It’s summertime. The sky is blue, and the breeze blows gently through the chimes near my window. I love the twinkling notes emanating softly, but I wish it could play a favorite tune rather than random notes. How can I make a device that is still controlled by the breeze yet play a specific song? What about combining an old fan and the new Makey-Makey sitting in my cabinet? That's it!
- Makey-Makey computer
- 6 alligator clips (included with the Makey-Makey)
- 32 two-foot long pieces of wire (14 G)
- wire strippers
- foil tape
- old fan
Step 1: Set Up the Makey-Makey
If you haven’t heard of Makey Makey, check out their website here. You can buy one from their online store
or other retailers. Makey Makey turns household objects into a computer keyboard to play games, take pictures, make music, or whatever your imagination wills. Their website and your Makey-Makey box contain directions for setting up the Makey-Makey. While lots of electronics take a while to set up, the Makey-Makey just needs to be plugged into your USB port and its ready to go!
Step 2: Choose a Six Note Song
Find a song that uses no more than 6 different notes. Why 6 notes? That’s how many input ports, and therefore buttons, you can make with the Makey-Makey. While it’s not a typical summer song, Ode to Joy is one of my favorites and only uses 5 notes: C D E F G. Search the internet for lists of 5 and 6 note songs. I found some five note songs here, including Ode to Joy. The first two bars or eight measures of Ode to Joy are laid out below. Except for the last measure, all the notes are quarter notes. The first note of the last measure is a half note, so I left a blank space after it as a reminder to space the wires appropriately.
EEFG GFED CCDE E_DD
EEFG GFED CCDE D_CC
Step 3: Choose a Piano App
Makey-Makey has a simple piano app, but it only uses the first 6 notes CDEFGA. You cannot play a B on the Makey-Makey piano. If you need to play a B, try another piano app like Virtual Piano.
Step 4: Test the Song
For Ode to Joy, connect five alligator clips to the arrows and space positions respectively on the Makey-Makey , plus one additional alligator clip to any of the earth positions. Hold the alligator clip connected to earth in one hand. Touch the alligator clips corresponding to each note on the piano with the other hand. Did it work? Great!
Step 5: Prepare the Wires
Cut 32 wires about 2 feet long each. They should be long enough to reach from the farthest edge of the frame of the fan to the center of the back of the fan plus a few extra inches. Strip one end of each wire about 2 inches and the other end about 1 inch. Even though Ode to Joy only has 30 notes, I put 32 wires on my fan so that in the future, I can play eight measures of any 4/4 time song.
Step 6: Attach Wires to Frame of Fan
Divide your fan into 32 quadrants for the four beats in each of the eight measures. Weave the wire into the frame of the fan cover and tape the end of the wire stripped to 2 inches onto the edge of the fan frame. I evenly spaced my wires because the song is made of almost all quarter notes. If your song has eighth notes, place the wires closer together. For half or whole notes, place them farther apart or skip wires.
Step 7: Connect Wires of the Same Note
Choose a starting point on the fan for your song. Connect the ends of all the wires that should play a C, D, E, F, or G, respectively. Connect the appropriate alligator clip to that group of wires. Check which direction your fan spins when the wind blows on it. Does it spin clockwise or counter-clockwise? Lay out your song around the frame in the appropriate direction.
Step 8: Test the Song on the Fan Again
Test the song by touching each wire in order with the alligator clip connected to earth. Did the song play correctly? The first time I tried, I realized I mixed up the notes connected to right and down arrows. I’m glad I tested as I built the device to catch this mistake early.
Step 9: Add the Earth Wire & Brushed Contact System
This is probably the trickiest step of the project. In order to play the notes, the electricity needs a complete path to follow from the wires connected to the arrows or space and back to the earth wire. The challenge is that the earth wire cannot be connected directly to one of the fan blades. As the fan turns, that wire would tangle and wind around the hub of the fan. So we need to find a way to maintain electrical contact between the moving blade and the stationary earth wire. I created a “brush” system to maintain the contact. Here is how to do it:
- Choose one blade to which you will attach the ground wire.Strip about an inch off the end of the ground wire. Cut a two inch long, one inch wide piece of foil tape. Fold it in thirds the long way over the end of the wire. Tape the wire with the foil paddle to the edge of the fan such that when the blade moves it just touches the wires taped to the frame. Adjust the wires on the frame as needed. If the wires overlap too much, there will be too much friction as the fan turns. As the fan turns and the ground wire moves around with the blade, it will touch the wires on the fan and play the corresponding note. (Pic 1)
- Run the wire to center of the fan and to the edge of the blade hub.
- Run a strip of conductive tape around the back frame of the fan (as close to the hub as possible) in a complete circle. The inner end of the ground wire will brush the tape as it turns. (Pic 2)
- Strip about one inch off the other end and add a foil tape paddle similar to the other end, such that the foil paddle touches the conductive tape around the frame of the fan. (Pic 2)
- Caution: the adhesive on the foil tape is insulating, meaning electricity cannot pass through it. If you put one piece of tape on top of the other, electricity cannot pass from piece of tape to piece of tape through the adhesive. I folded each piece of tape into thirds the long way so as to be able to both stick the tape to the surface and to maintain electrical contact.
- Attach the alligator clip connected to earth to the conductive tape on the back of the fan frame. (Pic 3)
- There are many ways to maintain electrical contact in a spinning system. This is one way to do it. What other ways can you imagine?
Step 10: Try It Out!
Spin the fan slowly by hand. Does the song play correctly? Yes? Then you are ready to let the wind be the conductor. Place your fan in the window and wait for a gentle breeze. Enjoy your song and the relaxing days of summer.
Did you make this? Upload a video and share your wind piano with us!
Are you looking to incorporate making into more than just your science classes? This is a great project for combining making and the arts. Making is so much more than an intro to engineering or digital fabrication. Creative making can enhance learning in any subject area. This project lets students make a song physical. They see the layout of the notes through the spacing of the wires. Students (like me!) that find memorizing tunes difficult will have a different way to interact with the song. When making the Breezy Music Box, I was more aware of the notes in the song, how often a certain note occurred, and the pattern in which they occurred. I had a chance to get to know a favorite song in a new way!