How Music Technology Helped My Students Tap Into Their Creativity



Jade’s face peered out at me by means of the Zoom window, certainly one of 25 faces in an elementary music class that lately went absolutely distant throughout the pandemic. Though Jade was solely within the fifth grade, she had determined, like many others her age, that she was not into music. Making an attempt to encourage college students to be taught music throughout the pandemic was powerful, and for a younger, new music instructor like myself who wished all of his college students to be engaged at school, Jade offered a problem.

On the ripe previous age of 12 years previous, she was already satisfied that she wasn’t musically proficient. Though Jade was respectful and well mannered, she made it clear: the one factor she wished to play was the video games on her cellphone.

I assume I’m not the one one which has struggled to succeed in sure college students in my class, and as college students grow old, it turns into a tough endeavor. As soon as they fall behind, they begin to really feel like they aren’t good at music and it’s not for them, not to mention trying to be taught music composition – that’s worse than writing a novel. However what I seen early in my instructing profession is that when children are enthusiastic about telling a narrative, they determine a manner. They draw comedian books. They write phonetically. They inform tales out loud.

That’s not all the time the case with music. One way or the other, with music, the boundaries appear to stand up too shortly; children really feel like they must be taught a thousand issues earlier than they make a sound. The tragedy is that nice musical composition might be tales, too – they’re simply instructed differently.

Music Know-how to the Rescue

Earlier than most individuals compose music, they have to grasp writing and studying music. Sadly, there simply wasn’t something I might do to persuade some college students, together with Jade, to be taught the distinction between “E-flat” and “F#”.

I questioned how I might decrease the barrier to entry for college kids to create a narrative with restricted musical writing abilities, very like a child studying a comic book guide for the primary time. Over the previous few years, just a few applications have emerged that make it doable for anybody to create musical scores, even earlier than they’re fluent in studying and writing musical notation. Fortuitously, I found Hyperscore, a software program program created by a nonprofit group known as New Concord Line and began by Tod Machover, a musician and music and media on the Massachusetts Institute of Know-how.

What composing music seems like in Hyperscore. Photograph courtesy of David Casali.

Hyperscore takes the idea of music as a narrative and runs with it. College students use dots and features to create a musical image. Within the background, the software program makes use of the principles of Western musical concord to suit a musical scale or key.

Whereas this was an thrilling improvement, we have been nonetheless in the course of the pandemic, and simply turning the software program over to my fifth grade college students and telling them to put in writing music wasn’t sufficient. I wanted a hook.

Initially, I thought of Jade and her classmates’ love for video games, then I remembered one other MIT undertaking known as “Scratch,” a program that thousands and thousands of children have used to design their very own pc video games. Most of us have discovered that including a musical rating to a sport enhances our enjoying expertise. In truth, the youngsters who construct probably the most polished video games on Scratch typically add a pre-recorded monitor. At that time, I believed to myself, what if my college students might compose their very own tracks and add them to Scratch video games?

Earlier than testing my concept with college students, I picked a few in style Scratch video games, went into the sport’s code and ripped out any present soundtrack. After that, I let my college students experiment with this system to see what they might do. I didn’t simply ask them to compose music – I additionally wished them to consider the sport itself. I wished to see if they might juggle components that they won’t have ever thought of earlier than:

What was the “temper” of the sport?

What ought to the theme of the music be?

What was the story they have been attempting to inform with their composition?

How might their music improve the expertise for the participant?

With the intention to achieve success, they needed to let their ear be their information and use the strains they drew in Hyperscore to create a narrative. Earlier than I knew it, the experiment was underway.

A New Type of Musical Expression

After the scholars have been finished with the sport, I checked the outcomes, and admittedly, I used to be shocked: Hyperscore had eliminated the boundaries for college kids. Their creativity was now not held again by their command of music notation or potential to carry out on an instrument. They might discover musical concepts and make modifications to the notes in actual time. College students whose musical voices had been silent started to bloom, and having the possibility to put in writing music to suit a sport thrilled them.

A Scratch sport the place college students add the rating. Photograph courtesy of David Casali.

Whereas Jade initially lacked confidence in her musical skills, she felt like a rock star when it got here to enjoying with Scratch and Hyperscore. Nearly instantly, she understood the model and temper of the sport and her expertise enjoying video games on her cellphone grew to become a useful asset. As she labored on a Scratch sport known as Frenetic, a fast-paced platformer with characters leaping over spikes, the music she designed matched that upbeat tempo with simply sufficient rigidity to remind you that you’re leaping over spikes. For the primary time that 12 months, she turned in one of many strongest submissions within the class and obtained to point out off a artistic expertise for music she did not understand – or consider – she had.

This experiment was my first step in rethinking what a music classroom might seem like and the way it could possibly be related to my college students. Jade and the remainder of my college students helped me understand simply how a lot college students are capable of do if the synthetic boundaries blocking their creativity are eliminated and their pursuits are thought of. My college students have lots to say, musically talking, and I’m grateful I might create alternatives for them to say it in a singular, related and accessible format. The sphere of training can be taught lots from the scholars we train, however provided that we’re prepared to satisfy them the place they’re and take their pursuits severely.