Making MakeyMakey instruments in class

Having proved the concept with the Colanderphone (© Felix Glenn), today I taught a combined DT / music / ICT / science lesson in Year 5.

In the first lesson, I introduced the MakeyMakey and got the children each to design (on paper) a control surface for a musical instrument. The design brief was that it had to resemble a real musical instrument, it had to have only 3 notes, and it needed to make a complete electrical circuit.

I followed m’colleague Mr Glenn’s excellent idea: get the whole class, 30 children, to make a human circuit round the room by one child touching the earth on the MakeyMakey, all holding hands round the room, with the last child touching a pin on the MakeyMakey to trigger a sound on GarageBand. We found that if 2 children stopped holding hands, the circuit was broken and it didn’t work. So there’s a science lesson on electric circuits.

Today, in groups of 6 they had to vote for the best design to go forward to the prototyping stage. We made mock-ups so children could experiment with different materials and get a grasp on the need to make a complete circuit, have buttons we could clip a MakeyMakey onto, and ensure the wiring for each button didn’t short.

We had a LOT of guitars in the original design, so I encouraged them to diversify, and we now have 2 guitars, a drum machine and this rather amazing saxophone:

The earth is the mouthpiece made of tin foil. You then press the foil buttons to play the sax – we wired it up to a sax on GarageBand, and it worked!

At the end of the lesson, I asked the children to think about what they’d learnt from the prototyping process. Various things, from using stronger materials, to putting the buttons closer together so it’s possible to play chords more easily.

I’m hoping that when we have 5 instruments made we can attempt some kind of performance – although I only have access to 3 MakeyMakeys at the moment. Anyone fancy lending us a couple?!

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