Tune Taps

—– In collaboration with Mike Milazzo —–

Tune Taps are a tool for tap dancers to create any sound imaginable.

Mike and I are both dancers, and we found that we had the same dream: to make music with our feet. I’ve been a tap dancer my whole life and expanding the sound of a tap shoe from metal to anything a midi program can play was a challenge I couldn’t wait to undertake.  We created TuneTaps, a system that senses our feet in the place of normal tap shoes but communicates with the computer to play the sound.


Our first working prototype, more video to come:

A Last Minute Change: XBee

Although we successfully connected both shoes using Bluetooth, the longest both stayed paired for was about 5 min. That just wasn’t going to cut it for the 4 hour ITP Spring Show! There’s nothing like an approaching deadline to kick your productivity into high gear!

Enter: XBee Radios & LilyPad XBee

Having no knowledge of XBee radios, my best resources were :

Programming the XBee, example projects, etc:

Making things Talk: Project 10 Duplex Radio Transmission (& other XBee projects throughout the book)

Tips on programming XBee, example projects, lists of common mistakes, etc.:


Sparkfun’s list of AT commands for programming the XBee:


An example using the Lilypad Arduino and Lilypad XBee connected (which I ended up using.):


The Solution:

4 Radios, 2 Networks, 1 Max patch. Although much of what I read showed that I could use one radio to receive and two to transmit, in my haste to make it work in 2 days, I used two pairs of radios. The beauty of Max MSP is that it can communicate with multiple serial ports at once. So, two XBee radios connected via USB to my computer, and two XBee radios nestled on top of Lilypad XBee boards lived in each shoe. The Lilypad Arduino’s and battery also were on board all snug inside the shoe pouch. Surprisingly, the entire thing was still so light that I could not tell I had something strapped to my foot.

Here’s the final setup:

Lilypad Arduino; XBee Lilypad; Battery; Clip Pouch

Innersoles with Force Sensitive Resistors;

2 XBee radios connected via USB; Max MSP patch sending out MIDI; Garageband


Tap Shoe Progress

I’ve been frustrated with the technical bluetooth stuff, so I needed to take a step back and focus on what I was REALLY doing. So, I went ahead and made a wired version of the tap shoes to check it out.

I learned a lot about how I tap dance– that I expect the toe tap to be on the tip of my shoe, and how often I use the tip of the toe. I also learned that this is much harder to map because the dancer is standing on the sensor in it’s resting state. There are many possibilities with this, so here’s a video of my progress:

More updates to come on where to go from here!