We are living in an age where traditional music notation is no longer a prerequisite to being successful in music creation or performance. Traditionally, music education has been driven by factual knowledge over musical creation. Technology has opened music creation to the masses producing music styles that involve traditional composition with notation programs (Finale, Sibelius, etc.), Digital Audio Workstations via computer (Logic Pro X, FL Studio, Ableton Live, etc.) or mobile device/apps (GarageBand, Notion, Symphony Pro, etc.) The fact is, mobile technology allows for music creation with results beyond anything seen anytime in the history of music.
Fostering Musical Awareness
Students are influenced with years of school-based music programmes that typically drive music theory and history as the building blocks to musical knowledge. Isolating music theory in small packages without a larger picture can damper any interests students may have about music, especially what they listen to and participate in outside of school. Backwards by Design thinking supports this notion that music engagements can start on the other end of looking at a completed work, and traverse backwards looking at how it was created (melody, chords, accompaniment, instrumentation, and rhythm, for example). Think of the motivation this would create within our classrooms!
Using a variety of apps, my goal is to introduce creation of music without the baggage of having to learn to read music first. I want to open their minds to the incredible ways mobile tech can allow them to play around with musical sound, rhythm and chords to create music first, then assimilate music theory directly related to their interests. This is nothing new in other subject areas, but critical to give students the tools to be independent in their trek through music creation. Many of these apps are available for other platforms, not just Apple.
In the first month of weekly classes, apps were chosen to reinforce that music isn’t determined by their knowledge of theory and ability to read notation. The goal: sound creation through hand gestures and icons on the screen. eDrops Nature and eDrops – Bouncing Balls Music App Studio are similar to a pinball game reacting to the laws of physics with the results being a pattern like, musical soundscape. I demonstrated this by recording one and a half minute of music from eDrops Nature and premiered it over a 4K nature video to stimulate musical conversation with the students. The questions were, “What would the music look like in notation for this score?” “Could you do this?” “What are the challenges of notation?” They were so surprised that there was no music notation, only a game-like screen with falling balls of light bouncing from various points on the screen. Yes, it is normal for some students to enjoy the game aspect of this app forgetting they are creating sound.
The next app is quite a unique one, called Playground. It provides sets of instruments that react to finger movement. It has proven to be the students’ favourite app because of its contemporary sounds and tactile involvement. After a ‘play’ period, we talked about the importance of establishing a beat, like a drummer. Students need to become familiar with the layout of the instruments and the various icons and triggers that affect the sound creation. Within the second week of using this app, students had to start to show patterns of rhythm and consistent tempo of finger movement. You must try this app to understand what this means. It’s free to try!
Within the third week, students explored Nodebeat. This is a pattern creating musical app that has a game-like appearance. It’s an enormous app that has so much to offer and would be better presented over a couple of classes highlighting its capabilities. Students need time to learn the icons and their associated sounds and instrumentation. Sound modification is also important within this app. It is highly customisable.
Students will be challenged to use one of these apps to create a thirty to sixty second musical piece. I find they are highly motivated when they have an endpoint and useful reason for doing this. Their music will be promoted on SoundCloud for others in the school (and parents/teachers) to listen to and comment. It will also be meshed with video of their choosing and placed on YouTube for the same purpose. The goal is to get their music ‘out there’ for the world of social media to push them along with careful guidance from their teachers.
Please comment and share. Thank you for reading! This post will be updated throughout the year.