Draw a Playable Instrument
2nd – 12th
What Will You Learn?
Draw your own playable instrument, connect Makey Makey to your drawings, and jam out with this free guide. Learn how to connect Makey Makey to multiple apps for maximum fun!
The graphite inside a pencil is conductive even though the wood surrounding a pencil is not. (Check out this cool invention Jay Silver made with a pencil before Makey Makey!)
Since pencil lead (also known as graphite) is conductive, that makes pencils and drawings a really cool material for inventing!
In this lesson, you will draw your own instrument and plug it up to our piano app to play it. However, there are many pianos you can use to plug and play with Makey Makey, or you can even design your own instrument app in Scratch!
Check out these amazing instruments from a “Sketch it! Play it!” event at Intel Labs.
Test Piano Apps
Now that you know about the conductivity of pencil lead, let’s find some piano apps you can use with Makey Makey! You can use any app, webpage, or Scratch project that works with key presses.
Here are a few to try:
A piano designed for Makey Makey. Play a melody with the arrow keys and space bar (and click, too).
A sampling synth made by Eric Rosenbaum for Makey Makey. Record your own sound, use preset scales, and set the keys to play just the notes you want.
(Watch the last few minutes of this live webisode to see more about using the MK-1 synthesizer.)
This is a piano you can play with the arrow keys. It was created using Scratch, an easy-to-use graphical programming language, so you can remix it and make your own version.
Chamber Music Piano
You can play 10 different notes on this piano (using w, a, s, d, f, left, up, right, down and space). Play along with the video for a piano duet!
This downloadable app is great if you just want to drag and drop sounds onto keys on a keyboard, then press the keys to play them. Try it with the example keymap we made with drum and marimba sounds for mac or windows.
Draw Your Circuit AKA Playable Instrument
Get your 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper and use a graphite pencil (artist “6B” pencil works great to draw a design.) to draw your own playable instrument! What will you create? A robotic piano? A space ship trombone? Your name as a tone generator?
If your LEDS don’t light up, or you don’t seem to be making a connection, do a little trouble shooting.
- Make sure you are holding EARTH by either holding the metal of the alligator clip plugged into EARTH, or holding something conductive that is plugged into an EARTH input.
- Unplug and replug your red USB cable into your computer. Sometimes, you just have to unplug your red USB cable and then plug it into another USB port on your computer.
- Are all the LEDS going off? Either the metal tips of the alligator clips in the arrows are touching each other, or all of your Play-Doh connections are too close and are touching each other. Make sure the metal on the alligator clips aren’t touching and space out your Play-Doh.
In case you need a prompt to get started:
- Draw your name where each letter will be a note on the piano.
- Draw a picture of a musical instrument – one you play, would like to play, used to play.
- Draw a holiday card.
Hook each section of your drawing to an alligator clip to match the sound you want to play.
- Are the lines dark enough?
- Do the lines cross over each other?
- Usually beginners are recommended to keep their lines separate so that each line makes one distinct sound.
- Is the alligator clip touching the pencil drawing nicely?
- Are somebody’s hands just too dry?
- Try putting out a damp sponge for people with dry hands. Have you clicked on the piano to bring browser focus to the piano?
- Is your sound turned on?
- Try pushing the arrow keys directly on your keyboard and watch the piano on the screen.
- Is the Makey Makey plugged in USB?
- Are you drawing on a smooth, hard surface (like a clipboard)?
- Are you grounded? You have to be touching ground AND touching the arrow input both at the same time.
Science Behind It
We learned in the last lesson that a conductor is any item that allows electrons to flow through it with little effort. We also learned that if an item has any conductivity, Makey Makey will detect it. We also learned an insulator is any item that does not allow electrons to flow through it. Since we tested graphite and it is conductive, and we learned that paper is an insulator, we know now that if we make our drawings thick enough on regular paper, we can use drawings to control our computer keys!
In our next lesson, we will go a step further and learn how to code our key presses with Scratch, Makecode Arcade, Tynker, and Code.org. As an inventor, you’ll want to create your own apps and computer programs, so we will show you how to do just that!
Drawing Sound Words Activity
- Have students draw the onomatopoeia word for a sound of their choice. Ask students to record the sound in an online recorder. Collect all of the wav files of the sounds in a Google Form and use that data to upload all wav or mp3 files into one Scratch project. This is a fun way to create one project that has all the sounds from all the students whether they are virtual learners or in person learners.
Remixing Scratch Projects to Make Collaborative Sound Art
Teachers will probably need to make a Google Form for kids to add a link to their sound art project. After receiving a student’s remix ink, the teacher will want to comment on that project for the next student to remix.
Colleen’s Scratch Project with instructions for remixing: https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/447380198/