A tool for inclusion and learning
Throughout the Sounding Out project, sessions always provided the opportunity to create music collaboratively with our students. Composing new songs and instrumental pieces was not only a way for students to discover elements of music such as rhythm, melody and harmony, but also an opportunity to explore musical instruments, and express their creativity.
Our approach to composition has been very varied and ever-present, as a source of discovery and learning.
We started with simple activities like the "Rhythm Cards" and the "Memory Game", in which we associated images with rhythmic-linguistic patterns to create body percussion sequences and simple instrumental pieces.
In later sessions, we used pieces of art and paintings as inspiration to help children compose music. This type of approach, which also involved techniques such as songwriting and Soundpainting, allowed us to include all our students in the process and in the performances, regardless of their developmental, psychomotor, linguistic or musical level.
Over the course of ‘Sounding Out’, children also had the opportunity to perform their original compositions in front of audiences, both in school and at other venues including a performance at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
Soundtrack and sound design for a short movie
An activity that can be done with both primary and secondary school children is the composition of songs and sound design for short animated cartoons.
During “Sounding Out”, we chose a couple of short cartoons and together with the children we analysed the scenes; we discovered new sounds and noises to create the sound design using instruments and everyday items; we played musical instruments and composed original pieces of music; and finally, the children then performed the compositions live, with the support of professional musicians, during the screening of the shorts in front of the rest of the school.
The compositions were made in the following stages:
- At the beginning of the term, several animated shorts were shown to the children. Each group chose their favourite film, and two of our teachers (who were also composers) wrote the main parts of the musical pieces accompanying the films.
- During the following lessons, the children listened to music and created the other musical parts to be included in the soundtrack with the teachers. The composition took place by trial and error: each student had the opportunity to bring their ideas, trying musical instruments, composing their parts and learning to play them together with the rest of the group.
- The students learned Soundpainting as the musical parts composed by the students were added. Created by composer Walter Thompson in New York, 1974, Soundpainting is a live composing gestural language designed for use by musicians, actors, dancers, and visual artists. It currently includes more than 1500 gestures and hand signals that are used by the Soundpainter (composer) to indicate the type of musical response required of the performers (e.g. crescendo, diminuendo, tutti etc.). It covers all aspects of musical performance, including who, what, how, and when performers play.
It's an excellent way to demonstrate musical parameters visually and can help the children discover the variety of different sounds that can be produced by their chosen instrument.
Soundpainting was introduced to children during the Sounding Out project and was particularly successful for enabling profoundly deaf children to communicate musical ideas and perform in a group.
For example, Soundpainting transformed the experience of music class for one boy in particular, who had additional behavioural and attentional problems. He initially found the music classes challenging to access. Soundpainting helped him to focus, understand and experience sounds in an accessible, visual way and communicate musically with his classmates. It allowed him to use his own creativity and provided a common musical language, levelling the communication field between the students and teachers.
- The animated shorts and cartoons were always played during the composition and practice sessions, so the children had a focus for knew the goal they were working towards. Each rallentando, crescendo and diminuendo was associated with a moment in the film, each sound corresponded to an image. This allowed the children to enjoy the musical experience in a much greater way, motivating and engaging them.
- The composition sessions were alternated with sound design sessions where the students discovered how to create and record the sound effects for the cartoons. For example, children discovered which instruments to use to imitate the sound of the sand (one of the cartoons used was set in Egypt); on other occasions, they recorded the noise of the door closing, by physically closing a door of their classroom, or they recorded their voices to imitate the sounds of a remote control. During this experience, not only did they have fun experimenting and playing with sounds and noises, but they were able to engage in the artistic use of new technologies.
- In the final phase, the sound effects that the children created during sound design sessions were added to the video to create a soundtrack, and the students started to practice playing their own compositions live. This was another important part of their learning: they practiced how to play together as an ensemble, how to watch and follow a conductor and to wait for their turn to play. Finally, the children performed their composition along with the animation, in front of pupils and teachers at their school.
They were also accompanied by some professional musicians, giving them the opportunity to play alongside experienced performers and learn about their instruments.