Making beautiful music with a MakeyMakey

The MakeyMakey is a gizmo that allows you to control computers by touching anything that conducts a small amount of electricity: PlayDoh, fruit, vegetables, even graphite pencil.

As you may know, I’ve been playing tunes on potatoes and making Scratch projects to play music using things wired up to a MakeyMakey

Well, here at BlogMyWiki Labs, we’ve just taken it to a whole new level. My colleague Felix Glenn and I discovered that you can use GarageBand (up to a point) with the standard MakeyMakey. This means: true polyphony, and a huge range of amazing-sounding instruments, from trumpets to 80s synths, via drumkits and strings.

The trick is to use the musical typing feature in GarageBand – this maps musical notes to letters on your normal keyboard. This is handy, because the computer thinks the MakeyMakey is just a normal USB keyboard.

The standard MakeyMakey only gives us access to the W A S D F letters, which I had thought ruled it out – not so. This is where the musical genius of m’colleague Felix comes in handy. He knows you can get kids making music with just 3 notes. Here’s my attempt with a bunch of carrots and a GarageBand Arp synth arpeggiator:

Felix’s next stroke of genius was to start to experiment with how we can use this to get the children (primary-aged) to make their own musical instruments that are in fact control surfaces for electronic instruments. Here the 3 note limit becomes a positive advantage, as it makes construction of the physical instrument simpler: you only need to wire 3 things back to the MakeyMakey (plus the earth).

As well as DT and music, there’s science learning going to happen here: you have to make a complete electrical circuit to trigger a note.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, we present the world premiere of the ColanderPhone:

Take a bow, Mr Glenn.

We can’t wait to see where the children take this: flutes you earth by putting the tip in your mouth, drumkits made out of cutlery or vegetables, maybe even a double bass – we’ll report back!

Next steps: how about I reprogram a MakeyMakey so that it can access at least 8 notes – I’m going to need help, though… anyone any good at that?

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4 Responses to Making beautiful music with a MakeyMakey

  1. Aly says:

    When using the Makey Makey with GarageBand, how did you get the keys to react as though they were W A S D F instead of UP DOWN LEFT RIGHT SPACE CLICK?

    • blogmywiki says:

      Good question! I used the terminals on the back of the MakeyMakey which give you access to WASDF: photo here.

      You can also reprogram the MakeyMakey to make the terminals on the front trigger different keys.

  2. Hi-
    I’m a media producer with MacPhail in Minneapolis. We are a non profit music center creating a new program for fall with students incorporating some of MakeyMakey software you’ve used in your youtube with carrots.
    With your permission, could we use a short portion of the video with the carrots for a promotional video we’re creating on our website?

    Thank you,
    Garrett Young​
    ​MacPhail Center for Music
    ​501 South 2nd Street
    Minneapolis, MN 55401

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