in Bflat

A quick idea using the great site which is an online project that got people to film themselves performing simple drones in the key of Bflat and then allows the viewer/hearer to turn them on and off at will. Everything sounds nice because its all in the one key. I opened this up on my electronic whiteboard and then gave kids a chance to come up and experiment and create little arrangements. Its a great little site that enables the kids to instantly hear what it is like when you add a bass, or how the sound changes when a single note instrument like a trumpet comes in. It is also a great chance for them to hear music making using non traditional instruments and instruments that they might never have seen before.

creativity, student centered learning and web 2.0 applications


Goanimate screen shot

In term 3 myself and my fellow music/ICT teacher Andrew Williamson were given the opportunity to work with a group of 30 grade 6 students for an hour a week doing whatever we liked in the area of ICT (computer’s). Instead of devising a curriculum for the class with an end goal in sight we decided to go the other way and hand over the power to the students and see where they would drive the curriculum. We proposed to them that they would be responsible to find web 2 open sourced software of the internet that would lend itself to some form of creative output -what form that was didnt matter it just had to be something that was of interest to them and would provide them with an opportunity to create something. They would then have to add this to a collective list. Each member was then rquired to investigate the applications that the others were discovering and write a review on them. All of this helped to instill in the kids a sence of responsibility to the group learning and hopefully a much more powerful group intelligence would emerge than anything Andrew or I could have come up with.

Once all the reviews were in the kids could then go to any of the programs they liked and start making thing, music, pictures animations, tessalations, game making, programming, cartoons films whatever. The medium is unimportant the process and ability to express ideas is the real thing of interest so discovering new mediums that will help you do this was exciting for all the kids.

We used Google Wave as our place to communicate as a class. A place to add your reviews and a place to chat about how you were going what you liked and didn’t etc. As this no longer exists you could create a wiki for your class to do the same thing

The kids loved this class, so much great stuff was made. I have quickly raced around and grabbed a couple of screenshots but it really doesnt give you a good reflection on the amount of diverse work that was being outputted from this class.


Toondoo Screen Shot

This is a great example of what can happen when you simply set up an environment and trust that children have an inate desire to express themselves and to learn.

SOme online programes that were chose were

goanimate – a simple animation programe

Tagxedo – a tagcloud generator

Glogster – a poster creator

Aviary – a online image manipulator and music creator

Toondoo -a cartoon creator

Seashore – an image manipulator

SumoPaint – an online art program

NoteFlight – online music notation program

Scratch – Game maker

Scratch Screenshot

Scratch Screenshot

Aviary's music creator

Aviary's music creator

Composing with Grade 5 and 6 children

As I have mentioned previously composition is at the heart of my philosophy when it comes to music education. It is also what starts to make your music classes exciting and moves them beyond the some times mundane experience of teaching skills or singing songs.

With the grade 5 and 6 students this term we are focusing on a number of compositional styles.

These include

1. Composing with Melodic Instruments

2. Minimalism

3. Chance compositions

4. Composing soundtracks

5. Composoing with Text

5. Composing Machine Compsitions

These are all styles that are very accessible to children and there are lots of great examples on you tube of composers using these ideas as the basis for their own music. Composers like John Cage and the concepts he introduced always fascinate children.

The first four weeks were spent on Composing With Melody and to do this we used our diatonic instruments. Initially to children almost everything sounds good when composing with diatonic instruments so it gets things rolling quickly and gives you a chance to help them refine their ideas.

I always get them to write four parts into this composition. A bass line a melody line a chordal accompanyment and a percussion part and initially explain the roles of each of those parts. I then get them to add a B section which we decide to be something different to the A section and something short. A chance to provide a point of difference in the music. At the end of each week I film the children and one quick viewing at the start of the next week is all that is required for them to remember where they were up to. Depending on your philosophy regarding notation you could get them to notate but I find that childrens ears are generally pretty good and notation merely slows the composition process at this stage.

In the following weeks I will blog about how I go about teaching the other musical styles and upload some video.

But here is a video of a couple of completed Melodic Pieces

Under The Sea Compositions with Junior Kids

In the Junior levels I find vocal soundscapes are a really effective way to get them to begin to think compositionally. Here is an example of a very simple lesson which ends up creating nice little pieces of music.

Using the IWB draw up a series of pictures and then have the children suggest appropriate vocal sounds for them. The children can also suggest what the pictures would be. So we had bird sounds, rustling sea weed, we made body sounds to represent the octopus, screaming for the scary fish, bubble sounds for the school of small fish and a scraping sound for the large rock. Then draw a simple submarine and explain that the sub is on a sound gathering trip under the ocean. When ever he reaches a destination a new sound will emerge. Using your mouse guide the sub around the ocean and let the children make the appropriate sound.

To turn this into a more effective composition add a few percussion instruments that might be appropriate, we addes chimes and marimbas. You can talk about how they are to be played, dynamics, large or small intervals etc. so that each part fits in with the original idea of the composition – under the sea.

Finally record the whole thing in Garageband. Once the recording has been done it is a good time to play it and reflect with the children on how effective the piece of music was and does it need any changes. I actually took this time to teach some of the features of garageband such as cutting and pasting to double up the effectiveness of some sounds and also adding effects. We added some delay into the bubble sounds.

Heres a video of what it might look like.

Radio Plays ICT and music composition

The project we worked on with level four in term one was to create a radio play.
We initially looked at the Orson Wells version of War of the Worlds.
You can find the whole thing on youtube

This leads into interesting discussion on the use of sound effects to crate realism as well as talking about radio plays and how they work etc. why they were and still are very entertaining and acting and script writing techniques that  create a sense of reality.We also discussed the genre of Science fiction – which can simply be defined as stories about a science or technology that doesn’t exist and the subsequent consequences of if it did exist.

Secondly we looked at Jeff Waynes 1970s take on War of The Worlds

Here you can discuss the impact of adding music to a story, does it add to the story or overwhelm it.

From here the project fell into a number of steps.

1. write and practice your own science fiction radio play.

2. record it. This can be done in garage band. I tend to use the podcast template because it allows simplicity. It has a male and female voice preset that the kids can record straight onto. Just highlight the track you want to record onto and push the record button. Picture 1

3. add sound effects. Garageband has alot of great samples which can be accessed on the right hand side of the project window, they are labelled under the category of stingers. you can also use the jingles samples to add authenticity to your radio play, eg if you want to cut to an add etc. Sound effects can also be recorded in in the same method that you used to record your voice. This is always an exciting and slightly more authentic way to enhance the students projects.

4. Add a soundtrack. This is always an interesting part of the project and often it is advisable to discuss the role of music in soundtracks. It is used to enhance the main format which in this case is the narrative that is being delivered by the voice. It is being used to enhance the desired emotional state and if it is doing anything else it is being counterproductive to the project. Placing limitations at this stage of the compositional process is a useful thing for many students. The variety of choice that programs like garage band offers can become overwhelming for many beginner composers and quite often leads to boredom.

5. Finally render the project down into an mp3 format and upload it to your blogs.

The kids loved this project and created some amazing things. Here Are some examples
Robin and Eden
mary, alex, honor.

Some of the ICT skills that get covered here according to VELS are

Familiarization with basic skills programs (word)

Using spell checks

File Naming saving locating and file opening

In depth understanding of editing programs such as garageband

Understanding of networks

Use of concepts mapping programs and graphic organisation programs

Advanced web searching

Use of ICT equipment – microphones, mixing desk, etc.

Create products that document original ideas

Web Uploading ability

Familiarization with basic skills programs (word)
Using spell checks
File Naming saving locating and file opening
In depth understanding of editing programs such as garageband
Understanding of networks
Use of concepts mapping programs and graphic organisation programs
Advanced web searching
Use of ICT equipment – microphones, mixing desk, etc.
Create products that document original ideas
Web Uploading ability

Ensemble Teaching

At NFPS we run an ensemble program using Marimba’s, xyzlaphones, and percussion instruments. Each level has an ensemble which rehearses for one hour a week. If your thinking of trying to get an ensemble program going that is inclusive, easy to make astart with and enjoyable then I recommend these instruments – plus it sounds so much better than recorders.

The advantages are they are diatonic (all playing in the same key) which allows you to write your own bass lines simple melodies , chordal accompaniments and rhythem parts. The basics to teaching composition.

The costs for these instruments range depending on quality but you dont need to buy the most expensive, the more the better at this age. We actually had the large Marimbas built for the school by a company called Mountain Marimbas at a relatively cheap cost  If your looking for music John Madin has written great books for all levels that come with a CD etc.

Below is an example of a very simple piece fully composed by the children – You can hear the 4 parts, melody, bass line, rhythm and accompaniment and we also introduced the idea of a B section that shifts the mood of the piece slightly.

long haired piece 2 from North Fitzroy Primary School on Vimeo.

teaching compsoition to kids

Over the term Andrew and I have been working with the level four kids devising their own compositions for mixed percussion groups.

The key concepts that we taught were:

1. The need for a bassline and its role – to hold the piece down harmonically and rhythmically.

2. A Melody line and what it does – adds character and individual taste to a composition – it’s the thing on top that gives spice.

3. An accompanying part either using a counter melody or chords and what it does – it enhances the melody and provides some substance.

4. An A section and a B section for interest sake – to provide variety for the listeners ear.

5. A Rhythm part.

The kids all worked in small groups of 5 and co-composed all the parts and then each person performed one part. Finally we filmed all the performances and did some quick editing using Final Cut Express

The kids love this and are all very confident in their ideas and with the idea of being able to compose. Marimbas and basic metalaphones are great to use when composing with kids because they are generally diatonic (all in the same key center) so allow kid to instantly play and sound quite good.

I often just encourage them to hit a couple of notes and decide if they like the combination of sounds and then they are off and running.