Lesson Four: Draw a Playable Instrument

Draw your own playable instrument, connect Makey Makey to your drawings, and jam out with this free guide. Learn how to connect Makey Makey to multiple apps for maximum fun!

Get Inspired!

Did you test pencil lead for conductivity in the last lesson? The graphite inside a pencil is conductive even though the wood surrounding a pencil is not. (Check out this cool invention Jay Silver made with a pencil before Makey Makey!) 

Since pencil lead (also known as graphite) is conductive, that makes pencils and drawings a really cool material for inventing! 

In this lesson, you will draw your own instrument and plug it up to our piano app to play it. However, there are many pianos you can use to plug and play with Makey Makey, or you can even design your own instrument app in Scratch!

Check out these amazing instruments from a "Sketch it! Play it!" event at Intel Labs.

Which Pencil is Best?

First of all, you may not have realized until just now that there are different types of pencils that are classified by the hardness of their lead. Your normal run of the mill #2 pencil you find everywhere is a balanced, middle of the spectrum HB pencil. From there the spectrum extends out by 6 levels in terms of H for harder consistency that draws in a lighter thinner line and B in the other direction for softer that tends to be used for bold darker lines.

When presented with a question, the best thing to do is test and explore possible answers to that question. For example, is something conductive? We have explored conductivity before and now is your time to put a few things to the test, specifically different types of pencils around your home! Grab a few different pencils from around you, pull out the “Is it Conductive” tester you built before and follow along with Colleen!

Follow along with this video:

Draw Your Circuit AKA Playable Instrument

Get your 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper and use a graphite pencil (artist "6B" pencil works great to draw a design.) to draw your own playable instrument! What will you create? A robotic piano? A space ship trombone? Your name as a tone generator?


  1. Assign a minimum of three sounds to three keys on your keyboard
  2. Connect your Makey Makey and your drawing to control those sounds. Your materials for this project are paper and pencil.
  3. Record Audio on our Sampler App or play sounds with our Piano App.

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.

Drawing Tips

  • Make separate drawings for each soundbite
  • Make your drawings dark and thick to optimize them for Makey Makey.
  • Draw to the edge of your paper.
  • Draw a wider line at the edge of your paper for the alligator clip to clip onto.

Hook each section of your drawing to an alligator clip to match the sound you want to play. 

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.


Connecting to Apps

Now that you know about the conductivity of pencil lead, and have a playable drawing ready... let's find some piano apps you can use with Makey Makey! You can use any app, webpage, or Scratch project that works with key presses. 

Here are a few to try: 

Our piano designed for Makey Makey. Play a melody with the arrow keys and space bar (and click, too).

A sampling synth made by Eric Rosenbaum for Makey Makey. Record your own sound, use preset scales, and set the keys to play just the notes you want. 

New Adjustable Piano App

The new Makey Makey Piano App is the culmination of a lot of learning and play on our end. We took our tried and true piano app that we created with the launch of the Makey Makey and took it up a level. The new piano app has a number of features we think you will like:

New Piano App Features

  • Selectable Instruments - Yes! You can choose from a number of different instruments instead of just a piano.
  • Octave Choice - We give you the choice of what octave to play music in.
  • Number of Keys- Want more keys? Or, less? You can change the number of keys on your piano!
  • Scale and Starting Note - Want to start with a different note? Not a problem!

We designed this piano app to give you flexibility and creativity when building different musical instruments with the Makey Makey. We wanted to give you you an app that was plug and play with the Makey Makey out of the box that inspires you to jam out and create a whole Makey band!

Jam Out on the NEW Piano App!

Plug and Play with our Sampler App

Recording Audio with our Sampler

With out new Sampler, you can record voice samples and sound effects directly into our Sampler app and connect straight to Makey Makey for a plug and play experience!!


Click on the microphone to record. Press and hold to record. (You have a limit of five seconds)


Press to test your sample, and click on the sound wave to trim.

Name your sample and save it to the library. (It will only be stored for this session, so if you like all your recordings and want to use them again. Make sure to export your sample pack once you have all your samples recorded and placed on the sampler. (Video tutorial) 

Place all your recordings on the sampler where you want each Makey Makey input to play.

Then Export your sample pack.

Save the exported sample pack to your drive our Google Drive and then you can upload your sample pack when you are ready to plug and play.

Exporting and Importing Sample Packs



Bringing it all together!

So, you have a drawing and have played around with a few apps that are based around key presses. If you haven’t already done so, let’s combine them and create our drawn musical instrument.

With everything hooked up to the Makey Makey and the Makey Makey connected to our computer via USB cable we launched the piano app, pressed onto the EARTH section of our drawing with one hand and touched the different key drawings with the other.

And just like that you have a drawn musical instrument! Now, we don't guarantee you will be a musical genius, but you can impress your friends and family with the magic of conductivity and drawn circuits that play sound when you touch it... mind blown!


We know that there are a number of possibilities where things can go sideways with your project. Don’t panic, don’t worry, let’s take it one step at a time! If your project doesn’t work at first try double checking these usual suspects:

  • Check your pencil work! Are your lines dark enough? Do they cross anywhere or create a short circuit? Are the lines connected to the alligator clips that you want them to be?
  • Check your Makey Makey! Is it plugged into the USB and the USB is plugged into your computer? Does the Makey Makey work when you touch EARTH and a key directly on the Makey makey?
  • Check your computer! Do you have the app open? Have you focused the Makey Makey on the app by clicking on the app? Is your computer muted? Do you need to disconnect a pair of headphones or external speaker that isn't on?

Science Behind it!

We learned in the last lesson that a conductor is any item that allows electrons to flow through it with little effort. We also learned that if an item has any conductivity, Makey Makey will detect it. We also learned an insulator is any item that does not allow electrons to flow through it. Since we tested graphite and it is conductive, and we learned that paper is an insulator, we know now that if we make our drawings thick enough on regular paper, we can use drawings to control our computer keys! 

In our next lesson, we will go a step further and learn how to code our key presses with Scratch, Makecode Arcade, Tynker, and Code.org. As an inventor, you'll want to create your own apps and computer programs, so we will show you how to do just that!

Extensions for Teachers

Drawing Sound Words Activity

Have students draw the onomatopoeia word for a sound of their choice. Ask students to record the sound in an online recorder. Collect all of the wav files of the sounds in a Google Form and use that data to upload all wav or mp3 files into one Scratch project. This is a fun way to create one project that has all the sounds from all the students whether they are virtual learners or in person learners.

Remixing Scratch Projects to Make Collaborative Sound Art

Teachers will probably need to make a Google Form for kids to add a link to their sound art project. After receiving a student's remix ink, the teacher will want to comment on that project for the next student to remix.

Colleen’s Scratch Project with instructions for remixing: https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/447380198/


Time Investment
30 min
2nd - 12th 



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