We’ve reached the end of semester! And oh man. There’s a lot going on – I’ll attempt to categorise my thoughts.
Black Lives Matter
I’ve been reading more about the Black Lives Matter movement and injustice towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people since the protests demanding justice and defunding the police, sparked by George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. Want to be informed, want to learn more. I’ve come across some resources that have furthered my understanding as a mostly white (for all intents-and-purposes it’s how I’m perceived and go through the world, though my grandmother is Chinese) music-educator-in-training.
A standout quote for me: “Paralyzing grief due to the continuous, systemic murders of my community” will not be an acceptable excuse for why my application is less competitive than that of my peers.
As well as: I still dream of a world in which scholars more privileged than myself (namely, white male scholars) will have already done the work of making the field a place where marginalized scholars can thrive.
Standout quote: An organization, whose predominantly white members by and large research people of color, is and can be nothing other than a colonialist and imperialist enterprise.
Later in the article: Years of study do not absolve people from holding beliefs about BIPOC that are not only problematic but also harmful. If you cannot do the most basic of things, like acknowledge the existence of the people whose lives and cultures your job is based on, you have no right to make your living off of them.
And from the last paragraph: In my workshops, I very intentionally teach that diversity, equity, and inclusion are a package deal. Because, without achieving all three, our social justice goals are incomplete; our anti-racist goals are incomplete, and “the system” remains fully intact. Invariably the mood shifts when I begin to discuss equity and the elephant in the room—the underrepresentation of BIPOC in the music classroom. When the conversation turns to not just having, but actually increasing the numbers of BIPOC music teachers, white people fall silent.
“I’ve argued in the past that […] rap is a complex nuanced technique on par with any other approach to vocal performance. But I think it’s time I put my money where my mouth is: if hip-hop is a serious art form, which is definitely is, then it deserves serious analysis, so let’s do that.”
I include this video because it’s another reminder for me: don’t just use my words, but take action.
Presenting The Final Project
Listening to everyone else’s presentations was super valuable, I heard some really cool music (like Jay’s naddpod project and Emily’s songwriting), and kept some projects in mind for use in my future educating.
Lucy C, Jess and Amy all created digital books that focused on learning band instruments, and given I’m involved in band conducting at the moment I’d like to use them in the future. Lucy D and Larisa also created an incredible maker movement resource for learning how to create your own instruments (designed for the classroom), complete with video instructions and safety tips. It’s awesome working alongside such cool people with cool projects.
As for myself, I showed my remix project to a few friends of mine (hi, Catherine and Larisse). As I rambled about my process, I realised that while remixing I’d hit upon a creative part of me that I haven’t found in a while. During the project I fiddled around a lot to manipulate sound without so much an end product in mind. And yes, I did end up with a recognisable harmony and rhythm (mostly), because I do enjoy structures and harmony. But I enjoyed the playfulness. This was evident to me when I was editing my pop song, as I edited the acoustic guitar I realised I was disappointed that I was aiming for a real life guitar sound rather than messing around and seeing what sounded cool to me. It’s interesting, I think it was a moment of breaking away from what things ‘should sound like’. I want to hold onto that.
And As For This Blog?
I’m not stopping here: I’ve got ideas. In reading Ethan Hein’s blog I’ve realised how passionate I am about participatory music. And I’m thinking about giving myself a reading list on social justice music education resources, and making my way through books (especially Own Voices books), perhaps exploring my thoughts on the books on this blog (we’ll see – only if documenting it is productive for me).
Gathering samples: making my way through the stems, choosing things I thought sounded fun. Noticed that I gravitate towards voice samples most. Begun collecting them into my first track, loopy loop.
Adding more to loopy loop. Wrote an idea for my second track: acoustic love ballad singer-songwriter style.
Continuing on loopy loop and created the main hook! Researched sidechaining and learnt a lot from ableton’s helpfulblogs. Played around with chords on the piano, too.
Also tried to slow down the vocals to create a long ‘coooooome baaaaaaack’ line but it sounds a bit bad.
Listened to Andrew Huang’s This song has 69 vocal tracks for inspiration. Decided which effects I wanted to focus on learning in my second track, vocally: reverb & autotune (maybe chorus & phaser). Begun writing lyrics for vocally by copy and pasting the original lyrics into my own text.
Made the instrumental and percussion backing for the first verse of vocally, then started experimenting with autotune to change the tune of the original melody into my new melody. Bloody hell. I’m not (yet) willing to pay for autotune, and oh boy. Watched a tutorial for a free plugin, gsnap, and snapping it to MIDI works alright – but there’s a bunch of reverb and quiet percussion in the vocal stem meaning it sounds Pretty Messed Up. Also downloaded a pack from ableton that comes with a multiharmoniser & polyvocoder, but can’t for the life of me figure out how to change the pitch over time. Maybe it’s an automation thing? God this is confusing…
Figured it out! Basically combined every method together [more detail here]. Have put together the first verse of vocally now. Also designed an overall structure for loopy loop while singing in the shower.
My brother heard that I’ve been using ableton and asked me about it – for context, he’s not as known for music as me and my youngest brother (we perform more, so I guess we’re louder about it). Welp. He’s been making music on fl studio for the last year and a half, which I kind of knew about, but not the extent of it. It sounds bloody good. A tinkering approach to making music, and his sound design is really cool.
It was also a reminder for me: don’t expect yourself to be good at this straight away and be disappointed when you’re not. His looping game is awesome and I’d love to be able to make ambient tracks like he has.
Anyways, we chatted for a while, he showed me some music he’d made, I showed him some of mine. We’d both recently downloaded the free ableton trial, and experimented together: we messed around, I showed him some shortcuts I’d figured out and he showed me the simpler and sampler. Was a really nice night.
My artistic partner listened to an earlier draft of vocally and commented that it sounded unnerving, causing me to relisten and realise that it does actually sound unnerving. Huh. I’ll continue writing it like a love ballad, but I’ll keep that interpretation in mind.
They also pitched me some great album cover ideas, which I’m very excited for. Retro surrealism here we go.
Continued work on vocally, I’ve reached 2 minutes in length (my goal for each piece)! Very pleased with how I’ve manipulated the vocal ‘oohs’, I’ve created this lush sound and it’s quite beautiful in a track that is mostly full of electronic sounding instruments. And the vocoder at the end really leans into the unnerving aspect.
I am becoming more tempted every day just to sing straight into the track. Ah well.
Watched more AndrewHuang videos for inspiration (the second video is by far my favourite). I think I’d like to work more with the simpler and sampler in the next track. God I wish I had a MIDI keyboard or at least one of those cords, it’d really speed this up for me. Ah well, at least I’m forced to work in an unfamiliar program more. Will maybe try the randomiser? Or reversing sections more often. Would also like to just play around more and design chords and progressions that way – so far every chord progression I’ve created has been pre-planned on the piano.
And finally! Finished vocally! Just had some small edits and panning left. I’ve listened to it so many times now.
Now it’s the evening, am going to focus on finishing loopy loop (after all, I have a structure to follow now). Going to try and channel Andrew’s approach: “I am a fast producer. I make decisions, and stick to them.”
I think I’d like the third track I make to lean into making lush sounds with the ooh’s and aah’s, as well as exploring the whispering effect too. It’d also be nice to actually include Vienna’s song title, Never Look Away, in one of my tracks.
Loopy loop: I made some very cool shimmery effects! Aaah it sounds so cool [more detail here]. Now all I’ve got left is the last drop (I think that’s what it’s called…) – I’m hoping to keep the vibe of the first drop, but add in some shimmer effects to tie the whole thing together.
Finally finished loopy loop! Still a few volume edits needed, but nothing big. There are some sections I like a LOT less than others, but I can’t be bothered to cut anything out.
Then spent the rest of the day working on my pop assignment. Recording guitar, planning out instrumentals. Thank god I’ve spent this tech project learning to use ableton, there’s no way I’d manage the pop assignment without these skills.
In the evening, wrote out my favourite sounds so far, and brainstormed my final two tracks.
Spent the day working on instrumentals for my pop song. Recording, adding effects, lightly mixing. Trying to record some vocals in the evening but oh man I don’t have a hold on that yet.
Also socialised a bit ’cause it’s Sunday. Kinda miss going outside. And talking to people.
Recorded all my vocals for pop and mixed the song, made sheet music too! Final track here.
Had hoped to get back to remixing tonight but didn’t have time. Have decided to make only one more track, instead of two. God I just want this done.
Going to try make a track that is an ever-evolving thing, rather than sticking to a set structure with looped sections, etc. Starting out static and strange, ending with an upwards vocal flourish? Hope?
Got stressed and procrastinated a bit (not a great coping response), but have finally begun and am well underway. The track is called keep trying. Written an organ melody, which I’m going to crossfade underneath the radio harmonics (very much enjoyed making these! Finally something fun)! As if you’re all alone in the desert and someone’s trying to contact you but the radio isn’t working and their voice keeps failing.
Main things I want to add to this track are:
More playing with the radio at the end
Adding in whispered words at the beginning (double them in the vocoder two octaves down? Maybe make them slightly off beat?)
Maybe messing around with reversed overlapping vocal snippets
Would like to reference the chorale again in a higher register
OOh the chorale and the bass drum & flourishes could keep interjecting each other!
How does it end? Maybe reversed vocals slowly fading? Or the bass drum builds up to a final kick and we’re left ringing in harmonics, as the vocals take us back down to earth?
Could end with a radio shut off
It’s also looking like this entire song will be made with vocals. So far I’ve used just the oh and ayyy, and have made quite a few organs, radio signal, flourishes, and a bass drum. Will keep trying to use only the vocal lines (tis fun).
Oh yeah, and I made a section that I react viscerally to. I can’t put it in the end piece cause I’ll get upset each time I hear it. But here it is, I guess.
Finished the song! Somehow! I suppose it says something that this one only took me two days? Am I finally getting the hang of ableton?
Finished the panning for keep trying, renamed the other two tracks, tidied up all the tracks volume wise, got the amazing album cover from my amazing artist friend and uploaded to youtube and soundcloud!
I still wish I’d fallen asleep in the past hour, but alas, we will make do with what we’ve got!
It’s finally struck me that the best way to present my project (working title: “4 producers flip 1 sample, except the 4 producers are me”) is through a youtube video. I’ve been spending the last few weeks filming and editing videos for popular music studies class, and it’s really not my favourite thing to do, but… it’ll look so good.
In the video I can break down my process of creating the four songs, show my process of learning how to use ableton, and show reactions of people listening to the music. Plus there’s the click bait of ‘I made an album in two weeks!’ (yeah, haven’t begun yet… sorry James.) It’ll be a cool resource to have. And my goal is to produce the video entirely independently of this course, essentially accessible to anyone on the internet. Maybe I’ll become a youtuber.
I gained a lot from hearing Ethan speak, and from everyone else too as he naturally opened up discussion in the class.
1970’s Pop As Deep Surrealism
Ethan mentioned a gig he did that paid his groceries for 8 years – he worked for someone who wanted to produce a country rock album but could barely sing or play instruments. So he produced a country rock sounding album that was actually a techno album.
I’m learning a lot about how music and sound is developing as recording and producing has become so high tech. Even the beatles, recording sounds of the cello so close to the strings so that it was bone dry, without any natural reverb in the room. It’s not produced to sound like you’re in front of a band acoustically. Instead, it’s making listeners imagine that the sounds are existing in a physical space that they physically cannot. “We’re all just blaisey about this deep surrealism.”
Teaching Theory to Bedroom Producers
Ethan’s building a music theory class with Ableton, using the arpeggiator (it sounds like a LOT, but I wish him luck). He talked a bit about theory in techno music too:
Cadences in techno are a full stop, and that’s not useful. Instead we want chords that keep looping.
Asking about melodies is as relevant as asking Beethoven where the beat is (I’m assuming like, the heavy bass beat here, not just whether a song is in 4/4 or not).
Someone else in the class (Rebecca I think?) asked about teaching music theory to bedroom producers. She’s a piano teacher with her own private studio, and a few of her students have come to her studio specifically asking. And we discussed this idea of when (if at all) to learn music theory.
Makes me think about the concept of teaching the foundations first. Because, what are the foundations of music? In our hypothetical class of 5 year old children, what should we teach them first? Is it:
Singing folk songs familiar to general American culture, or
Singing folk songs familiar their own culture (and the cultures of their classmates), or
How to hold the recorder, or
The basics of Western european music theory, or
Creating their own instruments from scratch, or
Playing piano, or
Dancing, feeling the music, or
How to play in an ensemble, or
The science of sound acoustics, or
Writing lyrics or rapping, or
Sampling other’s music, or
Creating their own music (and this could take so many forms), or
In the past I have tried to narrow down the best musical foundations for a new student to learn. Yet I am realising that that was all based off and underlying assumption: There is only one way to be a musician. And obviously, there isn’t!
In the case of bedroom producers asking to learn theory from Rebecca, I don’t think they’ve necessarily missed out on anything earlier on in their education. Perhaps if someone tried to teach them theory as a 5 year old they would have resisted. Isn’t it cool that they’ve come looking to learn? And as long as people get to love what they do, they’ll always wanna learn more.
I’m not saying foundations aren’t important. I just don’t think I need to always teach them first. Learning isn’t linear.
Who Makes Hip-Hop?
Ethan began his lecture delving into the white rap cover (check out his thoughts here), which we then discussed. Chris O’Thile, a bluegrass mandolin-playing musician, covering Kendrick Lamar’s Alright. I learnt a lot, notably that rappers don’t do covers – they sample (maybe as a homage, or because they like it), but write their own lyrics. Ethan talked about rap originating in communities and then being co-opted by capitalism: it all began improvised, was about expressing oneself and entertaining your community. Sam recommended bell hooks’ cultural criticism and transformation series, where she talks about rap. And Ethan recommended Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-Hopby Joseph Schloss.
Ethan talked about how impressed and jealous he was of a group of young people freestyling together at the start of their concert – they all met because of an initiative called CORE, where people from the community could come and use professional studios when they weren’t in use (James tried to ask Hindson if we could the same with the con). He talks more about it here.
And we discussed rap in the classroom. Ethan’s prediction that JW Pepper is going to be publishing wind band arrangements of Kendrick Lamar, and is that okay? Some of us saying yeah, I guess it is because it introduces this music to these kids in a way that they know how to engage with. (I’d just like to point out the assumption that ‘we’re bringing this music to the kids we teach’, as if no one in a school I teach at already listens to Kendrick Lamar, and likely knows more about his music than I do. Music teachers are far from exclusive bringers of music to children.) And James argued the point that introducing hip-hop through wind band is legitimising it in the canon of Western classical music.
I’m Learning More About Hip-Hop Culture
Ethan told us about the trends he’s witnessed watching classical musicians vs hip hop musicians recording in studios. When recording with Pharrell Williams, you bring all your friends, hang out together for hours, in the last hour you get out your books, and then record in the last 15 minutes.
And then Ethan mentioned hip-hop educator Toni Blackman and the classes she runs on freestyling. She focuses on building confidence and empowering people, through theatre games and many group activities. Her philosophy for these workshops is You’ve been talking all your life [so I don’t need to teach you how to talk], you just need to improv and be comfortable. Looking at her website gives me further insights, on her homepage she’s quoted by Dr. Julius Bailey as someone who recognises that in order to be instructive we must know, but to be effective we must feel. And in her own words, her mission statement: To be a music maker, teacher and healer who uses hip hop to inspire people to go beyond their limitations, to become more articulate, and translate words into action that further personal and professional development and help to create a better world.
This idea of centering the person, focusing on hangout out and empowering and encouraging confidence is not new to me, it’s something myself and others (notably a friend of mine, Catherine) have explored in 2019 in Barbersoc. It’s really cool to learn more about how it’s (I think) ingrained in hip-hop, a context which is totally unfamiliar to me.
Ethan mentioned too about an afterschool program he’d been developing with Brandon Bennett and Roman Britton (he writes about it here). He talked about (in class and in his blog) some of the lyrics the kids wrote – most of them boasting about themselves and making fun of their friends, a few writing heartbreaking lyrics. And he talked about the confidence that these kids had, all passing around the mic at the end of the first class: after a little encouragement, a Haitian kid who doesn’t speak English dropped a verse in French. The eighth graders had a full-fledged rap battle. It’s really cool, shows the participatory culture of rap, and it may not have happened without Brandon and Roman leading the class.
What About In The Classroom?
I think there’s hope in community engagement and collaboration. We as teachers will never be qualified in everything, we just need to listen more.
But as Rachel brought up in class, “What about when you can’t get experts in, you don’t know people, you can’t find resources that don’t whitewash?” Ethan’s answer was “You get the kids to fill in all the gaps.” I love his answer, I think it’s a really powerful tool for teaching a group. Every student comes in with knowledge and experience, and there’s so much to learn just from one another. Children’s own musical cultures – whatever they happen to be.
I Have A Lot To Learn About Race
After class, I began reading more on Ethan’s blog. One of his posts that has made more internet waves is Teaching Whiteness in Music Class. A few things from his post stood out to me in particular:
“A nice person is not someone who creates a lot of disturbance, conflict, controversy, or discomfort. Nice people avoid potentially uncomfortable or upsetting experiences, knowledge, and interactions. We do not point out failures or shortcomings in others but rather emphasize the good, the promise, and the improvement we see. Niceness compels us to reframe potentially disruptive or uncomfortable things in ways that are more soothing, pleasant, and comfortable. This avoidance and reframing are done with the best intentions, and having good intentions is a critical component of niceness. In fact, as long as one means well, the actual impact of one’s behavior, discourse, or action is often meaningless (Castagno, 2014, p. 9).“
I recognise myself in this. As well as:
“To preserve white privilege, it is not necessary to be hateful; passivity and conflict aversion are sufficient.”
I would like to be more disruptive, less willing to play nice and more willing to make change.
He also mentions resistance theorists, and the idea that we should recognise nonparticipation in class as political opposition, rather than apathy or disinterest. When I consider my own education I remember resisting politically by non-participating (a PDHPE teacher of mine who was openly biphobic and discriminatory towards those with mental health problems), it’s peculiar that I’ve never applied that concept to the people I’m teaching. “Resistance in this case redefines the causes and meaning of oppositional behavior by arguing that it has little to do with deviance and learned helplessness, but a great deal to do with moral and political indignation (Giroux, 1983, p. 289).” Sometimes non-engagement is a moral objection.
He talks as well about the three models of disability: deprivation, difference, and culture of disability. Deprivation as the idea that people cannot perform tasks of schooling due to personal traits. Difference as the idea that within a different context, a certain disability is not one at all, perhaps even an ability. And culture of disability, where learning disabilities are categorised by society for political purposes. This last one is interesting, especially when considering learning practices that value precision and excellence (Western classical music, for one). For people to be succeeding, we must have failure to compare it to.
Ethan discusses deficits in other ways, such as the idea that hip hop artists only produce music in that style because they are too deprived to play real music. Which..isn’t true. “You know, everybody went to a school that had a band. You could take an instrument if you wanted to. Courtesy of your public school system, if you wanted to. But, man, you playing the clarinet isn’t gonna be like, BAM! KAH! Ba-BOOM-BOOM KAH! (quoted in Schloss, 2013, pp. 28-29). Similarly, the producer DJ Kool Akiem refutes the equation of rap production techniques with poverty: “Producing takes more money than playin’ a instrument” (quoted in Schloss, 2013, p. 29). We will only accord hip-hop the respect it is due when we understand it as a form of cultural wealth rather than merely an expression of cultural (and financial) poverty.“
And finally, culturally relevant pedagogy. “Culturally relevant pedagogy must provide a way for students to maintain their cultural integrity while succeeding academically” (Ladson-Billings, 1995, p. 476). […] The most difficult task facing educators is not delivery of content, or enforcing behavior standards, it is “making democrats in undemocratic spaces” (Ladson-Billings, 2015, p. 417). Culturally relevant music educators can embrace hip-hop not just as a music, but as a value system as well. Kruse (2016) urges us to ”keep it real” (be authentic), ”flip the script” (do the unexpected and deviate from the norm), “make some noise” (have students produce music actively, rather than just passively consuming it), and ”stay fresh” (continually evolve in the face of change).
What I’ve learnt today (and will keep on learning) speaks to me, there are some ideas here that I’ve grappled with before (treating my students as colleagues who have as much to bring to the table as I do, Western classical music’s culture of exclusionary excellence) that this lecture has put into a larger social context for me. And there’s much more that I’m learning for the first time.
This Lecture Changed Some Students Workflow And Life
All of humanity is an experiment, and let’s hope it doesn’t go wrong.
God, I suppose that ^ could be applied to many things (climate change, anyone?). I was thinking, however, of modern technology. It’s transformed our world, and we don’t know what impact it will have on us.
Because yeah, the average person in a day looks at 40 websites, switches programs 36 times, switches attention every 2 minutes. When people switched off email in an office, they were more focused, and had more natural heartbeats (though it took them 5 days to calm down). And teachers are much more available 24/7 now, through emails and LMS’ and apps where parents can track their kids learning.
Thinking Critically About Capitalism
Will trying to become someone who can churn out work at a fast pace truly benefit me, or is my work just useful to others? And who are those others, corporations or my communities? Thinking of a quote I’ve seen floating around on a friend’s facebook: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti. I don’t find that this society is profoundly sick for me, but I know it is for others. “I want to exist without harming others, I want no one to ever be hurt again.” – not-quite-a-ghost (via tumblr). And I’m privileged to even be in the position where I can make these choices, so, with that in mind. I’ll strive to do good for myself and my communities.
James’ Researched And Personally Tested Life Advice
GTG: Getting things done.
Process emails rather than check emails. Use the archive and delete buttons liberally.
Using virtual todo lists, they’re set up with good features like working with a calendar, rescheduling tasks made easy. Try Things, Wonderlist or Todoist.
Using Zettle or OneNote.
Shortcuts on a computer (this is a level of efficiency that I am not interested in yet). Keyboard maestro for creating shortcuts.
Double your timing estimate for everything you do. Let yourself procrastinate sometimes. And if you read every day, eventually you’ll do the reading you were meant to.
Aerobic fitness for 20 minutes in the morning improves academic achievement. It’s about the oxygen flow (cool so that’s… cardio stuff: swimming or running or brisk walking).
Getting outside more. We have the botanic gardens at the con!
Try meditation? Apps were mentioned in the first lecture of the semester. I have a walking mindfully book (I like to move) that I’d like to try sometime.
Get some sleep.
Be A Bit Kinder To Yourselves
If you take a look at my weekly planner for last year, you’d think ‘WOW you do a lot of things’ (I slowed down this semester for wellbeing reasons unrelated to covid). But jesus, James does a LOT of things. And yet he still woke up at 3:30am this morning because of Stress. So will being kinder to oneself (forgiving, when need be) have more of a positive impact on mental health than trying to get more things done? I think so.
James’ virtual done wall finished with ‘was a dad, a son, and a husband’.
James’ Internet Cut Out So Mitch Has Taken Over
We’ve all been put into breakout rooms. Not super relevant to the class, but enjoyable comedic relief for sure.
Further Reading And Watching And Listening
Centre for Humane Technology videos (started by the guy who invented the infinite scroll and regretted it)
The Art of Procrastination by John Perry (unfortunately relevant)
Essentialism (the Disciplined Pursuit of Less) by Greg McKeown
The Hidden Brain podcast (neuroscience, philosophy, psychology),
Why we sleep by Matthew Walker (made James sleep more)
The Enthusiastic Cynic
Be excited, run with things! But also think critically. Keep your and your students wellbeing at the forefront.
Make your own syllabus, have only some topics available to students.
Design your own test, have it auto-marked, can set everyone the same questions or different ones, choose whether they get feedback straightaway or can see their score.
Make students do the same test multiple times, take their best or worst or combined scores.
Slice data to see scores above or below a certain percentage.
Use the program in browser on almost any device.
Auto-integrate into canvas / other LMS’s.
Purchase a personalised licence for your school (approx. $35 per year per student).
Show or hide the class name students are in.
Uses For Auralia
Year 7 initial diagnostic tests.
Saving time designing basic theory tests and marking them.
Students drilling concepts in their own time.
University aural skills classes and/or homework.
Private teaching – preparing students for exams.
Melodic dictations – instead of playing one for the whole class, having each student practice at their own level.
Would I Use Auralia?
I got to discussing this with my partner after class finished. It’s clearly a well designed software that’s continually improving itself based on feedback from its users – I enjoyed Peter taking notes from Larisa’s query about designing a standard diagnostic test.
However we’re not sure that we’d choose to buy a subscription – we don’t see ourselves using it enough. Software like Sibelius and Soundtrap (educational subscription – though I’m curious to see if Bandlab‘s free education program is on par) would be our first choices. Not only are they more versatile and more inspiring, but can create projects that can’t be replicate offline. Auralia saves time for teachers, sure, but it doesn’t add any new learning experiences for students.
We also recall that students who excelled in aural skills often acquired those skills outside the classroom. I personally gained a lot from group piano lessons I took as a kid, choral singing, and a drive to transcribe and arrange music (encouraged by my school music education).
And you know, Auralia’s a bit…boring. There are other ways to inspire aural & transcription skills:
Transcribing the beginning of the next piece we’re studying in class.
Integrating aural skills into rehearsals.
Listening to pieces and figuring out how to play them by ear.
Transcribing lead sheets (or whole pieces) for songs that don’t have notation readily available – and then playing these in class.
Arranging a song for the specific combination of instruments played by students.
It makes me think about the future of education. I’m realising how contactable people truly are. Teachers (music and otherwise) often teach in areas they aren’t necessarily experts in – consider the wide range of music genres in the year 7-12 secondary music course.
But what if we could always be taught by experts?
With the normalising of scheduled interviews and lectures via zoom, imagine a classroom where every few weeks we contact the Australian composer of the piece we’re studying, or a local Indigenous elder to speak about their musical culture, or a choral conductor to help improve our singing, or a member of a contemporary rock band, or a woodwind player to explain extended techniques, or a teacher from the school down the road who’s studied jazz history. The possibilities are endless.
Of course, in person guests are fantastic – I’m not advocating replacing composers in residence or touring bands or local guests. This is just another tool for enriching the learning experience.
Listening to my class lift pitch their projects was exciting – I may be helping Larisa and Lucy by testing their online makerspace tutorials with my band! It helps me out a whole lot, too – what a cool experience for the band kids.
Will continue trying to stay informed on both the disastrous and innovative impacts of COVID-19 on education. There’s lots of sharing and kindness going around.
Before covid-19 hit Australia and social distancing occured, I had an idea to connect A Cappella groups around the world through a virtual choir project, editing all the tracks myself. I’m fairly involved in USYD’s A Cappella scene (check us out on facebook/insta/youtube) and in 2019 we’d begun connecting with other A Cappella groups from Macquarie Uni and UNSW, and met Whim’n’rhythm while on tour in Australia. Not to mention each year some of our beloved singers leave us for their home countries, having been at USYD as international or exchange students.
I wanted to reach outwards, and the virtual choir would be only one way of doing so. We could contact each other and spread our arranging and directing tips, supporting others with similar interests!
And then The Whole Situation has happened (is happening) and I find myself focusing on the circles closer to me rather than reaching outwards. Besides, I figure USYD’s Barbersoc will end up making a virtual choir video at some point – but it doesn’t have to be a project that I drive.
Can I Collaborate Online Without Making A Virtual Choir?
Yes, of course. Since my foray into Soundtrap I’ve been toying with the idea of improvising in small groups. A friend of mine from Barbersoc (hi, Marc) organised a composing activity on the collaborative notation software, Flat.io. Each participant had 3 minutes to add dynamics, notes, rhythms, anything to the score, then would pass it into the next person, ultimately creating a song together. I’d love to try a similar thing on Soundtrap, using our voices to create a cover of a well known song, or an entirely new improvisation.
I could expand this into a website where anyone in the world could join in, get sorted into groups and create music at set times, take part in a mass Acapella Arranging Project. I think this would challenge me musically (and socially), but not so much technologically. I’ll update this, though, with an example of the project – if it ever gets off the ground.
Besides, remember my desire to connect the acapella nerds around the world? Two big names in the American acapella game – Ben Bram and Shams Ahmed – have smashed it. Their public facebook group arranging+chill begun during quarantine, and has connected arrangers from all over the world to share their music, listen to other’s creations, and ask for advice. I’ve enjoyed the close contact to stardom – social media does allow many of us to interact on a more level playing field. Not only can I participate in discussions with some of my arranging heroes, but join in on exclusive weekly zoom workshops where Ben & Shams interview Eric Whitacre, Imogen Heap, Ed Boyer and Annette Philip (& many more to come)!
And I say exclusive, but it’s open to everyone who joins the public facebook group. I do love the internet sometimes.
What About School Ensembles?
I conduct two primary school concert bands, so earlier last term it suddenly became Very Relevant for me to know how to run a program entirely online. After brainstorming with James (thank you!), I devised a plan: online course over zoom each week, with all lessons and resources in a centralised LMS. The course would include weekly practice tasks to keep them playing, recording projects of our band music, creative composition and improvisation tasks – all focusing on keeping my band kids feeling happy and safe in our new routine.
This could be my tech project! I could definitely pour hours into this, filming tutorials and creating resources and paying to host an LMS. However I.. don’t actually want to do that. I ended up going with the simplest functional option: a wordpress website.
One of my bands didn’t take up the project, but the other did – we shall call them Unnamed Sydney Public School (USPS). I’d only been working with USPS for 2 weeks before lockdown – we’ve now rehearsed more via zoom than in real life.
This won’t be my tech project. The website is functional (and that’s enough) – I don’t plan on expanding the techiness of it. And I’m happy that we’re managing to bond as an ensemble over zoom each week. I introduced them to Soundtrap this morning, and our percussionist has already sent me a message with two songs they’ve made. Excited.
And My Final Idea: Could I Learn To Remix?
What can I say? Last week’s class inspired me. I want to create music. And this is the perfect time to learn how to use Ableton, given I’ve got the 90 days trial, and am confined to at-home projects.
This isn’t inherently an educational or collaborative project. But, if I can gain at least some production and remixing skills, I’ll be able to connect with kids interested in electronic music production, and communicate more effectively with them.
My idea is to remix one song to produce a four song album. It’s inspired by Andrew Huang’s 4 PRODUCERS FLIP THE SAME SAMPLE series, except I’m all 4 producers. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? It only took experienced producers a day of work each to remix the sample, I’m sure I can manage in a few weeks, right?
Upon further discussion with James, he’s suggested remixing something of significance, having an agenda behind it. I’ll be doing some thinking and research on what song to pick.
Before last weeks class, I knew nothing about remixing.
A very cool friend whom I dearly admire asked me to create music for two animation projects for uni! This request came right after I’d worked on a Soundtrap cover, so was feeling more confident than ever before in my electronic music producing capabilities.
My Process: Fish Animation
Received a brief from my friend, approximate timing, and a filmed mock-up of the animation (based off their real-life fish tank), and played around on the piano until I was pleased with the results. This became the demo.
Over the next few days began reproducing the demo in Soundtrap. Decided to keep it all MIDI production rather than recording live: I do love recording my voice and adding all sorts of effects, which I thought could suit the animation, but with MIDI I could create the whole track and then easily change the tempo to suit the finalised length of the animation.
I created the bass, melody, musical effects, and sound effects mostly in that order, though obviously re-editing and adding sound all over the place (20 tracks altogether). My inspiration for sound was the theme from Finding Nemo (absolute goals)… though a lot less beautiful.
Bass: I soon realised my love of layering multiple Soundtrap instruments to create one sound. This is three instruments, a piano-type for the two-note chords and two low flutes for the bass.
Melody: This was a pain to program into MIDI, since I don’t own any MIDI instruments. I tried playing it in with my computer keyboard, but the timing was quite tricky and quantising took a while (yes, I only just realised the automatic button for this). Ended up writing my melodies straight into the keyboard roll, made peace with the fact that strict timing > rubato piano from the demo, and then layered the vibraphone line with a glockenspiel.
And look. I say it was a pain to program, but it was still relatively fast: took me about the same amount of time as writing in traditional notation on Sibelius or Musescore. May be doing more music production in Soundtrap (or other DAWs) from now on.
Musical Effects: Six tracks that added little flourishes, countermelodies, the pulsing effect, and the zap at the end of the track. For the warm pad (high countermelody) I enjoyed playing into the computer keyboard, making mistakes and keeping it anyways.
Sound Effects: This is where we collaborated the most: negotiating and agreeing on the neon light, flickering, uncomfortable depths, muffled voices. My friend gave me the exact frame that the ‘camera’ switched, and I added it into the Soundtrap track. There were 30 fps in the animation, and I Thanked the Gods that I’d set the music for 60bpm, because then Soundtrap’s timecode was locked to my beats. I am pleased that it lines up exactly with the animation, it makes me feel like a Real Film Composer.
My Process: Classroom Animation
This is how I want the music to feel.
Upon realising what emotion I was trying to capture (there were a few unsuccessful demos previous to it), I was reminded of the song Afterglow by CHVRCHES, and created a demo track from it.
Once I began production (sorry again Eni for the last minuteness), I soon realised that I wanted to keep the chord progression from the chorus of Afterglow – but as the animator explained, give it more depth and drama.
Begun with two Soundtrap projects open, one for recorded vocals and one for MIDI strings. These were both chord progression loops, aiming for a depth of sound with a little fuzziness. (The bass sound in the vocals is my voice, but pitch shifted two octaves down.)
Next were the guitar tracks. Wrote the line at the piano, reproduced it in Soundtrap. Created the high track first, it didn’t feel frantic enough so I added the mid track at double speed, and then transposed it down another octave just for fun. The amount of reverb and delay on the low track makes me pleased – gives the song even more depth. They sound awesome combined.
Downloaded the projects individually and began mixing the stems in a new Soundtrap project (definitely picked up these terms only a week ago in class), editing volume and reverb and locking in everything to the timecodes from the animator.
Realised some sort of melody was needed, so wrote a sort-of brass chorale (again, with the support of a keyboard – it’s the instrument that really helps me know chords), duplicated the Soundtrap tracks over octaves and added it to the main project.
Last addition to the track was the ringing sound. It took us time to figure out when exactly the music would come back in, whether to leave the start of the explosion silent or add a ringing sound or add ringing and music, and Eni settled on the last one (making sure the ringing sounded like tinnitus).
Boy I am learning a lot about lossless audio. All my stems are mp3s. Ah well, it does sort-of work for the explosion that there are a lot of particles in the soundtrack.
Here’s a slightly less lossy track:
I’m loving creating and producing music in Soundtrap, it’s plowing straight through all my writing blocks. My previous musical knowledge from playing in concert bands, studying percussion, binging youtube, and arranging for acapella is delightfully amalgamating in creating these projects. Keen to continue exploring.
Hi I’m Lara And Welcome To My Sick Remix: The Toxic Royal Chandelier
Yeah. I think the music speaks for itself.
So Anyway, I Still Love Soundtrap But I Cannot Remix In It
As James pointed out, it’s not really the ideal DAW for manipulating sound in this way. Changing the tempo in the tracks was a whole thing. Good lesson learnt.
Time to actually try remixing in a software that’s designed for it. Really struggling to get my head around the software though – I was trying to remix with a sample that had an anacrusis and spent our allocated time unsuccessfully figuring out how to make it loop in time with anything else.
(Can I just say I really love all of Ableton’s tutorials and helpful step by step programs online?)
James thinks it’s a super underutilised music technology – because there’s very little music literacy required and for many students it may be more culturally relevant. Thinking about that. I wonder if Ethan Hein will have anything to say about it in week 13.
Why Should We Care?
I’m personally not in need of convincing – I think this is all pretty cool. Have been wanting to get into electronic music production for a while now, I just want to understand it all a lot better.
There is sophistication, and skill, and lots of time and effort and energy needed to become good at remixing/DJing. It’s really cool to see.
Recommendations from James, aka musicians to check out (should I be calling them musicians first and foremost? Would they prefer DJs/producers/etc?): Girl Talk, ThruYouToo (Kutiman), Pogo (remixing Disney!), Dangermouse (Grey album – The Beatles & Jay-Z), Madeon (self-taught and has become a professional producer).
I truly don’t know much about this stuff at all, it kind of feels like a whole other world is opening up. It feels so new and exciting yet this stuff has been around for decades. Maybe because it’s still everchanging?
Time For More Ableton!
A confession: the software still confuses me and I got a little distracted writing notes instead of making the music at the end of class.
I’m thinking… with this 90 days free trial… and wanting to learn about the program more… and curious to explore this whole new world (to me) of music making… could this be my tech project?
I love the philosophy driving the maker movement. Will try read the maker movement manifesto at some point! And there are over 80 makerspaces in Sydney? Partially funded by the community and council: some are educational, some part of museums, all are more inclusive than men’s sheds. First time I’m properly hearing about them – I don’t know what I want to make, but I’d like to go sometime. Maybe with a friend?
It’s a pity we didn’t get to play with some of the fun technology previous years got to (me, jealous? never). But seriously, really enjoyed the interview with Phil Nanlohy (maker-educator at a primary school), I found it enlightening.
Things Phil Said That Have Stuck With Me
Dream. Draw. Design. Make. The four stages of creating for kids (and… adults too?). And the long version including: Critique. ReDesign. ReMake. Exhibit. Maker space is really about the design process – maximise on that!
A makerspace cannot stand alone, it must be integrated with the school. Project based learning, inquiry learning. Connecting with other subjects (creating games, making instruments, coding and technology, gold candle for the gold fields, lashing tents together, construction kit when studying bridges, gradually investigating electric circuits).
Literacy and maths focus is huge in primary: make to have lots of measuring tools, make sure to get kids to label and design and communicate with their words.
Phil’s message to music teachers: “If you want the kids to make music, you can go out and make things that no one has ever heard of before.”
Involve teachers as much as possible: Phil took a job that meant he couldn’t be a RFF (relief from face to face) teacher, classroom teachers must accompany in the makerspace. Getting teachers to dream up a project and making it themselves – shows them what’s available, safe, and possible. Means they can then imagine within the realm of possibility, and have realistic expectations for the class (like understanding that saws will be used). When designing the space Phil asked other teachers what they wanted the space to be for: some suggested craft/ scrapbooking materials – they sit, unused, in a small cupboard at the back.
A flexible space. Storage that kids can access and cupboards that they can’t. Preferably not having to share the space with any other classes. Tools photographed, and the laminated photograph stuck on the bottom of the drawer. Everything is able to be locked away. And remember to have an industrial scale vacuum cleaner.
You can get money for grants! Check them out – that’s what begun Phil’s makerspace room and program. First things to buy for the makerspace are basic child-sized tools: japanese pull saws, clamps, measuring tools. Also safety gear (remember to converse with kids about safety constantly, make sure practices are sound, and use safe materials). As for the materials themselves?
Huge focus on sustainability. Having design principles in mind, then going to reverse garbage. Students and teachers bringing in materials they have spare from home. Try the local manufacturers – they all have byproducts.
Thought I’d share the instruments we all made at home during the class – mine was from an old watercolour tin (was recently clearing out my room), and tried to create a little tune with elastic bands stretched all the way around. Also made semi-adequate guitar frets out of stickers.
(I may have not saved my video separately, so… it’s stuck on flip grid. If you know the password, you know the password.)
Future Readings About The Maker Movement
Copy and pasting Phil’s recommendations over to my blog for personal future reference 🙂