Drawable Buttons Project
Drawing Circuits and Button!
Draw your own playable instrument, connect Makey Makey to your drawings, and jam out with this Activity. Learn how to connect Makey Makey to multiple apps for maximum fun!
Did you know that pencil lead is conductive even though the wood surrounding a pencil is not? (Check out Drawdio a 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 with Makey Makey!
In this project, you will draw your own instrument, hook a Makey Makey up to it and use it with a few of our new piano and audio sampler apps to jam out. Let's get going and turn this thing up to 11!
What You Need to Know...
This activity is a great place to start with Makey Makey, but if you feel lost, that is ok! Feel free to backtrack a bit and check out these other tutorials that cover the basics of Makey Makey and simple circuits!
Getting Started with Makey Makey
Learn about what a circuit is and the basics of electricity and conductivity to build your first paper circuit!
Build a conductivity tester that uses Makey Makey to help you figure out what materials are conductive and which ones aren't!
Use bananas or any other produce to build circuits and turn them into piano keys using Makey Makey and our free Piano App!
Tools and Materials
This project does require a few things that you may not have just laying around at arms reach on your desk at school or at your workbench. Here are the required tools and materials you need to be able to make this all work.
- Makey Makey - Make a key out of anything conductive!
- USB Cable - Connect the Makey Makey to your computer!
- Conductive Pencil - 6B Pencil, it's conductive!
- Pencil Sharpener - Got keep 'em sharp!
- Clipboard (Optional) - a great drawing surface
- Paper OR Cardstock - Something to draw on
- Alligator Clips - connect the Makey Makey to a conductive material
- Eraser(optional) - used to undo drawings!
- Non-conductive art materials (optional) - Your choice here!
Maybe you want to draw on cardboard instead, or use this idea with paints? All awesome ideas and we totally want you to play with the materials you have on hand.
But, we cannot guarantee that everything will work, but that is what testing things out and going for it is all about. After you complete this activity, go and be creative with what you have learned and try new things!
We learned in the Hello Light activity that a conductor is any item that allows electrons to flow through it with little effort. We have also learned that if an item has any conductivity, Makey Makey will detect it. Insulators were also covered in that they don’t allow electrons to flow through them at all. Since we tested graphite and it is conductive, and we learned that paper is an insulator, we know now that if we make our pencil lines thick enough on regular paper, we can use drawings to complete our Makey Makey circuits and create our own hand-drawn computer keys!
Yes, you read that right and your conductivity tester confirms in the Is it Conductive Project confirms it... Pencil lines are conductors. Now, not all pencils work best for this and that is why we have our own Makey Makey Conductive Pencils. We took all of the guess work out of it for you and included a few of our pencils and a pencil sharpener in the kit for you. With these pencils, you won't need to draw as hard and make your lines as thick as you would with a normal 2HB pencil.
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!
Using the video above as your guide we give you a bit of a spoiler that, yes, graphite is conductive and that some pencils work better than others! We have included in the Craft & Code Booster Kit a pencil that we have found works best for drawing circuits.
Did you know that the writer Henry David Thoreau and his dad created the numbering system for the varying graphite hardness in pencils? Young Thoreau helped perfect the process of adding clay to the graphite to improve the quality of pencils at his dad’s pencil factory! The numbers on the pencil refer to how soft the pencil is. A higher number B pencil is softer and will leave a darker mark on your paper. That’s why we prefer a 6B pencil for drawing circuits!
Image Source: Wikipedia
Graphite gets used as a conductive material out in the real world! Graphite is made up of Carbon and when you look at a carbon molecule you will notice that it has what is called a free electron. This means that the electron is free to move about and visit others. This is the definition of conductivity… where materials have free electrons that can move in a current.
Let's Draw a Circuit!
Now, you may have noticed a few things from the different drawings in the video. Here are a few tips that we have seen.
Where we clip the alligator clip to the paper, the drawing is a little wider than just a line. This is so that we have a better chance of keeping the connection when the drawing is moved.
We know that drawing circuits for the first time can be difficult to troubleshoot. We created this quick video to help you troubleshoot your circuits visually!
Your First Drawn Instrument
Now that you know about the conductivity of pencil lead, let's find some audio apps you can use with Makey Makey drawn instrument! You can use any app, webpage, or Scratch project that works with key presses. We have created a few plug-and-play apps of our own for you to start with; a NEW Piano App as well as an Audio Sampler App that are mapped directly to Makey Makey keys and are ready to go.
The NEW Makey Makey 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!
Feel free to stay and play a while with the piano app!
Makey Makey Audio Sampler
In the spring of 2021, we designed and built our own Audio Sampler App because we saw the demand from the music community for a simple tool to be able to mix sounds and music with Makey Makey.
The Sampler App is a great next step from the piano to take your musical drawings to the next level. You can map different sounds to different keys, create loops and even record your own sounds rather than just use ours. We did a quick demo to help you get up and running with the Sampler app and your conductive drawing!
There are a number of different sampler apps out there, but we wanted to create one that would work on all computers including chromebooks and iPads. If you are curious about the Sampler App, try it out with your drawn buttons and see if you can lay down a sick beat!
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?
Going to the Next Level!
Now, you have only scratched, or at least drawn on the surface when it comes to creative circuits! Here are a couple of ideas to take your conductive pencil drawings to the next level...
- Blackout Poetry - Creating Black Out poetry with Scratch and Makey makey!
- Interactive Stories - Use your conductive pencil to create interactive posters and dioramas!
- Poem Generator - Use drawn circuits and Scratch to create an awesome poem generator!
If you are looking for other projects or activities using the Craft & Code Booster Kit check out our collection for inspiration...
Other Craft and Code Projects
Build your own game tilt based controller with Makey Makey and a yogurt cup. Test it out with our Etch-a-Sketch App!
Draw your own playable instrument, connect Makey Makey to your drawings, and jam out with this activity using different app options.