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My 30 note music box

Written between April 29th and May 17th 2020

Chapter 1 - Introduction

On February 1st 2019, I went to Museum Speelklok with people from our study association. This was a lot of fun! One of my favourite things there was the Pling Plong. It was a music box for which you could program your own tunes. I played around with that for a while, with the goal of recreating the beginning of Yoshi's Island intro. Eventually I did it! I recorded a video with my phone to send to a friend. :)


The following weekend I did research on the internet to see if I could buy such a music box for yourself. I think I eventually found Grand Illusion's 30 note music box, but at that point I didn't want to get it. I had something else in mind to ask for my birthday (this :D), and I figured I'd remember this for later.
However, when I wanted to check it out later, I once again had great difficulty finding where to get the music box. :P This time however, I bookmarked the page.
More recently I got to know Wintergatan, the creator of the Marble Machine, whom was also inspired by Museum Speelklok. Even more recently I saw a video by TomBobBlender using Grand Illusion's 30 note music box.
I decided to ask it for my birthday. :)

Ahead of time, I made a short list of songs that I thought could work on it. At the top of this was the intro to Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, which I recently relearnt to play on piano, after ripping the music from the game.
I used this free and frankly mediocre tool to check out if it would work, and found out that in two spots the same note was used twice in a row too quickly. I recognised this issue, as when I had recreated Yoshi's Island's intro in the museum, I also initially put the holes too close together.
I figured I could fix it by doubling the distance between the notes and cranking the music box twice as fast, but I didn't know if it would be possible to crank so fast. ;)
I decided to contact TomBobBlender. His About page on YouTube mentioned Skype as the best way to contact him, but I learnt that that was outdated. :P After I redirected my messages to Discord, I got a helpful reply. :)


Yesterday it was my birthday, and I got the music box! :D

In a different package were 10 unused note rolls, and in yet another were two more unused ones and one programmed one. This is how the latter looks:

Chapter 2 - Making the tune music box-friendly

The theme from Harvest Moon which I wanted to remake is remarkably fit for the music box. When I transposed the sheet music down from D to C, all notes used were available on the 30 note music box.
However, near the end of the tune, it happens twice that the same tone is played two sixteenth notes in a row.

I marked both problematic pairs in red.


As you might remember from chapter 1, I had the idea of putting the notes further apart and cranking the song at double speed. So before I thought of solutions to the sheet music itself, I cut myself a strip of paper out of some construction plan to experiment on. It was a nice puzzle to figure out how to experiment without using up the actual music box paper. :P I ended up using the punched tune that came with the box, overlaying that on my own piece of paper, and sliding it around a lot.

I have marked the main tests with numbers.
1: Does a repeated 16th note indeed not play? Indeed it does not.
2: Do repeated 8th notes always play? Indeed they do.
3: Can I crank fast enough to make quarter notes sound like eighth notes? Not even remotely...
So as cranking at double speed seemed impossible, and it would probably be a waste of paper too, I got back to the sheet music, and tried to resolve the issues.

(picture repeated so you don't have to scroll all the way up again)


The second problematic pair was easy to solve. Because the repeating note was the top note of a chord, I could move it down an octave and have it sound almost identical. The feel is a little bit different, because the second chord is now higher than the first instead of lower, but it's not at all striking.

The note marked in green was moved down an octave.


The first pair was more of an issue, however. The 16th note bass melody turned out to be very important for the flow of the song: if I removed the fourth note or moved it down an octave the part sounded much less good. I got the idea of doing this not only in the problematic part, but everywhere, but even something like this would sound very different.

This seemed like the best possible solution when I thought of it, but I don't think it sounds good.


Eventually I decided I would just leave out the violating note in the melody. In fact, I didn't really need to leave it out in this case, as the entire problem is that the second note won't be played by the music box, so it wouldn't make a difference whether I punched it or not. :P
I did get one rather creative idea, which was moving all the melody notes back by a sixteenth note. I thought this would probably sound strange but might sound less strange than one of the notes missing completely, but it turned out that it didn't work at all, because for every [I]non[/I]-repeated note, the note in the melody actually clashed with that in the bass. :P

I was hoping that the missing note might not be as noticeable on a music box, because there's a lot of reverb, so you will still be hearing the tone played by the bass. But you'll see later if that was right. ;)

Chapter 3 - Punching the first half of the tune

When creating a tune for the music box, it's a good idea to first draw the holes onto the paper, and then punch them. The underside of the puncher is transparent so you can see where you're punching, but it would still be rather hard to figure out where to put each hole with the rest of the puncher over the paper. :P It's easy to position it when you can see the notes, though.
To make sure everything was all right and because it was late and I wanted to hear something before I went to bed, I started with just the very beginning.

You can see here that I cut the beginning off another strip, so I could tell what note was where when I wasn't close to the beginning anymore. It was cut so squiggly because I was going to use the rest of that strip for the second half of the song, and I would be able to line up the lines correctly because of this. But you'll see that in chapter 4. ;)

It is very good that I only did this to begin with, and then tested the music box. Because I actually made a mistake, which you can already see on this picture but which took me a very long time to notice. However, I could clearly hear that something was wrong. :P


It took me some time until I noticed what was going on—I mean, until I thought I noticed what was going on. :rolleyes:

Look at the middle of the scale. I read this as "G1, G#1, A1, A#1, B1, C#2, C2, D#2, D2, E2", and so on. As such, I had punched the C and D notes a semitone too high. However, I thought this was due to a manufacturing mistake. xD And so did my mother and my sister, when I showed it to them. It took me a while to notice that in fact the sharps were displayed with a # before it in superscript. I don't think I've seen this anywhere else, while a # following it in subscript is pretty common. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

But now I had a problem to fix! That's fine though, as you can in fact fix mistakes while making music box tunes. :)
I used washi tape to cover the mispunched holes, and then cut new holes at the right places. :)

I honestly don't mind the look of it. :D


Now I could move on and draw in the rest of the notes. I first did the melody line, and then the bass line, as it was easier to keep track of where I was that way (I know both lines by heart, as I can play the tune on piano). Drawing in the notes actually didn't take a lot of time, to my surprise!
Even punching the notes was fairly quick, and also a pretty satisfying experience. :D The punch is very easy to use, with just one annoyance: rather often the little circle of paper that's punched out sticks to the cutting edge. In such cases it, also rather often, actually gets stuck inside the hole.

Interestingly, when I tried to reproduce the issue it actually didn't happen again. This is probably because the tryout paper I use (I wouldn't want to waste the actual strips on a demonstration) is not quite as thick as the lined paper. However, I think you can see what I mean in this faked picture. ;)

To get it loose you have to take the punch out of the paper and shake it. That's fine, but it did slow down the process significantly. :P

I finished the first half the same evening, though, and it sounded very good. :) I did not make further mistakes.

In the third to last bar, I did draw in a note at the wrong spot (it was a D#2 instead of D2 again :P), but I noticed that right away and corrected it. :)

Chapter 4 - Punching the second half of the tune

The second half of the piece introduces broken chords, that work very well on music boxes.

The squiggly line means that you should play the notes a little apart, from bottom to top.

Sometimes two notes are even played top to bottom!

Note the squiggly line point downward on some of them.


Before I started punching this, I wanted to try out at what distance the individual notes should be apart on the paper. I used the construction plan strip again for this. The first time I just guessed the appropriate distances, and it sounded pretty good (I didn't have the lines on the paper, though).
However, before I could actually start drawing in the rest of the music, I had to do something else... because as you might have noticed at the end of chapter 3, I had reached the end of the strip! However, I could follow Wintergatan's music box tutorial video to join two strips together. I asked my sister to help and she was very willing to, which I am glad of, as it was fairly tricky! And I am not too practical as far as physical crafts are concerned. ;)

To begin with, we had to tape the first strip to the table. Um... yeah, we didn't really fancy doing that, especially as we were going to have to cut into it later. :P So we used a cornflakes box, which I had used before when I was cutting out the little guide strip from chapter 3. ;)
Then we took the second strip, which is what I cut the guide out of, and lined it up with the first. This could be done because I cut it out so squiggly. Next, and this was pretty tricky (I'm glad we had four hands at our disposal!), we had to tape the second strip over the first and tape the second to the table. This is how it looked, now:

The horizontal tape is where the second strip begins (note the squiggly edge of it).

Now, we had to cut diagonally through both pieces of paper. I found this hard to find out from Wintergatan's video (maybe because he sped up part of the video :p), but my sister noticed what was going on right away. So we did it, which cut off the left of the second strip and the right of the first strip.

Um, yeah... we made a mistake. xD

As you can see, we should have slid the first strip farther under the second strip, because now there was a part without lines. But my sister fixed it. :D

I could've done this myself as well, but she fancied doing it, and she has a steady hand. ;)
Now we could tape over the slit and unfasten the strips!

I decided to draw and punch the notes in the measures that were over the joint first, to test if there were no issues with that and to hear if the distance in the broken chords was good, now that I had the lines to base it on.
And it worked great. :)

Isn't it a beautiful tape? :D

I switched to a pink marker, because with the black one it was sometimes hard to see where the lines were when it was getting dark outside (and I didn't always draw the circles dead center). The pink marker turned out a bit too 'soft', actually, so when it was getting dark I could hardly see it at all anymore. :p I also started drawing dots instead of circles, which was an unconscious change. I'm not sure if it really makes a difference. :p If anything, circles make it easier to see the lines, because, as long as the circle is centred well, there won't be marker over the cross between the lines.


Here's the rest of the tune drawn in. I made some mistakes here and there, where I simply crossed out the wrong notes and drew in the right ones. Near the end of the melody, I made so many mistakes I was afraid it would get unclear what the right notes were, so I decided to revert to the black marker for the right notes.

Punching was more challenging than previously, because I now had to care about the distancing between the individual notes of the arpeggios, instead of simply punching every hole in the middle! This is how part of it looks up close. :)

You can clearly see that the notes aren't played at exactly the same time!

When I had finished punching the tune and played it back, it turned out I had made another mistake! It was quite understandable, though:

I drew and punched that second F# as an F! :) (in case you didn't know: sharps and flats stay in effect until the end of the measure, not just for the note it's in front of)
But that was easily fixed with a tape on the back and a repunch, in the same way as shown in chapter 3.

And now I could listen to the finished tune! :D
And so can you! I am hoping for a chapter 5, as my uncle has expressed interest in creating a wooden box for the music box, so I can hold it better (it's kind of tricky to hold it down while cranking, without exerting so much force that my fingers are badly hurt by the metal :P), and to hopefully improve the acoustics.
If he has succeeded in doing so, I will record a proper video, to put on YouTube. Hopefully this can be done before July 10th, as that's when the Switch remake Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town will be released in Europe!
But for now, here is a rough recording of the intro of Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town (and also Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, I think), on an actual music box. 8)

Chapter 5 - A box for the music box

Just a few days after my birthday anniversary my grandmother had got the idea to ask an uncle of mine if he might be able to make a wooden box for my music box. He had actually e-mailed me to ask if I had any birthday wishes, but I couldn't think of much, and he is, contrary to myself, quite good at physical craft. ;) After I had recorded the video from the end of chapter 4, my grandmother brought the music box to him (we forgot to include a strip...), but I had expected it to take quite some time.
However, last Monday my uncle had to pick something up from my grandmother's, and he dropped by us with a wooden box. :D


Doesn't it look amazing? :D

The making of, greatly summarised: check what wood you've got, start working, and have enough wood at your disposal to do things over if you make a mistake. By the way, my uncle also watched Wintergatan's video for inspiration. :) The box is made of oak wood, because that apparently sounds better than many other woods. He hadn't been able to test the box, because we hadn't given him a strip to test with, but it turned out to sound very good!!
... for the first time, at least. Strangely, after some time the crank started ticking at each turn, and I haven't been able to prevent that since. It's rather annoying, and I'm not quite sure if it's got to do with the music box or the wooden box. I suppose I've got some experimenting to do. ;) In any case the sound of the notes sounds a lot better with the box; particularly the reverb!

The ticking is quite annoying, isn't it? Hopefully I'll be able to do something about it before I put it publicly on YouTube.


Besides potential prevention of the ticking, there are some more areas to experiment in: even with the wooden box the music box is too light to stay steady when I crank it, so in the video above I hold it down with my hand. But I discovered that that has an effect on the sound! The video below started by experimenting with that:


Starting at 0:33 I demonstrate how it sounds with my hand on it as little as possible (do you hear that some low notes sound bad like this??), starting at 0:58 I demonstrate that the sound loses almost all its force when you lift the box in the air, and after that I start experimenting with the cover. It's remarkable that the effect of sliding the cover on and off seems to be significantly less significant than that of sliding my hand on and off, and even than that of sliding my hand on and off the cover while it's on the box.

After that I recorded another video, in which I experimented with different surfaces, and I even edited that to make it shorter. But on further consideration, I don't think that video actually adds too much to the one above. :P The main takeaways from it: it seems to matter a little bit whether the music box is in the middle or on the edge of the table (but without the box it was impossible to crank it at all if it wasn't on the edge), and in general the sound is quite weak when it's not on wood, although on our laminated flooring it sounds surprisingly okay.
I think I have got yet to find the ideal surface. ;)

Bonus: the final video