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Customize Your Own Drum Set!

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What kind of music do you enjoy listening to? Hip hop, rap, classical, techno, or electronic? Do you know what most of them have in common? They rely on a drumbeat to provide tempo and depth to the sound. You might think of a drum as simply a large round vessel with a membrane covering that musicians strike with a drumstick, but musicians can create a synthesized drumbeat with an electronic keyboard or with electronic drums. In this science project, you will design and make your own electronic drum.


Areas of Science
Time Required
Long (2-4 weeks)
Material Availability
Computer with internet access, and you will need to purchase a PicoBoard. See the Materials and Equipment list for details.
Average ($50 - $100)
No issues

Michelle Maranowski, PhD, Science Buddies


To build a drum set using household materials, a computer, Scratch, and a PicoBoard.


People can dance to any kind of music—from hip hop and techno to rock, and even jazz. Most music has some kind of drumbeat, not only to help keep time, but also to give the music feeling. Drums are percussion instruments and they are far from just the round membrane-covered instruments you might think of; for instance, they include bongos, snare drums, and congas. Sometimes, musicians can add a drumbeat to a piece of music without using actual drums at all! Instead, they use an electronic keyboard or electronic drums.

In this science project, you will build electronic drums using household materials, your computer, a simple and free program called Scratch, and a device called a PicoBoard.

Scratch Picoboard Drum 1
You can see an example of the electronic drums in this short video.

You will use the resistance sensors on the PicoBoard to make the computerized sounds for the fours drums. You can also change the appearance of the drum on the screen when you tap it, so make your drums as true to life or as crazy as you want!

Terms and Concepts



These resources will introduce you to Scratch:

These resources provide more information about the Picoboard and using it with Scratch:

These additional resources may also be useful for this project:

Materials and Equipment

Disclaimer: Science Buddies participates in affiliate programs with Home Science Tools, Amazon.com, Carolina Biological, and Jameco Electronics. Proceeds from the affiliate programs help support Science Buddies, a 501(c)(3) public charity, and keep our resources free for everyone. Our top priority is student learning. If you have any comments (positive or negative) related to purchases you've made for science projects from recommendations on our site, please let us know. Write to us at scibuddy@sciencebuddies.org.

Experimental Procedure

Scratch Project Note

This project idea was written using Scratch version 1.4, which is available at the Scratch 1.4 download page. A Science Buddies tutorial for Scratch 1.4 is available on our Scratch User Guide and additional tutorials are available on the download page. The project can be modified to work with other versions of Scratch. Information about the most recent version of Scratch is available at the MIT Scratch website.

Note: This engineering project is best described by the engineering design process, as opposed to the scientific method. You might want to ask your teacher whether it's acceptable to follow the engineering design process for your project before you begin. You can learn more about the engineering design process in the Science Buddies Engineering Design Process Guide.

Designing Your Electronic Drum Set

  1. Define a need. In this project, you'll create electronic drums using household materials. But you should first think about things like who is going to play them and what colors they might like. What kind of features would that person (or people) like in a drum set? What kind of music are they going to play? The kind of music may change the type of sounds you want from your drum. For instance, drums for Caribbean calypso sound different than drums for a rock band. You might need to do some background reading about drums to help you define the needs.
  2. Establish design criteria. Now you need to get down to the business of developing the specific details. These details are called the design criteria. Having a good set of design criteria will help you focus your efforts. The following is a set of questions to help you think about your design criteria. Note that it is not a complete list. You can either use this list of questions to develop your design requirements, or you can develop your own.
    1. How many drums will there be in the drum set? Note: The maximum number should be four, because each drum will need to be hooked up to a resistance sensor, and the PicoBoard only has four resistance sensors.
    2. What will they look like?
    3. How will you play them: with your hands, with a drumstick, or some other way?
    4. What kinds of drum sounds do you want to include in your drum set?
    5. You'll need instructions to appear on the computer screen telling users how to play the drums. What should those instructions say?
    6. What kind(s) of pictures do you want to show on the screen? Will each drum show up as a circle, as another shape, or do you want to add real pictures of a drum?
  3. Create and analyze designs. Keeping your design criteria in mind, make a rough sketch, flow chart, or plan of what your electronic drums will look like and what the sprites do and/or say. A flow chart is a diagram of boxes where each box represents a step in the Scratch program to make the drums make sound.

Creating Your Electronic Drum Set

  1. Build and test a sample program. Once you have created a set of design criteria, it is time to create your first drum and the basic program that will allow it to make sound.
    1. First, make your drum. Take a paper plate and completely cover one side of the plate with a piece of aluminum foil. The aluminum foil must be large enough to overlap the edge of the plate. The side of the plate covered with foil will be the part of the drum that you hit. To avoid tearing in the aluminum foil while you're drumming, make sure the aluminum foil is pressed securely against the plate.
    2. For the final product, when you hit the aluminum plate a drum noise will be created by the computer. In order to make this happen, you need to write a simple program in the free online program, Scratch. To get ready to do this:
      1. Be sure you have the computer owner's permission to install Scratch on the computer.
      2. Download the Scratch program from http://scratch.mit.edu/scratch_1.4/.
      3. Scratch is very easy to use! But if this is your first time using Scratch, read the Science Buddies Installing & Getting Started with Scratch page. This short guide will familiarize you with Scratch and make the rest of this project easier.
      4. Now that you have downloaded Scratch, you need to get your computer set up to work with the PicoBoard. Follow the instructions on this page to get your PicoBoard working and to learn more about the sensors on the PicoBoard.
    3. Now that the PicoBoard is connected to your computer, connect the aluminum plate drum to the PicoBoard using the alligator clip cables that came with the Picoboard. This will allow the signal (in this case the change in resistance across the alligator clip cable when you hit the drum with the drumstick) to travel from the PicoBoard to your computer. Connect the PicoBoard and your aluminum plate drum as follows:
      1. Plug one of the cables into one of the resistance sensors on the PicoBoard.
      2. Clip one of the alligator clips to the foil-covered plate. Make sure that the alligator clip is attached securely to the aluminum foil.
      3. Clip the other alligator clip to the drumstick.
    4. Through the process of installing Scratch and the PicoBoard, you've probably learned a lot about both of them. Now look back at the design sketches you made. Based on your new understanding of Scratch and the PicoBoard, are there any changes you want to make, or details you should add to your design?
    5. Now you're ready to use Scratch to create a simple program that makes a drum noise when you hit your aluminum drum. Below are some general instructions. If you get stuck, refer back to the Science Buddies Installing & Getting Started with Scratch.
      1. First you'll need a way to tell Scratch when the program is started. Pick a yellow Control Block to help you do that (note that in Scratch 2.0, these blocks have been moved to the new "Events" category).
      2. Hitting the aluminum foil drum will cause a change in the resistance value detected by the PicoBoard. Look for blocks that will allow you to tell the computer that if it detects a certain resistance value, it should play the drum. Hint: You'll need control, sensor, sound, and operator blocks.
      3. Once you've assembled your blocks, decide what resistance values should trigger a drum sound.
        • You can see the resistance that the PicoBoard is sensing on the computer screen by choosing the appropriate resistance sensor from the block's drop-down menu and clicking on the checkbox in front the sensor block you chose to use. Hit the drum with the drumstick and see if the value of the resistance on the computer screen changes.
  2. Program your electronic drum set. Once you have your sample drum up and working, you're ready to build the rest of your drum set and add the fun, fancy details to your program!
    1. Build the rest of your drums and connect them to the PicoBoard using the other alligator cables. Feel free to decorate your drums if that is part of your design criteria.
      1. Connecting all four alligator clip cables to four drums might not be a straightforward task right away, but keep working on it! It is doable and you will arrive at the correct setup soon!
      2. Use a piece of electrical tape to strengthen the connections to the paper plates.
    2. Add more blocks to your program so that it can sense when each aluminum drum is hit and make a different type of drum sound (or sounds if you want) for each drum.
    3. Add details to your program to make it more user-friendly and fun. Here are a few examples of fun things you could do:
      1. Add sprites (pictures or photos of drums) for each aluminum drum. You could even make the sprites move or react in some way when the real-world aluminum drum is hit.
      2. Add on-screen instructions telling the user what to do.
      3. Use the slider sensor on the PicoBoard. For example, see if you can use the slider sensor to increase the volume.
    4. It is a good idea to test along the way so that you can iron out small issues as they crop up. You don't want to have a long program at the end that doesn't work and you don't know why.
    5. If you don't like what you see, rearrange the instruction blocks into a configuration that you believe will work better.
    6. Once you have finished building your electronic drum set, make sure that all of the requirements that you set at the beginning of the project are satisfied.
  3. Test and redesign. Test your drums on your friends and family and sit back and watch the fun! How did they like it? Use their feedback to improve your drum set.

The Final Product: Presenting Your Electronic Drums

  1. Once you have finished the final version of your drums and you are happy with them, it is time to show them to your friends and family again.
  2. When presenting your project at your science fair, try to bring in a computer. If you are not able to do so, then take many screenshots of your work, print them out, mount them on a poster board, and display the drum set.
  3. Your science fair presentation should also include:
    1. The needs list and the design criteria that guided your building of the drum set.
    2. A flow chart of how the program works.
    3. An explanation of what you learned from your research and by building the electronic drum set.
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MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Customize Your Own Drum Set!" Science Buddies, 20 Nov. 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/CompSci_p043/computer-science/customize-your-own-drum-set. Accessed 3 Feb. 2023.

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2020, November 20). Customize Your Own Drum Set! Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/CompSci_p043/computer-science/customize-your-own-drum-set

Last edit date: 2020-11-20
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