Music Sequencing Project: Soundtrap & Flat
Towards the end of term I was looking for a platform from which to deliver a short music sequencing project to Year 8s. After looking at a number of different online DAWs I settled on Soundtrap primarily due to the attractive and easy-to-use interface. However, on beginning to properly interact with Soundtrap there were a couple of other stand-out features:
It is possible to share tracks easily and without a premium or education account. As I was piloting the project there wasn't the budget to sign up for the Soundtrap Edu account and so this was an important consideration. However, after a very successful pilot project, subscribing to an educational account is a priority for the coming academic year.
The project started out inviting the students to complete a number of mini-tasks in order to familiarise themselves with Soundtrap. For example, creating a short piece of music layering and fading in and out the ready-made Soundtrap loops. One real feature that was lacking was automation. However, I'm pleased to say that this has been a recent - and very welcome! - development in the Soundtrap DAW. These tasks prepared the way for the students to begin to compose a longer piece of music effectively building up to a climax point when 'something' would happen. I had composed a quick example in which to highlight this basic structure:
This 'something' at the climax moment (shown by the arrow) is not a Soundtrap loop, but instead a completely original loop composed by the learners. This is where Flat.io comes in...
Using Flat.io the students composed two simple bars which would provide a melodic riff for the climax moment. In order to achieve this stage of the project effectively, I set out quite strict guidelines concerning the pitches and rhythms that learners were able to use. These were put in place for two simple reasons:
The learners may be composing a piece in Soundtrap which uses major or minor loops - I didn't want to put strict guidelines on this particular element of the creative process but instead wanted them to follow their ears and decide on what they liked. This, however, necessitated that I provide only the pitches that work for both major and minor tonalities.
I wanted the actual composing aspect to be as simple as possible. As I had experienced before in different schools, the pupils had very little confidence in their compositional ability. So by providing these guidelines, it limited their 'delusion of choice' and provided something that sounded immediately 'good'. This helped to inspire confidence as well as overcoming some of their fear of writing notes themselves!
The actual exporting from Flat.io to Soundtrap is incredibly easy! I especially enjoy the fact that Soundtrap automatically transposes the Flat.io music into the key of the Soundtrap song which is very helpful.
A real joy for me at this moment was to show the learners how to manipulate the timbre of their riffs. When exported to Soundtrap their riffs still sounded like a piano (which they used in Flat.io) and they wanted to change this almost immediately! There are a multitude of options for changing the basic timbre of the riff and from this you can then change the reverb, etc. This really allowed the student's riffs to come to life within their Soundtrap piece.
Adding some SFX to blend in the different layers of their piece was the final stage of the process and, honestly, the students didn't want to finish but wanted to continue making their pieces longer! They really grew to love their work. The amazing thing about Soundtrap is that, after discovering their creativity, they can continue to create music at home without the need of any additional equipment. This was a really enjoyable project for both student and teacher and I'm looking forward to teaching it in the following academic year!
Here's a series of lesson plans which put these ideas into an official format which pleases those in management!