One of the great things about the Raspberry Pi is how everyone starts with the same piece of gear. Since the audio hardware is identical on every unit, it is trivial to load the drivers and play mp3 files. 

This guide describes how to connect input buttons and play audio files using a Raspberry Pi running Raspbian. We make use of Adafruit's Pi Cobbler and the Python module RPi.GPIO.

If you have not already used the Raspberry Pi as a input device this guide will show you how to wire the pull-down resistors, GPIO pins, and buttons. 

Install Audio

With the Pi connected to the Internet and SSHed in (see our previous tutorial), install the Alsa audio drivers and the mpg123 MP3 Player:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install alsa-utils mpg123

You'll probably be prompted to continue. Press y for yes.

Next, reboot the Pi by typing sudo reboot. If you're using SSH, you'll have to reconnect after it boots.

Once you're logged back in, load the sound drivers and do some setup for the 3.5mm jack output:

sudo modprobe snd_bcm2835
sudo amixer cset numid=3 1

Install Python Module RPi.GPIO

The RPi.GPIO python module offers easy access to the general purpose IO pins on the Raspberry Pi. 

To get the latest version of this, you can take a little diversion to follow the instructions in Adafruit's Raspberry Pi Lesson 4. GPIO Setup.

If you're comfortable, you can probably skip the lesson above and issue the following command in a terminal window:

sudo apt-get install python-dev python-rpi.gpio

Bread Board Setup for Input Buttons

Important things to note:

Each button connection looks like:

3.3v --> 10k Pull-up Resistor --> GPIO --> Button --> GND

Here's a Fritzing sketch of the layout for the Cobbler Plus for a Pi 1 Model B+ or Pi 2 (click for a bigger image):

If you've got Fritzing installed, you can download the sketch here:

Now for a bit of Python:

  • Use a text editor like Nano to paste this code into a file named raspi-audio-button.py
  • Download or copy several mp3 files to the Pi and place them into the same directory as the raspi-audio-button.py script
  • Change the filenames in the code to match the files you've just copied
  • Make the file executable with chmod
nano raspi-audio-button.py
#!/usr/bin/env python

import os
from time import sleep

import RPi.GPIO as GPIO

GPIO.setup(23, GPIO.IN)
GPIO.setup(24, GPIO.IN)
GPIO.setup(25, GPIO.IN)

while True:
    if (GPIO.input(23) == False):
        os.system('mpg123 -q binary-language-moisture-evaporators.mp3 &')

    if (GPIO.input(24) == False):
        os.system('mpg123 -q power-converters.mp3 &')

    if (GPIO.input(25)== False):
        os.system('mpg123 -q vader.mp3 &')

$ chmod +x raspi-audio-button.py

Make sure you have speakers or headphones hooked up to the 3.5mm jack, and run the Python program as an administrator using sudo:

$ sudo python raspi-audio-button.py

Now you should be able to trigger each mp3 by hitting the corresponding button.

A handful of things worth noticing here:

  • os.system('command') will run command just like if you typed it at the prompt.
  • The & tells the shell to run the command in the background. This way you can actually play more than one file at once.
  • The -q option to mpg123 suppresses diagnostic messages. You can remove it if you'd like to see song titles.
  • The sleep(0.1) call is necessary to avoid spawning tons of mpg123 calls from a single button press.

Fancier Code: A Very Simple Jukebox

Our first Python script uses every button to do pretty much the same thing: Each runs a command to play a different mp3.

What if you want to use the 3-button scheme to control lots of mp3s?

Try the following script:

#!/usr/bin/env python

from os import listdir
import subprocess
from time import sleep

import RPi.GPIO as GPIO

GPIO.setup(23, GPIO.IN)
GPIO.setup(24, GPIO.IN)
GPIO.setup(25, GPIO.IN)

mp3_files = [ f for f in listdir('.') if f[-4:] == '.mp3' ]

if not (len(mp3_files) > 0):
    print "No mp3 files found!"

print '--- Available mp3 files ---'
print mp3_files
print '--- Press button #1 to select mp3, button #2 to play current. ---'

index = 0
while True:
    if (GPIO.input(23) == False):
        index += 1
        if index >= len(mp3_files):
            index = 0
        print "--- " + mp3_files[index] + " ---"

    if (GPIO.input(24) == False):
        subprocess.Popen(['mpg123', mp3_files[index]])
        print '--- Playing ' + mp3_files[index] + ' ---'
        print '--- Press button #3 to clear playing mp3s. ---'

    if (GPIO.input(25) == False):
        subprocess.call(['killall', 'mpg123'])
        print '--- Cleared all existing mp3s. ---'


Here, we get a list of mp3 files in the current directory, and then set up the following control scheme:

  • button #1 (GPIO 23) clicks through the list of available mp3s
  • button #2 (GPIO 24) plays the currently selected mp3
  • button #3 (GPIO 25) runs a command that kills any existing mp3 player processes, stopping whatever mp3s are playing right now