How It Started

When the idea of the MaKey MaKey Chord Board (MMCB for short) was first conceived, the board looked a little something like this:

MMCB 0.1 (Concept)

All artistry aside, the concept was fleshed out quickly in a matter of days. The original design was intended to be a fixed whiteboard with the numbers one through seven mounted on it. The numbers themselves would be semi-permanent fixtures on the board (they could be removed to undergo maintenance) and would be made of conductive material. These numbers would be connected to a MaKey MaKey device by extended alligator clips that would either be mounted to the board or be in the board itself. When someone touched one of the numbers, the idea was that the MaKey MaKey circuit would be completed and the MaKey MaKey would send a signal to a computer to play a particular chord. The chord would be played (probably through Scratch) and broadcasted out through speakers. The tool would ideally be used in music theory classrooms at the college and high school level and used to introduce chord theory and scale degree theory. Since the Scratch system is reprogrammable in many ways, the system could be used to teach many units of music theory (for example, since the system can be programmed for any scale, the tool can be used to analyze differences between different kinds of scales or to clear up discrepancies between similar chords). This makes the tool a perfect companion to theory teachers.

Shortly after this idea became fleshed out, the concept of creating a large board was reconsidered. The practicality of a tool that could only be used in a classroom is limited; the team tried to consider how the tool could be adapted to be much smaller and maybe even transportable. The concept turned out a little something like this:

MMCB 0.2 (Concept)

MMCB 0.2 (Concept)

Both of these illustrations represent the same idea. The board was made to be small enough to be easily transported and easy enough for many age groups to use. Instead of being a mounted board, it became a size where individuals as well as groups could work on one board rather than have to watch a teacher interacting with a board. Ideally it was designed to be just larger than a laptop and function similarly to a chord sampling board. The student would pick a scale or create a new scale in Scratch to set the function of trigger on the MMCB. Once a scale was loaded up into Scratch, each trigger would function as a different chord. The top row (labelled one through seven) would play the root position chord of the corresponding scale degree of the preloaded scale. The second row and third row function the same as the top, except represent first and second inversions respectively. The tool could be used in performance to play songs in any key, in arranging as an assistant for chord analysis, as a theory learning tool and practice device; the possibilities are still expanding. And with its easy reprogrammability, the MMCB was shaping up to be even more versatile than initially anticipated.

Early Scratch tests for the MMCB programming

When creating the "code" in Scratch to produce sound, early prototypes looked like the above screen capture. Initially, the concept utilized the pitch system already present in Scratch to create the tones that would build up each scale. This screen capture is actually of the earliest prototype for the system, that was later changed radically to fit the needs of the project.

The research group decided that this design was superior to the mounted board design. From there, paper "prototypes" were created to help focus the work of the group. The first official prototypes are shown below:

MMCB 0.3 (Concept Blueprint) - Interior
MMCB 0.3 (Concept Blueprint) - Exterior

The design was worked to incorporate the necessary USB port in the design. Sample wiring was also laid out to help prepare for the inevitable wiring that would need to happen.

This design was changed later to incorporate new features that promote ease of use and ease of building:

MMCB 0.4 (Concept Blueprint) - Interior

MMCB 0.4 (Concept Blueprint) - Exterior 

This design mapped out the exact keys that each of the triggers would be programmed to trigger. The group had re-engineered the wiring design due to an oversight in the initial design process (ports that were clearly labelled ground on the MaKey MaKey's Arduino ports were assumed to be working Arduino ports; these ports could not have worked correctly). Each of the lines drawn on the top sketch leads to a point where a trigger was intended to be. As stated earlier, the design needed to be modified to account for the decreased number of ports to be used as triggers.

MMCB 1.0 (Concept Blueprint - Exterior)
The new design was an idea that took a good amount of Scratch manipulation to figure out. The twenty-one individual triggers were in turn replaced with seven triggers and two sub-triggers to trigger inversions for each scale degree. 

Scratch programming for MMCB 1.2

To account for the new sets of trigger constraints, the Scratch programming had to be completely revamped. For the MMCB 1.0, 1.1, and 1.2, the programming was revamped to trigger as shown above. To break it down to basics, when a scale degree is pressed, that chord is played in root position. When one of the inversion keys is held down and then a scale degree is pressed, the chord is played in that inversion. Simple as that.

MMCB 1.1 (Concept Blueprint - Exterior)

Although the 1.0 design was intended to be further changed before it was considered to be completed. The purpose and use of the board were re-evaluated and the triggering system was changed. Instead of a "Play!" button, the device was re-engineered to be held like a Gameboy or Nintendo DS and triggered simply by being held. The rectangles on the sides of the box are labelled "Foil/Copper/Paint/Conductor." The idea was to create a surface that could become the ground of the device and be triggered without having to engage any kind of button to trigger the ground.

MMCB 1.2 (Concept Blueprint - Exterior)
MMCB 1.2 (Concept Blueprint - Interior)
The final design was created to increase how ergonomic the board was to hold. The top of the board was designed to have the one through seven triggers arranged in a circle to promote ease of use. The device became even more like a Gameboy in that the device is used mostly through the use of thumbs. The MaKey MaKey 2.0!

MMCB 2.0 (Exterior)
But we didn't stop there. At the Music Education Hack in NYC, sponsored by Spotify, we revamped our design again. We added three new triggers: a sound switcher, a recording player, and a comment player. The sound switcher enables added convenience to the MMCB, allowing the user to switch between sound freely without the need of loading an entirely new Scratch project for each sound. The "Assessment" trigger is an open slot with a "Play sound ____" block. The purpose of this trigger is for kids to be able to go into Scratch, record themselves singing or playing using the MMCB, and set the MMCB to play that recording when the trigger is pressed. The same principle applies to the "Comments" trigger. Kids would be able to reflect on their experiences with the kit live and save those recordings to play later. Teachers could use both of these triggers to help analyze where students are excelling and having problems regarding their explorations with the MMCB. The system now incorporates all twelve Arduino ports on the MaKey MaKey.

MMCB 2.1 (Faceplate)
MMCB 2.1 (Exterior)

MMCB 2.1 (Interior - MaKey MaKey wiring)

MMCB 2.1 (Interior - Wiring Placement)

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