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Composition is the driving philosophy behind my teaching of music and the program that Andrew Williamson and myself run at NFPS and we are always looking for ways to deepen children’s understanding of their creative voice.
From the very beginning of their classroom music programme (prep) we teach them ways to express themselves as composers so by the time they are in grade six they are very comfortable with it.
In term one we this year we had all of the grade 6 students in the mac lab working with Garageband. Garageband while not being the most powerful music programme is a great entry point for a lot of children. Much like IMovie in that it gives them some basic understanding of editing. In term one we would get the kids to compose using the preexisting loops, a quick and fun way to create instant music. However to get a deeper sense of personal ownership over your compositions there is a number of simple things you can do
1. Change the tempo of the track (its automatically set to 120 bpm and if you don’t teach this skill you are missing a vital ingredient in composition – tempo) The tempo track is set in the window at the bottom of the project.
(see the picture below)
tempo adjuster in garageband


2. Change the volumn settings in your track. You can do this by adjusting the master volumn controls (on the left hand side of each track) or by making automated settings within each track. The picture above also shows changes in volume settings within a track – its the blue line going up and down under the track.
3 The most powerful change – I think it is important to move beyond using loops made by other people and get children to either create their own loops or write their own melodies, bass-lines or sounds.
This can easily be achieved through the midi function of Garageband.
1. plug a midi keyboard in
2. choose a new track and make it a software track and then
3. choose the instrument you want to use
4. after practicing, press record and play in the sounds you want.

Midi editing can be done in the track editing window (see the picture above)- where the squares can be literally dragged or stretched to any key or duration.

If you want to go deeper with midi the students can actually make their own sounds by adjusting the effects on the midi instruments. For example: Now they are not restricted to the premade guitar sounds but can get any squeeling crunching sweet sound they had in their heads)
We assigned our students the task of creating a piece that had
1. a bass-line
2. a melody line
3. an accompaniment part
4. a percussion part
5. an A and B Section
midi editing window

No other parts were allowed and at least one of those parts had to be composed using the midi keyboard. Not surprisingly most groups used the keyboard to compose more than one of their parts including some who wrote the drums parts as well.
If you do alot of wok in Garageband and don’t start applying these ideas sooner or later you will notice that the kids tunes all start sounding the same, this is because they are limited to a restrictive number of rhythm and melodic choices (the premade loops) Once you have taught this very simple skill the range of compositional pieces you will hear back suddenly becomes huge and so much more satisfying from a listeners perspective but also from the students perspective. It has become personalized.

Heres a couple of examples of pieces written using the midi keyboards.

Fidle song by zac

Declan Daniel Tom