Cloud-Based Pop Music Compositions Open Doors for Students and Teachers
By NAfME Member Matt Warren
For 50 years, incorporating popular music into school music curriculums has been a hotly-debated topic among music educators. Available tools now allow students to create fascinating and refined original popular music compositions and lets them do it anywhere instead of being chained to your school’s music lab.
Pop into their heads
The rationale for teaching popular music is pretty simple; we want to prepare students for the musical world in which they are living, and popular music is the large majority of students’ musical vernacular. Composing with popular music allows students to go beyond passive listening through ear buds and become more expressive. Using popular music as a starting point is in many ways an easier transition to teaching students this skill of composing.
While all three processes (creating, performing, and responding) can be addressed using popular music, composition might be the most flustering for music teachers whose education generally consisted of composition on a staff and extensive music theory training. It’s easier to add a listening lesson or strum guitar chords from a pop song as a way to expand on your curriculum but composing their own songs can feel intimidating.
Here is a sequence of pop music compositions I’ve found to be very successful that you can do with your class based on historical and contemporary American popular music, allowing students to explore new and tried-and-tested sounds:
- Folk Music Composition
- Blues Composition
- Rockabilly Composition
- Rhythm and Blues Composition
- Rhythm and Blues Accompaniment Improvisation
- 1950s Chord Progression Composition
- Disco Loop Composition
- 1970s Bass Line Improvisation
- Rap “Let Me Introduce Myself” Composition
- Loop-based DJ Compositions
- Sample Composition
- Remix Composition
This sequential model doesn’t just follow the history of American popular music, allowing you to explore historical connections in the sound and outside the music, it also sets up a step-by-step evolution through pop music compositional techniques from basic to fully involved.
Composing in the Cloud
So how can we as teachers support this creative process? As students become interested and want to improve or record their compositions outside of class time, the creativity needs to go beyond the classroom and that is where cloud-based services like Soundation can really help students collaborate.
As one who teaches in two buildings, it can be difficult for me to physically meet with my students during their available time if they need help. I spend one hour a day at the high school before heading to the middle school, and the start and end times are different. Using traditional desktop computers and software in a lab, I’d need to drive back to the high school after the day was done and meet with the students in the limited time before sports or other activities began, leaving very little time outside of class from them to improve their compositions or have their questions answered.
Enter the cloud.
With Soundation, I can log in to each of my students’ accounts and see, hear, or even edit a student composition remotely, leaving notes for them in real-time. This allows me the opportunity to help students from a different building but there are other advantages, as well; while most of my students don’t have MIDI capabilities outside of class, they can still edit and create using the software tools in their study hall or at home to refine their projects. There’s no need for them to physically come to the computer lab to edit their songs on traditional computers.
With students’ ability to record and share audio from the phone in their pocket, these composition activities can produce powerful results not possible a decade ago and they can do it from anywhere.
Visit Matt’s website, MattWarrenMusicEd.Wordpress.com, or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn!
About the author:
NAfME member Matt Warren teaches General Music and Chorus in the Webster Central School District in Upstate New York. Mr. Warren serves on the NAfME Council for Music Composition and is a regular presenter focusing on integrating popular music into school music curriculums.
He holds a Bachelor of Music in Music Education and a Master of Music in Music Education from the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam and loves using social media. Mr. Warren’s wife, Maggie, is also a music teacher and they have two children who love singing with them.
Matt Warren presented on this topic at the 2016 NAfME National Conference in Dallas, Texas.
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