Monday, January 13, 2014

Smart Jams Music Video Project - Outline and Video Tutorials

These are my video tutorials and outline for the Smart Jams Music Video Project. If you have any questions about this process, don't hesitate to contact me by email. I want to improve this page so many teachers and students can create a similar project.

All information about the project and our pilot can be found on my Music Creation in the Classroom page on this blog.

It will help to see and hear some examples first:
The process can vary depending on complexity, but the heart of the project involves songwriting, recording the song and then creating a full arrangement using and GarageBand.

Step 1:  Write the lyrics

The first step is to write a short song. When we do these, they are really just choruses of about four to eight lines.

Step 2:  Record vocals

Next, make a recording of someone singing or rapping the song. We do those by playing a beat in headphones for the performer and just his or her voice is recorded. For the beat, I use Smart Drums in GarageBand for iPad. You could also use Easy Beats LE for a free option. On a computer you could use DrumBot.

To record, we use Audacity on a computer and export the track to mp3.

Tip:  Name the file with the song's tempo in it.  For example, if the beat the performer sang to was 90 beats per minute, save the file as mathsong90.mp3.  This will help greatly in later steps.

Step 3:  Adjust timing of audio recording (if necessary)

If the recording is perfect, you can probably skip these first two tutorials and go right to the UJam step below, but I have found most student recordings need some cleaning up to adjust timing.

This short tutorial shows how to transfer the file to your iPad so you can adjust timing using GarageBand for iPad.

Then this next tutorial shows how I would split the tracks into segments (sometimes as small as a syllable) and move them to adjust the timing. You can do this with GarageBand on a Mac, or any other program that allows for easy trimming and moving of audio tracks. I prefer GarageBand for iPad because I can work on the audio files whenever I get the chance.

In case you're wondering about the time it takes to fix up a file, it depends how rough it was. For short songs that were performed well, this would be done in less than two minutes, if it was necessary at all. In other cases I would work for an hour or more over a series of sessions to polish them up.

As a general rule, have students practice ahead of time as much as possible and get a good recording. Short songs are better than long ones! This process will not be able to do much to fix a really bad recording.

Step 4:  Export to mp3

Next you need to export the file in mp3 format. This will be easy if you're using most programs that work with files on a computer, since they usually export to mp3. On the iPad, I exported from GarageBand to Voice Record Pro. From there I could convert to mp3 format and email the file to myself for the next step. (Note: If your program will not export to mp3 you can also use wav format.)

Step 5:  Get two or more arrangements from UJam

This next tutorial is about what makes the project truly impressive. It shows the steps I would usually do to create at least two different background tracks with full instrumentation using This is an amazing online resource and with some practice I could usually put together two background tracks in about 10 minutes. The trick is to not get distracted by all the options!

One suggestion when letting the students do this part of the process: Share the audio file(s) on Google Drive and let them work on the song outside of class. That should allow them to stick to a deadline in class, knowing they can always explore other options at home.

Alternate approach:
As another option rather than UJam, just download one of our Smart Jams Song Starters from SoundCloud and improvise a melody over it. Import the Song Starter into Audacity and record your vocal track separately. Let me know if you like the Song Starter idea, but need more styles and variations.

Step 6:  Mix tracks and arrange

The final tutorial shows how I combined the background tracks from UJam with the vocal performance using GarageBand. I did this on a Mac, but you could easily do the same thing with GarageBand for iPad. Audacity would also work, though it's not as easy to adjust right to the measures and loops aren't as readily available.

Step 7: Make the video

At this point you will have a good audio version of the song.  If you want to move on to video, you can tackle that in a number of ways. Here are some general tips.

Quick videos using Video Star:
The Video Star app for iPad is a fun (and free) tool that allows you to play a song while you record video. None of the sound you make while recording will be in the video. Only the song will be heard. It's ideal if you want to lip sync, but the many effects can make an entertaining music video even if you're not singing along with every line.

To use this method, once you export the song from GarageBand, send it to iPad (even if it's already on the iPad) by email. Check your email with the iPad app. Tap and hold the attachment link for the file in the message and you should get an Open With... options. One of those should be the Video Star app. The song will open in Video Star and you can begin recording right away.

Video slideshows using the iPad or computer:
Students can make great videos combining pictures. These styles of videos usually play the pictures in different ways over background music, which in this case would be the song the students created.

iMovie is a great option on the iPad. If you don't want to buy it, Splice and Loopster are good options that will accomplish the same thing.

If you are using a Mac, use iMovie to combine the pictures. For a PC, try Movie Maker or WeVideo. In all of these cases, you can easily add text and effects to the pictures as well.

If you want to edit the pictures ahead of time, I can't say enough good about Pixlr. It has a website (use the Express version), iPad app and Android app.

Another option is to create a full video made up of video clips, pictures, effects and text. This can become very time consuming and the details are well beyond the scope of this outline. I may add some more tips or another post about this process. For now, I will just suggest using iMovie on a Mac (which is what I used for almost all the Smart Jams examples) or Corel VideoStudio (which I used for The Area and Perimeter Song and The Quadratic Formula Song).

If you have questions or comments about the process, please include them below so I can improve this series of tutorials.

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