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footcontrollers w max for use with piano

November 8, 2012 | 10:25 am

dear collected wisdom,

for a live electronic project with a pianist we started thinking about using a footcontroler, which will enable him to manipulate maxpatches while continuing to play with his hands on the piano. having never used one myself, i would be interested in other peoples experiences/recommendations.
thanks in advance
hans


November 8, 2012 | 11:04 am

Or put DIY sensors under the existing piano pedals? Or do some spectral/transient detection in Max to trigger other events? Sorry, just rambling.

MIDI ‘plug and play’ solutions include the FCB1010, with ten pgmCh messages and two continuous CCs per patch. The FCB may be getting old now and has likely been surpassed. Search the forum for ‘foot controller’ – loads of examples.


November 8, 2012 | 11:50 am

If money isn’t a big concern the kieth mcmillen stuff is amazing as its USB and does pressure/rotation/etc.. too

There’s even a keyboard layout version:

http://www.keithmcmillen.com/support/stepcomparison/


November 9, 2012 | 10:44 am

thanks gentlemen for your suggestions!

@n00b_meister, i was aware of the behringer, but couldn´t find anything related to its use with a piano.
(i consider that a special case, since there are already two pedals, so placing the other ones raises interesting questions)
unfortunately tampering with the pianos own pedals isn´t an option for various reasons.

@rodrigo: the mcmillen stuff looks nice. had forgotten about that one. just have to see, if it fits the budget.

best hans


November 9, 2012 | 8:53 pm

Remember, though, that pianists already have one foot busy, and sometimes two, so there’s not a lot throughput available there. Every bit of energy they have to redirect towards your control scheme is energy that doesn’t go towards their performance with the instrument, and it takes a long time for people to become comfortable with an extra controller. If you happen to know a pianist who also plays organ, however, this would help with the foot controller!

Any information you can get out of the damper pedal is also very useful, because it often signals harmonic boundaries.

I’ve done a little bit of stuff with doing head and body tracking with the Kinect. One of the perks of that is that (some) pianists use their body in an expressive way, so, for example if they’re hunching over the keys, it often indicates an emphasis on control. I experimented with an FFT freeze where leaning over the keyboard would control the position in the freeze, and, with the right smoothing, it felt very musical, and didn’t require a lot of extra effort. YMMV.


November 9, 2012 | 9:06 pm

Peter, any media relating to the last project you mentioned. I saw Chris Brown perform recently and was blown away.


November 9, 2012 | 9:09 pm

Sorry, I ended up doing it without the Kinect because I ended up going in a different direction, so no documentary bits. The key thing was looking at body angles, esp. the head relative to the torso.


November 10, 2012 | 1:08 am

thanks peter, thats useful information.
the original idea of using a footcontroller came from the pianist i am working with, a real master performer.
so it seems safe to assume, he is comfortable with more than two pedals.
(i have played the churchorgan myself and always loved the feeling of being almost free from gravity when playing with hands and feet)
kinect might be worth investigating.


November 11, 2012 | 12:15 am

People always laugh when I suggest this, but ya know, it works, and it’s mighty cheap: a mouse. (You can affix it to the floor next to the soft pedal.)


November 11, 2012 | 11:32 am

I’ve used a foot activated mouse in this way. But you’ll need chickenwire to stop it scurrying away. If you used several mice you could tune them to squeak either diatonically or chromatically.

But seriously, try disassembling a PC mouse and keyboard, as Chris suggests, lots of free triggers in there.


November 12, 2012 | 12:43 pm

I have both the FCB1010 and the SoftStep

The FCB1010 is great, rugged, simple in use and reliable. It’s also heavy and clunky ( not good if you travel light)
The SoftStep is light, has more feedback options (LEDs and small led display) but a tiny bit more work to get going.

FCB1010 is best used to just send midi signals, you can donthe rest in Max, and I have not yet seen a way of providing feedback through the FCB1010 like, controlling the LED’s from Max

The Softsep has a wealth of options, and comes with externals. I have a very early model ( I was very keen to get one, got one of the first hundred) one button stopped working – maybe just my bad luck. The editing software eats up a lot of resource, really annoying but once you’ve got it going in your patchit should give you a lot of cool possibilities.

Finally, both require quite a lot of force, which is ok when you’re a guitarist standing up, but for a pianist sitting down it may not work well. I develop my max patches sitting down (….) and it’s not that easy to trigger the buttons.

Depending on how many switches you need I would look into a damper pedal or keyboard style switch pedal, they need a little less force – you’ll have to hook them into something though to get the signal into your computer – but a lot of midi hardware like fader boxes or keyboards will have that.


November 12, 2012 | 3:44 pm

We have two FCB1010s at the college where I teach and (maybe they’ve since fixed this; bought them 5 years ago) neither of them go reliably 0-127 for the pedals. I use a lookup table so that 0-5 become 0 and 122-127 become 127 and that works fine, but if you’re interfacing it with something non-Max, it could be an issue. (e.g. volume)

Otherwise, they’ve worked well.

You could separate out the accelerometer from a Wii and mount it to the underside of the pedal to give you a measurement of its depression.


November 12, 2012 | 3:45 pm

I vote for the FCB1010, I have been using one for a good number of years.
Yes it is a bit bulky, but it is very reliable. It has 10 triggers and 2 CV pedals.

As a pianist, I really love the ability to use the CV pedals to control the
amount of an effect. I am not limited to just triggering something or turning
a process on or off.


November 13, 2012 | 1:59 am

Hi Anthony – you don’t find that the FCB1010 needs a bit much pressure when sitting down?

Btw additional note on the SoftStep – i wonder if anyone is reliably using the 4 corners and their sensitivity, it’s hard to control the outcome


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