Five Teaching Strategies for your Music Technology Lab
By James Frankel
Sometimes when May rolls around and the students are looking to the calendar and seeing June looming on the horizon, teachers need to create assignments that will keep their students thinking and working and not dreaming of summer. The following teaching strategies will hopefully provide some ideas to keep your music technology lab running until the end of the school year.
Film scoring in the classroom is nothing new, but there are a few new software titles that make it quite a bit easier for the students. In the past, students in my classroom would have to have both the movie and composition software applications open in separate windows. This made it difficult to sync the files, which my students inevitably found quite frustrating – often leading to mediocre results. Additionally, finding video clips online legally, while possible (http://www.archive.org/details/prelinger), posed some problems. Now with Sibelius 4.0 and GarageBand 3.0 (and many other similar programs) you can integrate video clips directly into the file making it quite simple to sync the files. Also, with an application called HandBrake (http://handbrake.m0k.org/), you can rip tracks from any DVD to use in the classroom provided that you adhere to the Fair Use Guidelines of US Copyright Law. My students love creating new dialogue and rescoring scenes from their favorite movies and often come to the lab before and after school as well as during their lunch periods. One quick piece of advice – only use short video clips – it takes much longer than youŐd think to create one minute of music/dialogue.
Podcasting in the music classroom is a fantastic new way for students to showcase their work. Students in my 6th grade General Music class study American music. One of the units in our curriculum is folk music. In the past, my students created web pages that included a MIDI file of the song, the lyrics, and a short history of the song origins. This year we created podcasts where the students (in groups of two) imported those same MIDI files into GarageBand (although you can use any sequencer) and added a vocal track to record themselves singing the lyrics. Once their songs were recorded, they wrote and recorded a short introduction to the song that included the history and background of the song. After all of the groups were finished, we created a single file that contained all of the student work. I added a simple introduction to the podcast and we then exported our podcast to our schoolŐs web server. Publishing a podcast on iTunes is quite simple with AppleŐs new iWeb web design software, but you donŐt need to be an Apple user to create and publish podcasts on iTunes. For more information on how to start podcasting in your classroom, read my article entitled Podcasting in the Music Classroom on my website (www.jamesfrankel.com).
Remixing Yankee Doodle
One of the most popular projects in my 6th Grade General Music class is the Yankee Doodle Remix Project. In this project, students download a MIDI file of Yankee Doodle and import it into a sequencer like Cakewalk HomeStudio, GarageBand or Reason. Then using pre-existing loops and some of the soft-synths that come with these programs, students create remixes of Yankee Doodle. This song provides a perfect opportunity to teach the students how to transpose loops to fit the harmonic structure of the piece (I-IV-V) as well as how to create an ending (which is sometimes problematic when utilizing loop-based software applications). Students can choose any style for the composition and can include an optional vocal track. I have found that this project is a great way to get students thinking about orchestrating, harmonizing, and using some of the more advanced features of a sequencer.
Create a Composition Exchange Program
The Vermont MIDI Project (www.vtmidi.org) is one of the very best applications of music technology around. The website features student compositions and incredibly insightful discussion threads that trace the evolution of each composition. The concept is very simple – which makes it so wonderful. Today with email, there is nothing stopping like-minded music teachers to create a similar program with their students. HereŐs a quick idea: using a resource like the TI:ME Discussion Board (http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/timepeople/), post a request to partner with another teacher to share student work. Then, find some pictures to serve as prompts for compositions and have the students in both schools create a short composition based on those images. Next, partner students who composed pieces using the same pictures to critique each otherŐs work, sharing their thoughts on how they created their compositions. Finally, think of ways to showcase the students work and critiques, either as a website or podcast. One recommendation – keep it simple and provide the students with proper guidelines on how to critique.
In my school, General Music classes meet for a 10-week marking period. Over the course of those 10 weeks, my students create quite a bit of music. Many show an interest in continuing creating music after the marking period is over – a great place to have your students. What I have done at my school is create a Young Composers Club that meets once a week before school. This year the students have been working on creating compositions in song form. We use contemporary popular music to analyze the structure of the songs (Intro-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Coda) and then students create their own songs. In an effort to showcase their work, this year we have decided to create a CD filled with the songs that they have written. We are then selling those CDs as a fundraiser for the music department so that we can upgrade our Music Technology Lab next year. Because the compositions on the CD are all original works (most are created in GarageBand using loops) there are no costs other than the actual reproduction of the CDs and labels. At $5 each, itŐs like free money. The reaction from students, parents and administrators has been quite positive, and itŐs the perfect way to showcase the lab and raise money at the same time.
Hopefully some of these ideas will work as well for you as they have for me. My students are completely engaged in my classroom, and they look forward to music class everyday. With more than a month to go until the school year ends, my students are spending their time in my classroom creating and not dreaming of summer.