MakeyMakey & Scratch Guitar

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About: Hello! I'm Simon. I am a teacher who is currently working as a Professional Learning Consultant in Perth, Western Australia. I have a background in Primary School teaching with specialisations in STEM, Digit...

Part of my core business is helping break the stigma that computing is void of creativity and digital technology is purely consumptive. To quote Gary Stager:

There is a negative view of digital devices. Screentime is bad when we confuse the way we can use an iPad to shut your child up in a restaurant with programming or making movies or composing music and it seems odd that one would think children making a puppet out of a cardboard box is developmentally appropriate but if the kid wants to make it sing or dance or have its eyes light up, then that is somehow taboo.

In addition, I want to reiterate Sir Ken Robinson's notion that Dance (or any other Arts subject) is as equally important as Mathematics in schools.

This guide will go through the steps to create your very own musical instrument through the integration of Scratch and MakeyMakey. My instrument will play a set of sounds which you can adjust the pitch of.

Supplies:

  • Cardboard
  • Copper tape (or wire or aluminium foil)
  • Scissors/box cutter
  • MakeyMakey (with alligator clips)
  • Sticky tape

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Step 1: Scratch Project

We will be using Scratch to enact the sounds which the instrument will play. The basic notion of the instrument is that it will have five sounds which it can play and each sound will be able to be played at varied pitches.

The code is going to say: Play a sound at a particular pitch while a keyboard key is triggered.

My first approach was to have an event which said 'When Space key is pressed'>Play 'X' sound at 'Y' pitch' at the same time as 'When Up key is pressed change pitch by 10'.

Problem: This worked, although, you could not adjust the pitch at the same time as holding down the key to trigger the sound. I wanted you to be able to trigger a sound over and over again and change the pitch at the same time. This is a problem with the way keyboards speak to the computer. If you hold down 'X', for example, it will continuously write x, after x, after x. But if you hold X down then tap space bar it will do a series of x then a space and not continue to do X even though you kept holding it down.

Solution: Create a variable and code which says: 'When Space key is pressed, set variable to 1, if not, set variable to 0. In addition to: When said variable == 1 play X sound at Y pitch. I also had another event which said When Up arrow key pressed, increase pitch variable by 10.

Take a look at the image above which shows the code I used. I repeated this code with other variables and inputs.

If you want to look (and use) at my completed project, click here.

Step 2: Designing the Instrument

My instrument is made out of cardboard but the options are endless. Why not 3D print something, carve one out of wood or simply sticky tape some foil to the desk!

Teachers, here is a great opportunity to get the students designing their own unique instrument. They will have to consider the materials, 'button' locations and design of the 'wiring'.

As I have previously mentioned, I am a bit of a heavy metal fan (not a steel, air conditioning device - musically!) so I have based my instrument around my real-life Jackson Randy Rhodes Flying V guitar (all the gear - no idea).

Draw the shape of your instrument on cardboard and carefully cut it out.

Step 3: Wiring the Instrument

Work out where your touch buttons will be, where the alligator clips will attach to your instrument and how your wiring will connect the two.

I chose to have my touch buttons on the neck of the guitar for optimal slaying capability and the alligator clips on the headstock because ... you know, tuning knobs. This meant my wiring went from the front of the neck to the back of the neck, along the back of the neck and to the headstock. See the first image for my wiring design.

On the body of the guitar, I wanted to have a pitch up button and pitch down button. These buttons had a hole which allowed my 'wiring' to go through the body of the instrument and the alligator clips would attach at the back. See images three, four and five.

At this point, it is VITAL to test your wiring connection by hooking it up the MakeyMakey and a computer. Sometimes copper tape isn't the most reliable conductor when you have multiple joins so you might have to (I did) add layers of copper tape. I had the earth cable attached to my metal watch but maybe you could come up with a better solution.

After I had my connections working, I realised that the wiring on the back of the neck was exactly where I would hold the guitar meaning I would trigger the sounds accidentally. I put clear sticky tape over the wiring so the touch button would be the only way to trigger the sound.

You should be ready to plug in and start making a racket ... I mean music.

See the last picture for detail about my wiring and connecting the MakeyMakey.

Step 4: Rock Out

Connect your MakeyMakey to your computer, run the Scratch project, connect the earth alligator clip to yourself and get rocking.

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    Discussions

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    MakeyMakey

    4 weeks ago

    Favorite line in this Instructable.... " for optimal slaying capability!"

    But in all seriousness, we love this guide, Simon! It's so cool how you took the cardboard instrument and turned it up to 11 with pitch control! Rock on!