Make + Key = Makey Makey
Would you enjoy playing a game of PacMan with carrots or tinkering with a set of play dough piano keys? If the answer is “yes,” then Makey Makey might be just the toy for you! Today I’ll show you how to make a Makey Makey Piano with bananas!
I’ve been following Makey Makey by JoyLabz for a while and we finally got the chance to play with our very own set.
What is Makey Makey?
That’s a great question — before we brought ours home I wasn’t entirely sure either!
Makey Makey is an easy-to-use invention kit that’s essentially a printed circuit board that connects to a computer via a USB cable. Wires connect Makey Makey to conductive objects (i.e. play dough, bananas, aluminum foil, coins), which can then be played much like a joystick or keyboard key.
Basically, Makey Makey takes over the functionality of the space bar and other computer keys, and the conductive objects become the computer’s new keys! Cool, right?
One more thing: Do you see my daughter holding one end of the black wire in the photo (above)? YOU close the circuit to the ground with your body by holding one end of an alligator clip while playing with Makey Makey with another hand. If you let go of that wire, nothing works. This makes for a strong lesson in how circuits work. Awesome for kids!
That tidy little green kit you see there is filled with a few important supplies:
- Makey Makey board with 18 key-press connections and one ground connection
- 7 alligator clips
- 6 white wires
- 1 USB cable
- Basic instructions
How does Makey Makey work?
- It’s an Arduino Circuit Board. The heart of Makey Makey is its circuit board. The Makey Makey board connects to your computer via the USB cable (see the orange cord).
- Ground the Circuit. Connect one end of a wire to the board with the simple alligator clip technology. Hold the other end of the wire with your hand, and YOUR BODY now completes the circuit.
- Replace keyboard keys with conductive materials. Attach one end of an alligator clip to a spot on the Makey Makey board, and the other end to something conductive. We chose bananas.
- Play a game or an instrument | Make a Makey Makey Piano. Then you want to find a digital instrument or game to connect your Makey Makey to. We connected to a piano for our first project, but you could also hook up your new “game controller” to PacMan or Tetris. Here’s our banana piano in action:
Makey Makey Piano with Bananas
Makey Makey Experiments
This is where Makey Makey gets interesting. Once you get the hang of how Makey Makey works, you’ll certainly come up with new ways to tinker and create with it. The Makey Makey website has a pages of creations and games that people have invented around their product: talking water fountains, a heartbeat wall. And my favorite: the Giggling Circuit. You’ll want to try that one! Here’s a link.
And my all-time favorite: Eat the Star Spangled Banner. Oh-my-goodness. Amazing fun.
Makey Makey in Schools and Libraries
- According to this Fast Company article, one in five Makey Makeys are used in Makerspaces for after-school and other educational programs
- The Makey Makey website includes step-by-step tutorials that offer ideas for collaborations in school and other group settings.
- The Tech Museum in San Jose invented a game for their Maker Space that invited teams of kids to work together to build human-size circuits with a chain of bodies. They look like they’re having so much fun!
- Combine Makey Makey with Scratch coding (recommended for kids ages 8 and up), and you’ll get a child hooked on inventing and problem solving
What age is it for?
I couldn’t find an official age range on the product’s site. My kids are 4 and 6, and they loved playing with Makey Makey once I set it up. They quickly understood how to build a circuit with their bodies, and also enjoyed the task of testing various objects for conductivity. Depending on a child’s experience with electronics and computers, I would guess that young teens would be able to use Makey Makey on their own. Younger children will need adult assistance, but it’s just as interesting for adults as it is for kids, and makes a cool side-by-side learning experience.
Where to buy Makey Makey
We had so much fun with Makey Makey, and look forward to testing it out in more ways.
Thanks to JoyLabz for sending us the Makey Makey kit to review. All opinions shared here are our own.
5 easy steps to set up a TinkerLab at home.