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Elementary Digital Music

Elementary Digital Music

Written by Bart Miller
April 17, 2014

For the past few weeks, I have enjoyed looking forward to my ‘Music with Computers’ after-school class on Wednesdays, for 2nd through 6th grade students.

It’s a ten week course. During the first five weeks, I introduced various creation tools. The second half is for exploration, experimentation, composition, and creation.

The availability of intuitive, expressive, professional, free sound creation tools is exploding. I’ve enjoyed exploring to find a few of the best to share with students, as well as a few teachers who happened to be in the media center on Wednesday afternoon, and I would like to share them with you!


SiON SoundObject Quartet is an awesome Flash-based synthesizer and mini-sequencer and was the first tool I introduced. The controls are very inviting and it provides a thorough sampling of different control interfaces being used on professional audio equipment. I especially like the ‘analog’ vocabulary like VCF (Voltage Controlled Filter) and ADSR (Attack Decay Sustain Release). Please enjoy this informative tutorial video on ADSR:

I was lucky to study electronic music with classic analog synthesizers and can confidently say that SiON SoundObject is the next best thing, and significantly easier to use. Students love creating wild sci-fi sounds with this synthesizer!

I learned on a Doepfer. (Nina Richards CC BY 3.0)

Drum Machine

Drum Machines have become the backbone of popular music. There are two online drum machines I recommend for elementary students, One Motion Drum Machine and Drumbot. One Motion is very easy to use and has good ‘physical’ controls making it perfect for young learners and beginners. It is, however, part of a suite of applications including very distracting games, so students need frequent reminders to get back on task after their ‘game breaks’, although I have observed that the games are well designed for fine-motor and mouse tracking skills. Although Drumbot is a bit trickier to operate, it is much more flexible and mimics current professional controllers like the Dave Smith Instruments Tempest. Patterns can be saved and looped, reorganized, and special effects added and manipulated in many ways. Finally, it allows users to save their creations, which will become a popular feature among my students as they begin producing more music that they want to share with friends and family.

Virtual Studio

Soundation is a virtual studio, sequencer, and social network, all in one. As with MuseScore, users create and share their music in a vibrant collaborative community. It is almost identical to professional digital audio recording software like Pro Tools, although simpler and less powerful. Older students have been highly engaged with it from the beginning, and I can’t wait to hear the music they will make as their skills and visions grow.

Play Anywhere
All of the links for these tools are kept on a simple Music with Computers wiki, which was emailed to parents after the first session. Evidently, students are visiting the sites at home because they come to class with new tricks to share and I’ve received emails from parents expressing thanks for collecting fun and engaging resources! I hope you enjoy them as well.

I also created a JIES Music account on SoundCloud, to which I plan to upload recordings in the future. I hope to hear more recordings of students’ music there as education and art become more networked and digitally connected.

from Symphony of Ideas

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