There are many quality resources for music educators amongst the hundreds of free online music creation apps available, but it can be difficult finding the gems amongst the vast array of choices. The benefit of using online apps is that they remove the need for installation of software, they do not require you to use a specific computer operating system and they are automatically updated.
Whilst some teachers perceive online music tools merely as novelty activities, they have a lot to offer if student use is framed with specific outcomes in mind. It is also a good idea to ask yourself the following questions when assessing the usefulness of free online resources:
- Does the user have flexibility of input? Do they have the freedom to compose, remix, arrange or manipulate the content?
- Does the tool help teach or reinforce musical concepts such as pitch, rhythm, form, ostinato, arranging, remixing, composition and improvisation?
- Can you save your creations?
- Are there any exporting options? Can you download your creation as an MP3 file, or a MIDI file for use in other desktop software programs?
If the answer to some or all of these questions is yes, then it is likely that the tool is one worth pursuing for classroom use. Here are some of the best options:
Creating Beats, Loops And Patterns
Monkey Machine (http://rinki.net/pekka/monkey/monkey.php) is an online drum machine that allows you to create drum loops of up to 32 beats in length. It is simple to use – you can make a drum pattern from scratch by clicking buttons on a grid. If students have been learning to play a basic rock beat in class, Monkey Machine provides them with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of the rock pattern, as well as the chance to create variations. There are a variety of drum kits sound sets to choose from and you can export your drum pattern as a MIDI file for use in desktop digital audio workstations when you are finished.
iNudge (www.inudge.com) allows you to create great-sounding musical patterns quickly and easily. In his book, Using Technology to Unlock Musical Creativity, US music teacher Dr Scott Watson lists iNudge as one of several simple software tools that can remove parameters and limitations that stifle creativity because it is very easy to use – for students and teachers alike!
iNudge works as a simple tone matrix which allows you to create musical patterns by clicking on squares in a 16 x 16 grid. The pattern plays back in a loop and the pitches are based on the pentatonic scale so almost anything you create sounds good. You can create patterns with single notes or chords and you can even have multiple layers playing simultaneously, each with their own unique playback sound. iNudge has LOTS of applications in the music classroom, from teaching and reinforcing concepts, to sparking compositions or creating loops for larger projects. Some of the concepts you could reinforce using iNudge include patterns in music, ostinati, texture and timbre, layering, form, rhythm, pitch, composition and arranging. Older students can move on to the more complex Audiotool (www.audiotool.com) as a means to create pattern-based music using hardware emulators. Audiotool includes drum machines, synths and effects units. Each element can be dragged into place on the screen and it is a useful tool for teaching signal flow.
Incredibox (www.incredibox.com) is an online music arranging and remixing tool that looks great and is extremely easy to use. It also happens to work really well on an interactive whiteboard. The concept is simple: drag an icon from the bottom of the screen on to an empty guy and he will start beatboxing, singing or whistling. You can use seven guys at once and with a total of 20 sounds in five different categories to choose from, there is a wide range of combinations possible.
By taking advantage of the ability to mute and solo parts, and the option to record your remix, you can use Incredibox to reinforce texture, timbre, layering, a cappella singing, beat boxing, layering and more. Students can fill up the screen with their seven chosen sounds and then mute them all so that they appear as a silent ensemble. They can then click on the record button and ‘perform’ their remix, unmuting each guy one at a time. To make the remix interesting, include a solo section, with just a single guy playing while the others are muted, followed by a tutti section where the entire ensemble comes in. The remix can also sound very effective when students click on a downbeat to bring parts in and out. A link to the finished recording can be saved, or emailed to the teacher.
The online resources offered by Club Create (www.looplabs.com) are a great option for older students wanting to explore the art of remixing. There are nine different “remixers” (online studios) available, each one featuring a song from a specific artist (Kesha, Leaf, Willow) or in a particular musical style (dubstep or electro-house pop).
The Club Create online studios have taken the hard work out of remixing by providing loops that are already beat-matched. Students can select sounds from a provided library and ‘paint’ snippets of music onto the timeline area to create their remix. Although there are very limited editing options, it is an effective precursor to using a standard digital audio workstation.
For remixes of a different flavour, try the world music online remix tool Sound Infusion (http://culturalinfusion.org.au/soundinfusion/) which allows students to create pieces using more than 1,000 loops and samples from 22 different cultures, including Afghanistan, Brazil, China, Cuba, Mongolia, Nepal and Peru. Sound Infusion works in a similar way to the Club Create remix tools – you can select sounds from a provided library and arrange them on a timeline to create an original work. Once you register for a free account on the website you can save your song online and also export your piece as an MP3 file. The Sound Infusion website also includes information about each featured culture and the musical instruments used in the samples as well as demos, tutorials and teacher’s resource notes.
Creating, Recording And Notating Compositions
Isle of Tune (www.isleoftune.com) provides a unique way for students to create compositions – by building a musical city. Start by laying down a road and then add trees, houses, lampposts and bushes along the side of the street. When you drive a car down the street, each object the car passes makes a different rhythmic or melodic sound. The rhythmic and melodic objects all have sound palettes with multiple options. Roads can be any shape or pattern you like, but by laying down a square road with ends that join up you can create a rhythmic or melodic musical pattern that repeats. Students can recreate known songs, or make up original compositions using the tool. Isle of Tune is also available as a paid iPad app.
For those looking for an online digital audio workstation with similar features to software programs like GarageBand or Mixcraft, Soundation (www.soundation.com) might provide the solution. With Soundation, students can record original material, create backings from loops, play virtual instruments, and incorporate real-time effects and automation. Students can use Soundation to record voices or other live instruments, remix or arrange existing audio files, record virtual MIDI instruments and import MIDI files.
Notating compositions and arrangements is seen as an important skill at many schools, and Noteflight (www.noteflight.com) is a popular tool that provides an online notation solution. First launched in 2007, Noteflight is available as a basic free edition (with a limited number of scores), or as a paid version which includes extra features and functionality for K-12 teachers. The interface is very easy to use, allowing students to create scores, listen to them and share them with others. You can export your scores as an audio file, as a MIDI file or as a Music XML file which can be opened by other notation software programs. There is even a feature that allows you to create multimedia presentations by synchronising a Noteflight score with an online video or audio file. Noteflight includes support for educators through a library of learning activity templates for teachers working with primary and secondary students. The latest version of Noteflight (version 3.0, still in beta) uses HTML 5 and is optimised for use on iPad and other tablets.
In summary, the best free online music resources allow the user freedom to create, the ability to save work and one or two exporting options. When you can take work you have created online and import it into other software programs or into mobile apps to continue the creative process, they prove themselves truly worthwhile.
Katie Wardrobe is a music technology trainer and consultant with a passion for helping music educators. She runs hands-on workshops and online courses through her business Midnight Music and focusses on incorporating technology into the music curriculum. Katie is also the author of the middle school MusicEDU curriculum program Studio Sessions. For more information, visit www.midnightmusic.com.au
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