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



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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!


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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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