Tag Archives: Music+STEM

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!

 

 

 

Music & Health (a.k.a. 1 of my favorite units EVER)

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Anyone who listens to or makes music will tell you it often makes them feel better.  You may even know of situations where music helps improve medical conditions like dementia or speech impediments.  In recent years, we’ve moved beyond casual stories of the benefits of music to research that suggest the effects of music are physiological.  All of this creates the perfect setup for a Music & Health unit in our Music+STEM class.

Two of the goals for Music+STEM are:

  • Reveal to and engage students in the ways in which music is part of our lives and society
  • Engage students in the practice of the scientific process, critical thinking skills, and 21st century skills

We may take music in our daily lives for granted, but if students understand its direct effect they will be able to make intentional choices about its use – for themselves and those around them.  In addition, we move beyond answers that include phrases like “I think…” to researched-based responses such as, “The research shows…”

So…how did we do all this?

First, we did a very limited review of the research that shows the benefits of music.

We focused on five areas:

  1. Music reduces stress and anxiety
  2. Music decreases pain
  3. Music may improve our immune system
  4. Music helps us exercise
  5. Music may aid memory

We looked at the research in each of these areas, being sure to understand the research process, included control groups and variables. We also talked about replicating studies and comparing the results.

Next, we narrowed our focus to music and memory.We watched the documentary, “Alive Inside“.  This is an amazing look at the effort of one man to “awaken” nursing home dementia patients with music from their past.  My students were absorbed in listening to the stories of the patients and seeing their reaction to music. I debated whether or not to show “Alive Inside” to my students, thinking it might be too serious for them, but decided to for three reasons. First, it’s message matches our course goal of discovering how music is a part of our lives. Second, many students have family members with dementia or may someday and it’s important for them to have the knowledge to help their loved ones. And third, the documentary shows the power of social media in the hands of young people to make a difference in the world.  In the end, I’m glad I took two days to show the documentary.  The responses of my students show it made an impact.

Someday I hope to partner with a nursing home so that my students can create playlists for residents – just like in “Alive Inside”.  Since this was the first time we attempted this I decided to start closer to home.  My students set out to create a MEAM – Music Evoked Autobiographical Memory  – for a teacher.  Teachers volunteered the year they graduated from high school and students chose one teacher for whom to find music (some students were so into this they did more than one teacher!)

Students then found the top 5 songs of the year the teacher graduated from high school and the year they were in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade.  Students then chose one song from each of those years to share with the teacher and get their reaction and memories.  A few students did this in person with their teacher, playing the songs for them and writing down their reaction.  To make it easier to schedule, most students wrote a letter to their teacher (in Google Docs) and included links to the songs and questions to answer.  The teacher then listened and typed their response when they had the time available. I was afraid I was adding one more thing for already busy teachers to do, but  MANY said this was great fun and they looked forward to doing it every semester!  The students also had a great time listening to popular music that their teachers listened to and reading their responses.

 

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Finally, we needed a way for students to put everything together and showcase their learning.  I initially considered filming news broadcasts. This is often a challenge with middle school students, however, because so many are self-conscious about how they look on camera. As an alternative, we recorded podcasts – an audio version of a news story.  This exposed students to a form of media many were not familiar with and eased the anxiety when it came time to record.

 

Students had to include specific items in their podcast:

  1. At least 3 benefits of music to mental or physical health
  2. At least 1 piece of research to support one of the benefits
  3. A “real life” example of one of the benefits

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In groups of two to four, students spent about two days writing and practicing their scripts for the podcasts. We then recorded them using the Podcast feature on Garageband. This was very easy to do and even allowed for editing when students were struck with the giggles or lost their place in the script.

The podcasts really showed what the students learned and the range of kids we have in middle school – from very serious, down-to-business to goofy, adolescent jokes and funny voices …. all while summarizing what they learned about Music & Health.

We put the best ones on our class youTube channel – here are a couple samples…

 

 


 

In the end, this is one of my favorite non-performing units I’ve ever done with middle school kids. My students were engaged and gaining knowledge that will truly help them throughout their lives, the teachers who helped us had fun and deepened their relationships with kids, and students created a final product that went public and informed others. Win – Win – Win!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Improvising & Composing in Music+STEM

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As I mentioned in my last post, teaching kids to compose and improvise FullSizeRendercan be two of the hardest standards to address.  In it, I explained how my classes composed the blues by laying down the 12 bar blues chord progression and adding a melody based on the blues scale. When the kids finished this, they moved on to creating a background track they could improvise over.

When we start learning to play the blues on ukuleles I use a background track to beef up our sound and fill in the holes we’re not ready to play yet.  (You can read about how I introduce the blues on ukuleles in this post – just scroll down to Day 3.)  Because of this the kids have an idea of what a background track is and what it’s used for.

We again used Noteflight to create the background track – starting with the 12 bar blues chord progression and adding a drum part. Students were encouraged to create a rhythmically interesting chord progression and drum line.  They loved working on this because DRUMS!

There are several percussion instruments that can be added to a Noteflight score.  I had my students stick to “Unpitched percussion/Percussion 1 Line”.  The variation you see in the percussion “pitch” indicates low to high drum sounds and cymbals.

Here are a couple of examples of student work:

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The final piece of the students’ “Blues Portfolio” was a performance to improvise with the background track they composed.  When I was a young trumpet student I was terrified to improvise.  I’m sure it was because my teacher just said something like, “Ok, your turn, improvise!”  I had no idea what to do, because as we know, while improvising means you make it up as you go, you still need some rules and structure to follow.

The approach I’ve arrived at over the years is to provide a beginning structure with the fewest decisions possible.  That mean improvising a rhythm on one note.  When kids are comfortable with this, we move on and add another note.  In the key of C, this usually means we start on C and add E flat when they are ready.  As students progress they can add the rest of the notes in the Blues scale.  We used ukuleles to improvise but you could also you keyboards or even Orff instruments.  The Orff instruments are great because you can provide only the notes you want students to play.

The blues scale on the ukulele follows a simple pattern.  I learned how to do this from “Ukulele Mike” on youTube.

Mike teaches you how to improvise in the key of D.  To use the key of C you just shift everything down 2 frets.  So instead of playing frets 5-3 on the A string, you play 3-1 on the A string, then 3-1 on E string, and 3-0 on the C string.  I use this picture to help students remember the pattern.

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Finally, students performed their improvisation for me as their background track played.  Some students even performed for the class.

Improvising is a great way to individualize instruction for students.  As I said above, students can add notes as they are ready.  Some will stick to one or two pitches but many will challenge themselves to use all the notes of the blues scale.

I’ve learned that students need LOTS of modeling to learn to improvise.  They also need time to experiment and figure out what they can do – often without an audience.  This was the first time my students improvised.  It’s definitely something that we will spend more time on to develop their skills.


 

By the way, I was able to take a few of my students to demonstrate their learning for our district’s senior citizen luncheon.  They played the 12 bar blues and improvised!

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