Floppy Drive Music

2012 to 2015
See also...

Similar music projects:

Tesla Coil Music

Music with a tesla coil

Let's divert old hardware from its intended use. You can create music with almost anything such as stepper motors, floppy drives, hard drives and so on. To do this, you need some basic musical knowledge, like knowing the musical alphabet and noticing when something sounds wrong.


NEW: So, I stumbled across lots and lots of questions, especially on YouTube. Many viewers asked similar things, so here are the answers to them:

Q: You could have implemented more than two channels!
A: Very good critique! Actually I planned to do that. But even the data pins themselves consume unexpectedly high voltage, so I had to use driver IC's just to power the pins. This, additionally to the PSU powering the drive motors. This is the reason why I developed version 3, having 6 channels with one floppy drive each. Also, 40 floppy drives are not nearly as loud as I thought. If you are looking for something loud, have a look at Tesla Coil Music, another project of mine.

Q: Where did you get 40 floppy drives?
A: eBay. I purchased them used - and of course, in bulk. When shipping is free, vendors will be glad to give them away in bulk and for half the price because then they pay shipping only once and finally found someone who would buy these things. I contacted different sellers and took two offers with 20 each. One shipment contained more dust than floppy drives, that's how long such hardware is on stock.

Q: Fifth floppy drive in first row is broken!
A: O, rly? You must be the first one to notice ;) Well, 39 of 40 floppy drives working is either very much luck, or proof that god really exists. Or just that old hardware fails less likely than current.

Q: How about making a 57.6 MB RAID 0?
A: Honestly, I would love to see that! This would add memory to the Arduino, 230 times the size of its onboard flash memory. The Arduino Mega 2560 has 256 KB of flash memory which fits all songs in all uploaded videos and could fit a lot more. On the contrary when I ask someone, they guessed each song to be 5 MB in size. Actually a song takes about 2 KB of Arduino flash memory.

Q: mrsolidsnake745 makes better videos.
A: This is true. He has both better songs, more channels and especially, better filming equipment. Yet still, I find a thorn in the flesh: First, his implementation requires a setup including a computer continuously transmitting song data using a Java application. I decided to create an independent "music machine". Also, he makes no use of the LED's. But hey, I'm not trying to be a party pooper! His videos are great, check out his channel as well. If I have had more time, I would have invested in making better videos.

Q: The Pirate Bay's servers booting...
A: Please don't tell anyone! You have no idea what content these 57.6 MB floppy drives hold and it should forever be a secret. And keep seeding, an Arduino is not the most powerful web server ;)

Q: You voided the warranty on your drives!
A: I think warranty was null and void before I was even born... Also, the salesmen at the building supplies store laughed when I entered the store with a floppy drive, looking for building material. One of them asked me for a YouTube URL after I explained what I was up to. I wonder if the floppy drives still work after this torture...

Notes and frequencies

Every note has its own frequency. There are 12 halftones in the musical alphabet:

C - C# - D - D# - E - F - F# - G - G# - A - A# - B

This is one octave. The frequency multiplies by two each octave. So, playing a tone one octave higher will result in double pitch/frequency. Playing it two octaves higher will result in four times the pitch. This means notes scale is logarithmic and the difference between two halftones is the 12th root of 2, which is about 1.0594630943. If you multiply any note with this number, you'll get the next halftone. This way we can calculate any note's frequency.

Connecting the floppy drive motor to the Arduino

This may be the trickier part. You need to connect at least two pins of the IDE cable to the Arduino and address it using digitalWrite's.

This article shows the pinout of the floppy IDE cable. There are 34 pins, where the uneven 17 of them are all GND. You don't need to connect the GND pins of the floppy drive as long as you share GND of Arduino and your PSU. The even ones (2, 4, 6, and so on) are the pins we connect to the Arduino.

We need to connect the following:

  • 14: Drive select enables or disables the motor and also the LED. This is useful if you want the LED to display visual activity when you hear a tone but clearly optional.
  • 20: Step moves the motor by one step when changed from HIGH to LOW.
  • 18: Dir controls the direction of the motor. You can either change it every step so your motor vibrates. Personally, I prefer vibrating over sliding up and down as moving is not very loud and doesn't sound very good either.

When using my source code, you need to connect a button for the "skip song" function. Schematics are here.

Multi voice

This I found to be rather tricky. On an Arduino, you don't have multithreading - meaning you have to find a way to do it without. So I solved it using a loop, checking every CPU cycle whether to step the motor, advance to the next note or do nothing. There might be better attempts with timers and interrupts, but so far it works well. The current version supports up to 6 channels.

Photos (3.0 version)

Videos (left to right: version 3.0, 2.0, 1.0)