My wife and I love Doberman Pinschers.  They are a loyal and loving dog but sometimes their intelligence can be frightening.  We have our third Dobe now.  His name is Baxter.

Baxter Enjoying The Summer Flowers

For years Baxter has made it a habit to come into my studio while I played drums and start barking along.  At first he’d bark at random but soon he learned to bark along to the beat.  His favourite music?  Led Zeppelin.  Soon, though vocals weren’t enough.  Baxter wanted to play an instrument like myself and  other band members who would visit.  He began by plucking at the spring door-stops located behind the studio doors.  He would twang and sing for as long as we’d let him (or as long as we could stand it).

Baxter also has an affinity for those plastic trays you place under potted plants to keep the water from ruining your floors.  He likes to take them and bang on them with his paws.

With these things in mind I decided to make him an instrument that A: would stop him from damaging my baseboards and B: satisfy his desire to make music.  I started by removing the sensor from an old Yamaha electronic drum.  The drum was scrap but the sensor worked fine.  I drilled a hole in a plant tray and attached a female XLR connector.   I then attached the sensor onto the underside of the tray (I used tape for the prototype).

Drum Synthesizer for Dogs
Drum Synthesizer for Dogs

The prototype test went pretty well, however, the unit was not designed to withstand the enthusiasm of a musically excited Doberman.

It was apparent that the tray would have to be affixed to something to prevent it from moving around during the performance.  I found a piece of wood, attached four rubber feet to it and mounted the sensor tray on it.  Baxter loved it but unfortunately it couldn’t withstand his enthusiasm…

Unable to Withstand Baxter
Unable to Withstand Baxter

I decided to switch to a plastic dog bowl as the striking surface.  They are built much more tough.  I re-assembled the sensor setup in the new bowl and it worked great!

Baxter's New Drum Trigger
Baxter’s New Drum Trigger

This new trigger setup worked really well and Baxter enjoyed playing it.  Unfortunately he continued to play his springed instrument; the door-stoppers around the house.   What I then did was to attach an upright on the board (a cut off slice of 2×4).  I then attached a door-stopper spring to the upright.  The result was that Baxter can twang it and the vibrations trigger the sensor.  In fact, I have the sensitivity adjusted so that even his barks will trigger the sensor.

I should mention some of the other stars in this production.  I’m running the output of the trigger to my DAW of choice; Reaper by Cockos.  I’m using the JS: SStillwell/drumtrigger plug-in to turn the audio signal from the sensor into a MIDI signal.  From there the signal goes into one of my favourite free plug-ins; Synth1.  I’ve tried various synthesizers and got some pretty cool sounds.  The addition of the door-stopper gives the instrument some sustain.

Over the holidays our son came to visit and he and I had a chance to jam with Baxter.  I don’t know if it’s Top-10 material but it sure tired Bax out!