Key Stage 3

Sonic Pi Diaries – Pt. 1

Today we started using Sonic Pi and if you haven’t used it yet or even looked at it then I suggest you do.

I was led to this piece of software for a number of reasons. It is something I have heard or and read about before but also something that I had never found the time to really investigate. The main reason that I have ended up downloading it and embracing it is because I have been put in the position that some of the Key Stage 3 lessons can’t be taught in the comfort of my music room. So I needed a solution and I wanted something fresh that would work in any school ICT suite. Then I read a recent Music Teacher Magazine article by my good friend David Ashworth and I have now taken the plunge.

Here are some links for you:

David Ashworth Teacher Guide

David Ashworth Book

You will need to subscribe to the magazine to access the resource above – or maybe you can buy them as standalone. Anyway!

It is fantastic!

I am glad that I have said that! I really love it and I am so excited about using it. These blog posts will take you with me on my journey.

Today in my Year 9 lessons I simply introduced them to the concept of coding and music making. I stood at the piano and played for Middle C’s with equal length and volume and stopped. I then asked the class a simple question. What thoughts processes went on that led me to play what I have just played? What went though my brain and then my arm that led me to do that?

  • Start
  • Stop
  • How many times to play the note
  • What note to play
  • Which C to play
  • The Volume to play it at
  • The length of each note
  • The length of time between each note
  • The strength or velocity of each note

These were all the ideas that the class put forward. It was simple to then link this to Sonic Pi and basically say that what we are doing is giving the software instructions to follow and then it does that and makes sounds and eventually music.

Obviously I then went over the basics and showed them how to input some initial ideas. I used the Music Teacher Magazine resource, but also some of the examples that are already there. I played them one or two simple examples and they quickly started to pick out some of the codes that were on the screen. BPM, Sleep, Run, Synth etc. etc. Students pick stuff up fast and it was great to see them looking to spot what was going on. It is a really fresh and interesting way of viewing and thinking about music and I could see that some students were itching to get started.

Now I am not going to get into any debate about whether or not it is “real music”. I think that some of the stuff created on Sonic Pi is amazing and I then showed students the scope of the software. They were inspired, I think, and then went off to start learning some basic commands.

It was instantly clear that they were starting to think about note values, pitch and a sense of structure. What they weren’t doing was switching off because they can’t read music or play an instrument. It felt like there was something exciting about to happen and I am not really looking forward to the next few weeks.

Sonic Pi might very well be the thing you have been looking for. It is fresh, current, easy to access and totally free. Students can work on it at home and there are so many resources out there. We are going to start with a 6 week block of lessons and then see where we go from there. It requires a bit of getting used to, but you will quickly see the extent to which you can take it. I hope that I can share my findings and failings with you and maybe inspire you to have a go.

Why not download it now and see what you think. IF you haven’t got time to squeeze it in this year then maybe use it next year. I think it is a really exciting way of engaging students, unlocking creativity and breaking down some of the barriers that are put up by “traditional” notation. In my opinion, so far, so good, and I hope that I continue to enjoy using it, and more importantly, that the students stay engaged!

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