General GCSE Key Stage 3 Composition

Sonic Pi Diaries – Pt. 2

It strikes me that Sonic Pi is a big hit with students. We are now getting through our second lesson using the software and it is going really well. If you haven’t tried it out yet then I would suggest you download it and have a play.

What I like about the software is that after a little play around with it as a teacher you start to think of loads of ideas. My colleague and I start talking about it and before long we have come up with loads of ideas and links to other topics. And the great thing is that lots of other people have already created so many resources that the planning is relatively easy.

The other great thing is that is Sonic Pi gets us as teachers thinking then it will definitely spark the imagination of the students. I am already finding that students know more about it since last lesson through their own research and playing around at home. This is what we want as teachers, we want students to go away and make music. Finding different avenues for them to do this is crucial if we are going to spark their creativity and engage with them as learners. I am already wondering if a student will ever use Sonic Pi for a GCSE composition? I am not convinced, but I am sure I will get there. What I do know is that Sonic Pi could easily help with students understanding some topics for GCSE – Ground Bass maybe.

Our second lesson on Sonic Pi is indebted to this wonderful project:

Code Projects – Composing a round

This project is great because you can start with singing – something we all love to do in our lessons. Get the students into the room and start them off with a classic sing – “Frere Jacques”.

The thing is this tune is a great one for Sonic Pi and a great way of building upon the initial lesson that focussed on the basics. I won’t lay any claim to the idea as it is all down to the Code Projects. What I would say is that it is down to you how you build on this and how much you give to the students.

Singing a round at the start of the lesson is always fun – although I don’t think you need to spend too long on it. You could then get a higher ability class to try and write the melody out using a starting note – link to melodic dictation requirements for GCSE.

Once they have sung it you have a choice to make. Do you give them some of the code and then get them to fill in the gaps or do you leave it up to them to work it out.

For a  higher ability class you might start off by simply giving them:

use_synth :piano

2. times do

play_timed_pattern [:c ?] [?]

Just giving them the starting point will give them a chance to try and work out what notes are needed and what the values need to be.

A middle ability class might need some of the notes or even the note value of [0.5] to get them started. Or you might give them the first line and let them work out the rest.

I am finding that one issue isn’t necessarily ability but more the eye for detail. Leaving out a comma or a space here and there and nothing will run! Students can easily get frustrated with this and so they need to be good at looking over their code and spotting changes.

What I enjoyed was seeing students desperate to work out how to input “Frere Jacques” into Sonic Pi. They were keen to get the notes right and the rhythms right and it proved a great lesson and a great way of getting them thinking about music. Of course some students might stretch this further and the code projects website will help them to create a round using the software.

Whilst this seems like a fairly “basic” melody and lesson, I have seen some great musical learning taking place and students really are interested in trying to create the melody and engage with the software. At this point in year 9 when students have chosen their options, all I want is for them to stay engaged and stay learning. I want them to have tools that they can use in the future should they not be taking GCSE music.

I hope that you enjoy Sonic Pi and I will keep you updated on what we do next. Thanks to  Code Club Projects for all of their ideas!



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