Friday, July 13, 2012

Music Creation for the Classroom

Update 4/3/2013:  Since writing this, I compiled several music resources on a new post at the blog.  I also have two more examples of videos I made using a process similar to the one below:
In most tech projects I see, the teacher encourages students to find background music online.  I can understand this, since it lets students use their favorite songs and it is a quick solution.  There are so many great tools available for creating music easily, though, I hope we can find more ways to let the students create their music.  I experimented (with my wife's help) to make a sample song to see how easily students could write an original song and incorporate it in a video.  The results are in the clip below.

Here's the process I used:
I've been playing around with VoiceBand and GarageBand on the iPad.  I love GarageBand as a songwriting tool and it could definitely be useful in the classroom for recording audio.  Since it requires some understanding of music theory, though, it's going to take some time for a student to make a song.

VoiceBand (only $1.99) is a fun option, though I haven't had much luck in recording a full arrangement on it yet.  Instead, I use it to improvise vocal tracks and melodies.  The pitch correction feature works well for someone like me who doesn't have the best ear.

From there, I email myself the vocal and bring it into UJAM on the computer.  UJAM is a lot of fun.  It automatically chooses the chords to fit the melody and then you can pick from a variety of styles.  There are limitations (like only one chord per measure), but I haven't found anything else that so quickly turns a melody into a fully arranged song.

(You can record directly into UJAM with your computer and it has pitch correction as well.  But I like the idea of recording with the iPad when inspiration strikes.)

The chords can be tweaked if you don't like what UJAM picked automatically.  You also have some flexibility for which instruments are included.  The only drawback I see for the classroom is some students could play with this thing for hours!  I suggest firm guidelines on options for styles and a tight schedule.

For a sample, I wrote four lines about imagining more creativity in class.  I showed them to my wife and let her play around with them for about five minutes.  I also let her hear a sample melody I was thinking of, but I wanted her to improvise her own.

We did two takes (probably about a minute total on this) as she improvised a melody for those lyrics.  I was happy with what we recorded.  She wanted to do another take, but for the purpose of the experiment I wanted to see how quickly I could get this done.

I emailed it to my desktop computer and played around with it in UJAM for about 15 minutes.  I'm familiar with most options there, so it didn't take long to pick a style, tweak one chord and add a couple instruments.

I then downloaded the resulting file and copied it to the iPad again.  I pulled it into iMovie and added some pictures I had taken of tech projects in the last months of school.  It actually took me about as long to dig through all my pictures and make the video as it did to record the song.

Here's the final result.  The song is not going to win awards for originality, but hopefully you can see how easy it is to use these inspiring tools.  (You can hear the metronome in the measure before the vocals come in and I wanted to add some echoes on a couple phrases.  If I had taken 15 more minutes with Audacity it would have been easy to accomplish that.)

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