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Making music and art in Scratch

09 September 2016


We've come a long way in bringing coding back into schools in the last few years, but I think there's potential to more closely incorporate it in other aspects of the curriculum. In the same way that writing and maths are used in most other subjects, as ways of expressing ideas, coding can be too. In the arts, the computer can be a great tool for creation, with randomness and serendipity adding to the creative process. (If you're interested in random art, check out my review of Brian Eno's 77 Million Paintings). Computers can also provide a way for people to express themselves through music or art, even if they are not talented with an instrument or pencil.

In my new book Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps, a follow-up to Scratch Programming in Easy Steps (both available now), I've included two music projects and an art project.

The first music project is a drum machine that you can customise with your own sounds (in Scratch 2.0) and use to program your own rhythms. Each row represents a different sound, and each column represents a beat. If the spot at a particular point is turned on (blue), that sound will play on that beat. Here's a video of it in action:

I've also provided some synthesised note samples for download that you can use to turn this Scratch project into a melody machine, so you can use the same program to play evolving tunes, like this:

The second music project is a random tune generator, called Scratch Cat Maestro. I used the C Major Pentatonic scale for this, but you can use any scale. The tune is only 32 notes long, but I used the pattern AABA to repeat bits, so it feels like there is some structure and it's not just a stream of random blips. It ends on the root note, so it feels complete. Some tunes come out better than others, obviously. Here's a demo:

For both books, I wrote a chapter at the end with a few short and sweet programs that readers can quickly dip into. Both books had a random art project in this section. In Scratch Programming in Easy Steps, the project is called Abstract Artist and created line-based patterns. For Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps, the art project is called Going Dotty and creates hypnotic circle patterns.

I have a keen interest in electronic music today, and first started experimenting with it by programming an Amstrad CPC464 in BASIC. I hope that these Scratch projects will show readers new ways of making music and art on the computer, and will inspire them to experiment with customising these projects, or designing their own.

For more information, visit the homepages for Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps and Scratch Programming in Easy Steps. You can order Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps here, and Scratch Programming in Easy Steps here, with further links to buy my books here.

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Books by Sean McManus

Scratch Programming in 

Easy Steps

Scratch Programming in Easy Steps

Raspberry Pi For Dummies

Raspberry Pi For Dummies

Learn to program with the Scratch programming language, widely used in schools and colleges.

Set up your Pi, master Linux, learn Scratch and Python, and create your own electronics projects.

Coder Academy

Coder Academy

Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps

Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps

Learn to make games and other programs in Scratch 2.0, and make a web page in HTML, with this highly interactive book for 7-10 year olds.

Discover how to make 3D games, create mazes, build a drum machine, make a game with cartoon animals and more!

More books

©Sean McManus. www.sean.co.uk.