Category Archives: Music Education

Using Tech to Hook Students: Makey Makey + Scratch = Human Drum Machine

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Using Tech to Hook Students: Makey Makey + Scratch = Human Drum Machine

Want to get kids excited to be in your middle school music class? Then turn them into a human drum machine and beat box!

As you can see, this is great fun for your students – and even teachers!

The human beat box was actually where we ended – we started with a drum machine.

You can see the students have pieces of foil they are tapping on to create a sound. You can use all kinds of things with the Makey Makey to create sound – foil, clay, bananas, and as you already saw, humans!  Since we did this at the beginning of the school year, my students took a piece of foil and turned it into something that represented them.  We had everything from baseballs to ballet slippers to initials.

So how did we do this?  Believe it or not it wasn’t too hard.  All you need is a Makey Makey and a computer to access the website Scratch.

I started out creating a free account on Scratch.  This is a great website that teaches kids (and teachers) to code.  There are countless things you can create – as you’ll see from the examples on the site – but I stuck with the music.  When you first start creating on Scratch there is a helpful tutorial that will show you the basics.

After I got the hang of telling the computer what I wanted it to do, I was able to create a drum machine. I chose the “Sprite” I wanted  – in this case, a percussion instrument.

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Once you choose an instrument you’ll be able to choose from several sounds it can make.

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Then you simply choose the language to tell them computer what you want it to do and when.  In this case I dragged the Event, “When space key pressed” and the Sound “Play sound low tom.”  Each time you add another sound, you assign it to a different key on the keyboard.  To use the Makey Makey at it’s simplest, you’ll want to stick with the space key and left, right, up, down arrow keys.

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I continued adding “Sprites” (instruments), choosing sounds, and the event that would make them happen until I had everything I wanted.

Now to add the Makey Makey…

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This looks complicated at first, but it really isn’t – I promise! The Makey Makey directions and website will walk you through the set up, but here’s the basics – each color cord clips into a hole that corresponds with a key on the keyboard. For instance the orange cord is clipped into the down arrow key hole, so whatever I told the Scratch program to play when I hit the down arrow will happen when I touch the orange clip.

img_0080There is one cord (in this case the white one) that is the grounding cord. Nothing happens
unless the grounding cord is being touched. We made the cord the “Drummer’s Cord” – whoever holds that is the drummer. S/He gets to use the other students as drums by tapping their hand as they hold one of the colored cords.

Obviously, there are many instruments to choose from when creating your Scratch code. There are even pitched instruments like the piano where you can create a separate Sprint for different pitches so you can play a melody.

 

To create the beatbox I used the microphone and created a Sprite for each different sound.

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img_0084As you can see from the videos I started with, everyone loved this!  Even greater is that this can be used with every level of students. Our special needs kids even had a blast trying out all the sounds!

I plan to use this again in my classes and have students create the Scratch codes so they can learn coding basics and test out their creative music making abilities using technology.

Have you used a Makey Makey or Scratch before? Let us know what you’ve tried so we can learn from each other!

 

 

 

Should We Be Judging Our Kids’ Musical Performances? (Spoiler alert: I think no)

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Would this performance get a “I” rating? Probably not.  Is it a worthy musical experience? Yes!

I live and teach in a state where adjudicated events are a standard part of music education. Schools prove their worth – (read directors and students) – by the ratings they bring home from marching band contests, solo & ensemble contest, and large group contest.  The very high school I attended had a wall full of plaques declaring superior ratings at state contest. My band uniform was covered with blue ribbons I received at solo & ensemble contest.   The single II I received on a piano solo because of a memory lapse was a source of shame and disappointment.  My senior year, with a new, young band director, we received a II at state contest.  Even though that young man was (and still is) a fine musician and a remarkable teacher, we felt as though we had failed. It didn’t matter that we were playing college level music that had moments of brilliance.  We had failed to convince the judges we were worthy of a “superior” rating.  As far as I was concerned, our  worth and accomplishments as musicians were reflected in ratings at contest.

And, like many aspiring music teachers, this is the attitude and philosophy I took with me into my undergraduate music education program and first year of teaching.

Then I had my own bands and choirs.  And later my own children.

They didn’t all get Is. They didn’t even all get IIs. There were the dreaded IIIs and even an embedded IV from an occasional judge.

These ratings broke my heart. Not because of the crushing blow to the ego as a director, but because of the blow to the musical spirits of my students and my own children.

You see, there wasn’t one single judge who knew where those students started.

Not one who spoke to a student to learn how he or she connected with the music.

Not one measurement of the aesthetic experience on stage as everything faded away and a child became lost in the music (as if such a thing could be measured!)

No judge sees the band on the practice field for the sixth hour on a hot, summer day or the bruised lips from hours of playing.

No judge knows the courage it took for a particular soloist to decide to even try a solo, let alone walk into a room and play for someone they don’t even know.

No judge knows that a choir director lost 1/3 of her choir two months before contest because of schedule conflicts.

No judge knows the number of students that can’t afford to take private lessons even though their parents already work two jobs.

No judge knows that a band or choir lost a member earlier in the year and making music together has helped heal their hearts.

Judges are not heartless people – but their task is to evaluate the performance on a certain day at a certain time. Nothing more. Nothing less.

If one of the goals of music education is to instill a love of music making, a love for the experience of getting lost in the experience, how can we allow a rating to steal the joy and pride our students feel when they complete a performance they know was their best? How can we allow a judge to tell them that was nothing to be proud of?  I can think of no better way to crush the musical spirit of a student or director than to tell them it doesn’t matter what you felt as you were playing – the worth of that performance is decided by my rating. Is this said outright? No (at least I hope not) … but it is too often the message received from years of tradition and expectations.

Is there a place for adjudicating music? Yes – for those who wish to pursue professional careers in music performance, their playing ability will be judged – often harshly.  But even then, musical spirits are crushed when the love of creating something beautiful is found to not be beautiful enough.

So what is the alternative to judging our students? Allow them to experience the joy of making music together. Easy music. Difficult music. Songs we love. Songs we’ve heard. Songs that are new to us. Music from far away places and music from our past. And don’t forget listening to music. Listen to music together. Listen to different styles, different performances of the same piece, listen to instruments you play and those you don’t.

Standards don’t need to be lowered, but perhaps they need to be changed. Instead of judging a performance by being “grand champion” or getting a I, look at the young musicians reactions. How did they feel about their performance?  Was it something that instilled pride? Did it move them? Teach our students that a performance isn’t good because someone else says it was – they have the ability to determine its quality on their own, with their own ears.

Take it a step further and it doesn’t even have to be a performance. High quality musical experiences can happen in a drum circle in a middle school general music classroom where students improvise rhythms that gel into a groove that everyone in the room feels – and no one wants to stop playing.  They can happen the first time a student realizes she has the power to create her own music on a ukulele or guitar. They can even happen outside of school – as students jam together in a garage band (on instruments that often can’t seem to find a place in school music.)  They can happen as friends and family sit around on an evening singing songs of their faith or childhood. Maybe even at a barn dance as a hodgepodge of folk instruments compliment each others melodies and harmonies.

If we want the value of music education to extend beyond traditional ensembles and ratings, we must realize the harm we are doing to ourselves and our students when we make them compete to see who’s music is worthy of recognition. When students make music it is worthy of recognition. When this is the standard we strive to meet, we will truly be able to say we are providing music for all – for all times.