. Three wires protrude from the back.
A 5-pin MIDI socket
Resistors. Shown here are 220-ohm resistors. You can tell this because they have two red and one brown band, followed by a gold band.
Resistors. Shown here are 220-ohm resistors.  You will need both 220 ohm and 10-kilohm resistors for this lab.
Force-sensing resistor (FSR). These sensors have a resistive rubber inside that changes its resistance depending on the force with which you press on the sensor. The one shown is a flat disc about 5cm in diameter
Force-sensing resistor
Photo of a toggle switch. This is a panel-mount switch, meant to be mounted in an instrument panel. It is about 0.5 in (2cm) long and has two wires protruding from it.
A switch
Photo of a MIDISport USB-to-MIDI adaptor.
MIDISport 2×2 or other USB-to-MIDI interface. We have some in the equipment room.

 Build the MIDI Circuit

Use the MIDi circuit from the MIDI Output lab, or any variation on it you want, as long as it sends MIDI:

 Schematic view of an Arduino connected to a voltage divider and a switch. The switch and voltage divider are connected as shown above. the MIDI connector's pin 2 is connected to a 220-ohm resistor, and the other side of the resistor is connected to +5 volts. Pin 3 of the MIDI connector is connected to ground. Pin 4 of the MIDI connector is connected to the Arduino's digital pin 3.
Schematic view of an Arduino connected to a voltage divider and a switch, with a MIDI connector as well.
Breadboard view of an Arduino connected to a voltage divider, a switch, and a MIDI connector. This view builds on the breadboard view above. The voltage divider and the switch are connected to analog pin 0 and digital pin 10 as described above. The MIDI connector's pin 2 is connected row 19 in the right center section of the breadboard. A red wire connects it to row 21. From there, a 220-ohm resistor connects to the right side voltage bus. The MIDI connector's pin 3 connects to the right side ground bus. The connector's pin 4 connects to row 14 in the right center section, and a blue wire connects from there to digital pin 3 on the Arduino.
Breadboard view of an Arduino connected to a voltage divider, a switch, and a MIDI connector.

This circuit doesn’t actually match the MIDI specification, but it works with all the MIDI devices we’ve tried it with. This circuit includes an analog and a digital sensor to allow for physical interactivity, but those aren’t necessary to send MIDI data.

Photo of an Arduino connected to a breadboard. The breadboard contains a MIDI output circuit like the one shown above.
An Arduino MIDI circuit ready to play

Here we have a little Arduino instrument we whipped up using the MIDI Output Lab. It features two photocells, one controlling the pitch (or note being sent) and the other controlling the volume. Now that we are sending MIDI messages, we need to get them into the computer.

Photo of a USB-to-MIDi interface.
The MIDISport 2×2 USB-to-MIDI interface

USB-to-MIDI Interfaces

To get the MIDI messages into the computer, you will need a USB MIDI interface. A MIDISport 2×2 like the one pictured can be found in the Equipment Room. For more information see the technical details on the MIDISport. The interface connects to your computer via the USB cable and to the Arduino via a MIDI cable. Connect the Arduino to the MIDI In port of the interface.

Alternatively, you can use the MIDIUSB library to send MIDI via USB if you are using an ARM-based Arduino board like the MKR series. Doing so will eliminate the need for a USB-to-MIDI adapter like the MIDISport. Your Arduino will communicate directly with the computer as a MIDI device over USB.

Audio MIDI Setup

To connect with your device on MacOS you’ll need the Audio MIDI Setup application. It’s in the Utilities directory of your Applications directory.

A screenshot of the Audio MIDI setup window in MacOS. The window shows the MIDi devices that the operating system recognizes.
The Audio MIDI setup window in MacOS


If you’re not using the MIDIUSB library, you will need to download drivers for the MIDI interface you are using. Go to the manufacturer’s website (for example, M-Audio’s driver page, where you can find the MIDISport under MIDI Interfaces) and download the drivers that correspond to your interface and operating system. Once the drivers are installed, the interface should be recognized by your computer. To check this, open up Audio MIDI Setup. If you only see the Audio setup, click Window in your task bar and select Show MIDI Studio. You should then see the window pictured here and the interface should appear colored in. Interfaces that are not connected will appear faded as shown above.

Preferences in your DAW Software

Screenshot of the MIDI Sync Control Panel in Ableton Live, showing the MIDI ports turned on.
The MIDI Sync control panel in Ableton Live

Now that your computer recognizes the MIDI interface, you need to set up your preferences in the DAW. In this case, we are using Ableton Live so open up the preferences window. Ableton will recognize the interface but the ports need to be set. Find your interface and where it says Input, turn on the button listed under Track. Now Live will receive MIDI messages on these ports.

Screenshot of the Ableton Live Devices window, showing the MIDISport enabled for a given track.
Screenshot of the Ableton Live Devices window

Select a MIDI track and add an instrument. Live has some instruments built in or you can use a third party plugin as a sound generator. In the screenshot above, the Operator FM synthesizer is selected. If you only have one device going in to Live, it is fine to leave the track’s MIDI input set to “All Ins.” If you have more than one, you will probably want to select a specific port as shown in the image above.

Ableton Live Screenshot of an track armed to take input from a MIDI input.
Arm your tracks with your MIDI inputs

The last step is to Arm the track by clicking the Arm button on the bottom of the channel strip. Now you are ready to go. Start sending MIDI from the Arduino and you should be hearing your lovely new instrument.

MIDI Monitor App

Screenshot of MIDI monitor app, showing note on and note off messages coming from a USB MIDI source.
Snoize MIDI monitor is like a Serial Port monitor for MIDI

The Snoize MIDI monitor is a useful application to have if you do lots of MIDI input to your computer. You can download it from Snoize’s download page.

When running the application, MIDI Monitor will show you all the information that is coming in through the MIDI interface, such as the source, channel, message and note values. This is especially useful for debugging your MIDI instrument.

Originally written on August 26, 2014 by Benedetta Piantella Simeonidis
Last modified on August 21, 2018 by Tom Igoe