GCSE A-Level Key Stage 3 Composition

Composing at Home 6

Composing at Home is entirely possible and hugely rewarding. It might involve Instruments, Voices, “Found Sound” or percussion.

In this blog I am going to look at how we might tackle Composing at Home using Bandlab. Quite simply this is a FREE online Social Music Creation Platform. So before you do anything else you will need to sign up for a free account and you can also get an app for your phone. This blog will then give you some ideas for Composing at Home using Bandlab.

What is Bandlab?

Bandlab is an online Music Creation Platform that allows you to create music using MIDI, pre-recorded loops and any other found sounds. First piece of advice, you will be best using Google Chrome as a browser for this app. You will need to sign up for it and you won’t need to spend any money at all. I think what is really helpful is that this is a Social platform, and therefore you are able to easily share music that you create with others. I guess you could think of this as being a bit like Garageband or Cubase. But let me be clear, this is free and therefore not as powerful as software from Steinberg, Apple, Avid etc.

Creating your first Drum Machine Track

We have already looked at how we can compose with Rhythm in Composing at Home 4. Now we are going to look at using the Drum Machine on Bandlab to create some rhythmic patterns. This first track will get students exploring rhythms and starting to think about what can be done with a drum kit.

The launch page of Bandlab.
Launch page once you have logged in

Click on create and then choose Drum Machine on the next page:

Select a track type in Bandlab
Hopefully fairly clear that you need to select Drum Machine.

Once you have selected this you will be presented with the “sequencer” window.You will see that there is a Drum machine track created with 4 bars of Pattern A & 4 bars of Pattern B. These patterns are there to be edited using the grid based drum machine at the bottom:

The Drum Machine in Bandlab

Fairly obvious and simple to use. If you click on a square it will either add a beat or remove it. On the right hand side of the above window you can then select different patterns and then add them to the track above. You might like to just click on every box of the grid to get an idea of how it works:

Filling up a Drum machine in Bandlab

I would suggest that the first thing to do is have a good play with this Drum Machine and start to work out what it can do. Create different patterns, listen to them and then see what you like. Edit, change and create!

Composing Rhythms

Composing Rhythms is great fun and the Drum Machine can be used to replicate different styles and genres of music. You could try out some of the following ideas:

  1. Why not try creating Samba Rhythms, 4/3 & 3/4 Clave
  2. If you are studying Edexcel GCSE Music then you could have a go at recreating the Bodhrán Rhythm from Release by Afro Celt Sound System.
  3. What about choosing your favourite Rock track and replicate the Drum-Kit on the Drum Machine.
  4. Can you create a swung rhythm or one that sounds dotted?
  5. Can you create something Syncopated using the Drum machine.

There is a lot you can explore with just Rhythm.

More ideas for Bandlab

Bandlab will also allow you to create chords & melodies. Whilst a little more fiddly with a mouse & keyboard, it is entirely possible to make QWERTY keyboard music using bandlab. On the screenshot below you can see a C Major scale that I inputted using the MIDI Editor and a mouse. Double clicking on a segment of the editor will add a note. It is really easy to use and will give students a chance to explore scales, keys, chords and melodies.

Adding notes in Bandlab using the MIDI Editor

You have potentially created a Drum Machine backing beat, so now you can start to add chords & melodies. You can do all the usual things like drag, copy, paste etc. Editing is pretty easy to do and mistakes can be easily changed. It take long to get ideas into the piece and you can add more tracks as you go.

Composition ideas for Bandlab

I won’t use this blog to give details composition projects because I think that discovery is always useful. The mix-editor is easy to use and should make sense to anyone who has experience with music software. These ideas will therefore get you thinking about potential bandlab projects

Project 1 – 4 Chord Song

Creating a 4-Chord Song backing track is entirely possible in Bandlab. Why not try creating a backing with Drums, Bass & Chords. This could then be the starting point for a melody that you create using your voice or instrument.

Project 2 – 12 Bar Blues

If 4 Chords is too much excitement for you, then why not use 3 and create a 12 bar blues. This could again be a backing track for your own improvisation work. Or you could add a melody that you work out on your own instrument. You can even record ideas in to Bandlab, and the app is great for doing that. Create something digitally and then record in your own ideas on top.

Project 3 – Killer Queen

Killer Queen is an Edexcel GCSE Music Set Work. Why not use Bandlab to create your own version of this set work. One idea would be to get the chords in and then create your own solo to rival Brian May!

Project 4 – Sgt Peppers

With a Little Help From My Friends is a classic Beatles track from Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. It is also a set work for AQA GCSE Music. Why not create your own arrangement of this classic song and learn more about the chords and melody as you go.

Project 5 – Music for 18 Musicians

The BBC Ten Pieces website is packed full of resources. It might be fun to use Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich as a starting point for your own piece. You can download Sheet Music from the website and start to make your own version in Bandlab by layering up ideas.

Project 6 – Found Sounds

Using ideas from my my previous Composing at Home blog, why not try composing using Found Sounds. This involves using the Bandlab app to record sounds. You can then use these sounds with beats you have created or chords you have created. You might like to record yourself playing along with one of your backing tracks. The app is easy to use and you then just save recordings to your account.

Go For It!

I don’t think you really need me to give you any more Composing at Home ideas, but hopefully the ones above will help. Just got for it and get composing. But as you do compose, think about what you are learning to do or what you need to learn about. You are starting to think about Rhythms, Harmony and Melodies. Gradually you are learning how chords are created and how melodies fit over the top. You are thinking about styles, genres and structures.

Bandlab is just one way of doing this, but I thought I would share it with you as I think it is great. Students and then easily share their music with you, or just enjoy creating it. There is a lot on offer out there, so have a look at it and see if it might work for Key Stage 3 or 4. Happy Composing at Home and get in touch if you have any questions.

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  1. Hi James, Hope you’re well….. and all the family. Thank you for your excellent musical tuition……just proves you are never too old to learn!

    A question about BandLab? Does this App enable the four of us in our band to play together?

    Kind regards

    JC snr

    1. Do you know what, I think that might work. What you would have to do is try recording the drums to start with. Then you could layer over the other instruments. If Bandlab didn’t work then another option is to try SoundTrap which is another online platform. But in theory Bandlab does let you record and save. I would suggest you would all have to maybe use one account so that the recordings are all housed in one place. Have a go and see and I will also look into it. There are lots of ways of doing something like this, but sadly playing live when in different places is almost impossible. Hope you are well!

  2. James, thank you for your prompt and informative reply.

    Yes, we are okay…probably at an advantage over most as we have been talking to our nearest and dearest via WhatsApp and FaceTime, now Zoom, for years!

    We have thought of Zoom, for the band, but the “latency “ across four different systems doesn’t allow us to synchronise. Our new guitarist, another WBS ex-pupil, is an IT guru, and will report back. I will let you know how successful in due course.

    Once again, thank you.

    Kind regards

    PS, this might make me into a musician yet! 😉

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