This class is for high school students at Winnebago Lutheran Academy who want to learn how to make music on computers. We use Audacity and Garageband as our main tools, and we have fun almost every single day figuring out how to make music using audio and MIDI, but we also learn how to record vocals and instruments and even play guitar and drums if we need to.
We keep personal blogs (look on the right column of this page and click on our names) to help us remember what we've been working on, keep track of the all the decisions that we've made on our projects, and to share with our family and friends the music that we've created.
Programming Your Own Drum Loops
GarageBand comes with hundreds of drum loops in all sorts of different musical styles. You can even add on more loops using Apple's Jam Pack series or from other third-party vendors. so why would a teacher want to teach their music technology class how to program their own drum loops when there are so many good ones available? Because, to quote Mick Jagger, "You can't always get what you want."
Set drummers come in two breeds: those who can read notation and those who can't. So, we started off with a basic rock beat that I taught the students how to play by ear on the school's drum set: snare on 2 & 4, bass drum dotted quarter, eighth, half. Most students had no problems playing this live on a set, so we went back to the Music Tech lab and played the exact same pattern on our MIDI keyboards: C1=bass drum, D1=snare drum. Then we learned how to clean up the notation in the track editor and aligned the notes to the shortest note value (and eighth note in this case) to make a rock solid drum loop. We even added a constant eighth note hit hat pattern (F#1) to finish off the loop.
I taught them how to read the notation but first of all notating the basic rock beat that they played on the drum set in the band room. I showed them how the instruments each had their own space or line on the staff (bass drum=bottom space, snare drum=middle space, closed hi hat=x notation on top of the staff) and notated the pattern in Sibleius, my music notation program of choice.
Then we did a new drum loop together from the Hip Pockets guide. Then I turned them loose. Their goal was to finish 25 drum loops in five days (5 a day). They started out slowly, but asked a lot of good questions and gradually didn't need me anymore to explain how to do the work.
What impressed me the most about this project was that notation and duration became very important to each student. I could tell that they wanted to know how long a dotted eighth note was so they could program a loop correctly. It bcame very important to them that they knew where on the staff every instruments of the drum set was so they could tell what MIDI notes they had to program.
Dale Witte is the choir director and music technology teacher at Winnebago Lutheran Academy, Fond du Lac, WI. He has been teaching since January 1990 and really enjoys teaching students how God's gift of music works. Dale is also a church organist, piano player, violinist, and church music composer.