The new Code-a-Key Backpack! Bringing the Makey Makey and the BBC micro:bit together for more invention fun!

Sketch it! Play it! (Draw your own Instrument)

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!

Grab Materials and an Online Piano


Gather materials

Get a piano

  • CLICK HERE to open the piano in a new window in your browser.

  • We recommend using the Google Chrome browser.

  • You may need to install Flash or Javascript.

  • Turn up your speakers!

Click once on the piano to focus the computer’s attention on the piano.



Try pushing the arrow keys and space bar on your computer’s keyboard. You should hear the piano make sounds.



Connect your Makey Makey to your computer with the included USB cable.

  • Connect alligator clips to the four arrow keys and space bar.

  • Connect one alligator clip to “Earth” for grounding people.

Teaching Tips: If you are teaching this activity with our STEM pack, we recommend students working in partners, but both partners creating their own drawings.

  • Let students share a computer and a Makey Makey, but ask both students to create a drawing for testing and playing. 


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 the video below to see some tips on making a playable drawing.

Teaching Tips:

  • Regular pencils will work, but then your students will need to draw very dark drawings with a lot of graphite. If you are working with younger students, you might consider purchasing some art pencils (6B) to decrease frustrations. 
  • We like to put pencils and erasers at table groups. Drawing a circuit is a cool way to learn, but erasing to find out how to break a circuit is even more exciting! 

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.

Teaching Tips:

As teachers we sometimes over explain and don't let students figure things out through their own problem solving. For this activity, step back, and let kids tinker and try to figure out why a drawing is or isn't working. You'll be surprised how much they retain by testing and problem solving on their own. Plus, it will boost their creative confidence!

Instead ask questions to help guide kids if they need extra assistance:

  • When the graphite comes off on your finger, why does that affect the way the drawing plays?
  • Why are two keys going off instead of one?
  • Why do some drawings work better than others? 

When plugging in alligator clips, colors do no matter, BUT they do sometimes help students with matching notes to drawings. You might have students write the color for each key press on the side, or label the key press next to the drawing. (Sometimes kids do this on their own!)


Looking for a Better Piano?

CLICK HERE for the "MK-1" which has the ability to play more notes and even record your voice (or other sounds)!

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. 

Teaching Tips:

We have a whole guide on the back of the board if you want to explore what you and your students can do with more inputs!


A Bigger Challenge

Imagine giving large groups of people an opportunity to build their own instrument out of paper and pencil. CLICK HERE to access a PDF outlining all the lead-it-yourself directions.




Time Investment
30 min



Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Aenean pharetra, ligula non mollis pretium, lectus libero sodales augue, interdum auctor mauris dui non risus. Nulla facilisi. Nunc rutrum diam in elit sagittis eget viverra erat viverra. Morbi imperdiet aliquet libero vel rhoncus. Integer.