Sketch It! Play It! (DIY Instrument With Makey Makey)




Introduction: Sketch It! Play It! (DIY Instrument With Makey Makey)

About: Computers are going bananas! Use #makeymakey to practice invention literacy and connect the world to your computer.

You can make your own switches and inputs with Makey Makey, so why not draw some? For this project, you are going to sketch an instrument with pencil and paper. Then connect your artwork to the Makey Makey and jam out!


Step 1: Grab an Online Piano

Open this link in a new window in your browser. (We recommend using the Google Chrome browser and you may need to install Flash or Javascript.)

Turn up your speakers! Then click once on the piano to focus the computer's attention on the piano. Try pushing the arrow keys and space bar on your keyboard. Do you hear piano sounds? If not, you may need to turn your sound up!

Now connect your Makey Makey to your computer with the included USB cable. Then connect the alligator clips to the four arrow keys and space bar.

Connect one alligator clip to EARTH for grounding your piano.

Step 2: Create Your Drawing

Get your 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper and use a graphite pencil (artist "6B" pencil works great to draw a design.)

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
  • Watch this video to see some tips on making a playable drawing.

Step 3: Resources and Troubleshooting

Looking for inspiration? Check out these videos of teachers from Tom's Invention Literacy workshop.

Troubleshooting if your drawing isn't working

  • 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.

Step 4: Looking for a Better Piano?

If you want to play more notes and even record your voice or other sounds, check out the MK-1 synthesizer from co-inventor Eric Rosenbaum!

With this piano, you'll want to access all the notes (keyboard keys), so you'll need use the white "jumper wires" that come with your Makey Makey. Flip your Makey Makey over and insert the end of the white jumper wire in the header hole next to the letter you want to control. Then connect an alligator clip to the end of the white jumper wire.

Step 5: A Bigger Challenge

Imagine giving large groups of people an opportunity to build their own instrument out of paper and pencil. Here is a PDF outlining all the lead-it-yourself directions for managing a large scale "Sketch it! Play it!" activity.

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    3 Discussions


    Tip 11 months ago

    Tanya Churchill, one of our online students, suggested these ideas for teachers!

    For ELA, students could create a map that charted the travels a character in a book traveled to. For each location, students could record their voice speaking about that location of the plots summary that happened in the book at each location.

    Maybe students could draw fairy tales, or comic strips?
    Adding sound effects to comic strips would be fun but you could also draw characters and speak about each one's motivations in a story. For math you could write several equations and as each one is touched, the answer is given. It could be used for students to check their work with partners.


    1 year ago

    If you are teaching this activity with the STEM pack or a class set of Makey Makeys, I would recommend having students work in partners, but still ask both partners to create their own drawings.
    • Let students share a computer and a Makey Makey, but ask both students to create a drawing for testing and playing.
    • Regular pencils will work, but then your students will need to draw very dark drawings with a lot of graphite. If you are working with younger students, you might consider purchasing some art pencils (6B) to decrease frustrations.
    • I like to put pencils and erasers at table groups. Drawing a circuit is a cool way to learn, but erasing to find out how to break a circuit is even more exciting!
    • As teachers we sometimes over explain and don't let students figure things out through their own problem solving. For this activity, step back, and let kids tinker and try to figure out why a drawing is or isn't working. You'll be surprised how much they retain by testing and problem solving on their own. Plus, it will boost their creative confidence! Instead ask questions to help guide kids if they need extra assistance:
      • When the graphite comes off on your finger, why does that affect the way the drawing plays?
      • Why are two keys going off instead of one?
      • Why do some drawings work better than others?
    • When plugging in alligator clips, colors do no matter, BUT they do sometimes help students with matching notes to drawings. You might have students write the color for each key press on the side, or label the key press next to the drawing. (Sometimes kids do this on their own!)
    • I made a whole guide for the back of the board if you want to explore what you and your students can do with more inputs!

    Reply 1 year ago

    Well thank you for advice.