Musical Instruments

Kristofer @ Strawbees

Rock out programming a keyboard with conductive materials and play music on the computer.



2 x 45-minute Periods

Class Size

30 Students

Group Size

2-3 Students


Students rock out to mixing music with their own musical instruments using Quirkbot! Introduce musical concepts of rhythm and melody then have students explore Quirkbot's touch sensors as a keyboard playing music from the computer. Attach conductive materials such as bananas to make a simple piano then make a keyboard out of paper and cardboard!


Alligator Clips
USB cables
Roll of Aluminum Foil
Glue Sticks
Sets of Precision Knives and Cutting Mats
Cardstock Paper
Sheets of Cardboard


Lesson Split Time

Depending on needs, this lesson can be split and taught in two 45-minute periods. With a 15 minute break seperating two sessions for a break or clean-up. An additional 15 minute session at the end is for clean-up.

Taking Turns

You can have students take turns connecting to Quirkbot to play their instruments if you do not have enough Quirkbots present.

Learning Objectives

Demonstrate awareness of rhythm, form, melody, basic composition, and performance in music.

Understand how instruments can be made assembled from anything to compose music.

Explore the physical principles of sensor interfacing, electrical conductivity, and triggering events.

Understand the process of Invention Literacy, being able to invent from found objects and materials.



Students can register ahead of time with Quirkbot CODE and create an account to save and publish projects. Otherwise, students can log in as an Anonymous User and begin programming immediately.


Before teaching with Quirkbot programming be sure to make sure your classroom internet is setup and you are able to access the You will be unable to create and upload programs.

It is recommended to use Google Chrome to ensure Quirkbot CODE will work.


When plugging in the Quirkbot for the first time to the computer may ask to install a driver. This applies to any Apple OS & Windows Operating Systems.

Lesson Steps

1. Introduction
15 minutes

Greet your students with an exciting new activity, building their instruments with computer programming! Let them know they will be building instruments out of recycled materials and will make it play sound through the computer using Quirkbot CODE and Quirkbot to control each key. Have your class break up into groups to brainstorm a list and/or sketch musical instruments with details on shapes, sizes, and sounds they will make. Your students will use this inspiration later in the lesson.

2. Connecting Quirkbot
25 minutes

Plug in the Quirkbot to the computer to make sure it's charging and to turn it on.

Let your students know the Circuit Touch function of the Quirkbot can turn any object that conducts electricity into a touch interface. The arm of the Quirkbot has pads on each side with one hole each. The front pad (inner hole) is the sensor , and the back pad (outer hole) is ground. When a Sensor is connected to Ground, it triggers. The easiest way to make a trigger is to simply pinch the Quirkbot’s arm. Since your body conducts electricity, you complete the circuit and trigger the sensor. You can use the included alligator cables to extend the touch function in many ways.

Have your students take 4 alligator clips and clamp to the LL, RA, and H of the Quirkbot for the Banana keys. On the other end of the alligator clip, attach them to the bananas and make sure they are not touching. For the ground, on the Quirkbot this is defaulted to the Left Eye. Have your students hold onto the metal tip of the alligator clip or clip to a piece of foil wrapped around the wrist or even cut out a foil hand print!

3. Programming Instruments
20 minutes

In the Quirkbot CODE menu instruct your students to drag the Circuit Touch node from Input and a Key Press from Output. If you don't see any of the nodes, ask your students to trigger their view to Advanced.

For the Banana Piano students are going to only make 2-3 keys for time. Have them repeat this step 2 more times so there are a total of 3 Circuit Touch and 3 Key Press nodes. They will have to change the Quirkbot's place value in each Circuit Touch to reflect which key is pressed. Have your students start with LL, RA, and H. When they complete that step, they will connect the Circuit Touch by dragging from out to the trigger on each Key Press node. Make sure you see the dotted line to show the connection! Change each key of the Key Press to A, S, & D. When finished, upload your code to the Quirkbot!

4. Musical Piano
10 minutes

You can use Quirkbot as a keyboard that sends commands to a music program, or an online web app that creates the actual sound. Once your students finish programming in Quirkbot CODE, instruct them to test their projects with the musical If you hear sounds repeating themselves, ask students to make sure their banana keys are spread out so they don't short.

5. Create Your Own Instrument
50 minutes

Once the pianos have been made, now you can let your students know they can make their own instruments out of cardboard, foil, and any other materials found in your space. Have your students make a 5-key instrument by adding more Key Press nodes. The more keys you have, the more ways the keys which can short circuit the instrument if they touch. Take the sketch of your instrument from earlier and try to draw a larger version of the body/base to enlarge onto thick cardboard. Encourage your students to make an intrument with all the keys on a single body so they are not all spread out like the bananas with the piano.

For extra fun, introduce the following challenges to your students:

  1. Make an instrument that you can only play with your feet.
  2. Make an instrument that requires more that one person to play.
  3. Make a clapping game-based instrument.

Encourage students to construct a working model from Strawbees, cardboard, paper, and incorporate Quirkbot and it's conductive elements to add sound.

6. Band Session
15 minutes

Have a showcase with all your students to see the variety of instruments were made and go around to have each student share their creations. To prevent a lot of random sounds, at the end of the class, have a jam session with everyone playing 2 keys for a simple melody celebrating innovative fun! Encourage your students to take turns pressing their keys going one at a time to start building a beat.

After students have time to play together, ask them what instrument they were going for and the challenges they encounted trying to recreate an existing instrument. If students did not succeed in making a replica, what did they make instead? Ask if students completed changed the sounds of their instrument based on how it plays or by a change in appearance!


To make a draft of an idea where additional versions of it will be developed.
Combination of materials to construct a whole object.
Electronic Circuit
An electronic circuit is composed of individual electronic components, such as resistors, transistors, capacitors, inductors and diodes, connected by conductive wires or traces through which electric current can flow.
A dynamic power that can be used for physical and mental activities. It can also be harnessed as a usable resource through heat and electricity.
A plan for the work process in the creation of a system, object, or interaction.
The intersection of technology and science through a design process of transforming an idea and bringing it to life.
The combination of various artistic media, usually in the digital arts.
The arrangement of sounds composing a pattern.

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