How to Make a Human Keyboard with a Makey Makey

A Makey Makey is a bare bones circuit board that connects to your computer via USB. There are 7 terminals for attaching electrical wires to it. These are arranged like an old games controller – with up/down/left/right arrows and also space bar and left click. A strip along the bottom allows for another wire to connect it to Earth.

Here’s how you could use it as part of a science lesson on circuits to create a fun human keyboard. All you need is a free account with Scratch, a Makey Makey board and a couple of friendly volunteers!

A. Create your program in Scratch.

1. Your code needs to respond when each of the arrow keys, or the space bar is pressed. In my version I set the instrument to Synth Lead (#20), but you could choose any instrument you want.

2. For each key that is pressed, the code will play a particular note for 0.5 beats. My version will play the 5 notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when the keys are pressed in the correct order.

Your code should look like this:

scratch keyboard program

Here’s a working version if you don’t want to make your own.

B: Connect up the Makey Makey

With the Scratch program loaded onto your computer, the next step is to connect up the Makey Makey and attach your volunteers!

1.Connect your Makey Makey to the USB port of your computer.

2. Attach the leads to the 4 arrow keys and the space bar.

IMG_0149

3. Connect a lead to the base of the Makey Makey. This is the Earth lead.

IMG_0150

Your Makey Makey should end up looking like this:

IMG_0152

You’re now going to need 6 willing volunteers. Ask each volunteer to hold a metal end of one of the leads attached to the Makey Makey.

The person holding earth lead is the one who is going to play the keyboard. All they need to do is touch the hand of one of the other people to play a note. Making contact in this way completes a circuit and the Makey Makey registers a key press and Scratch plays a note.

It should sound a bit like this:

There’s some good science to discuss here. Making skin to skin contact will create a circuit as skin is very slightly conductive. Touching clothing or hair will not work as they are insulators.

Holding a metal object such as a spoon, and touching their skin with that should also work.The children could experiment with different materials to see which ones work and which do not.

You could also try asking the children to hold hands and form a giant circuit, with one end holding the earth wire and the other end holding one of the other leads. If they all keep contact, then the notes should play!

You can also do something similar using bananas to create a banana keyboard, or drum kit.

Thanks to the students of the Pilgrim Partnership SCITT in Bedford for letting me use them in this video.

Let me know if you try this out! If you haven’t got a Makey Makey, then you can get one here.

 

 

Author: Danny Nicholson

Danny is an author, Science teacher, ICT Consultant, PGCE lecturer and computing / interactive whiteboard trainer. He has delivered training courses across the UK, in Europe, and in Canada. Please get in touch with your training requests.

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