Sunday, June 8, 2008

GarageBand - The Great Motivator

About two years ago, some wonderful women gave money to the music program as a memorial. We had a strange couple of days trying to figure out the best way to spend the money. You think it would be easy, but since we never really had money, it took us a while to decide what would be the best use and it was a great responsibility. Handling someone's legacy is a tricky business.

The band teacher and I decided to purchase twelve keyboards and change the long history of teaching recorders (small, plastic, devil-invented 'instruments') and start teaching keyboard in third and fourth grade. Piano is the foundation for many musical activities.

With the remainder of the money, we established a small music lab of two desktop computers and two laptops. I went with Mac because our school is primarily Mac and because of the program "Garage Band."

For anyone not aware, "Garage Band" is software that comes with Macs. It allows kids/people to arrange preset loops into songs on different tracks. More sets of loops can be purchased.

At first, I was a little skeptical about the music value of the program. Arranging loops, while good for mouse skills, hardly makes a person musical. However, I went to a session at the Iowa Tech Conference that gave me some skills to make it more musical. Dan Schmit, of Atomic Learning fame, was the presenter.

1- Teach kids about Key signatures. Garage Band puts a notation as to the key of the loop. If kids mix keys, the sound can be disastrously awful. So, it starts a great conversation about keys!
2- Form! Teach kids the basic form of ABACABA which makes for a more realistic song. All A & B sections are the same sets of loops and C section has different sounding set. This avoids some of the rambling messes of songs that don't sound real. It also gives them a framework for success.
3-Garage Band allows for external additions. We always have a keyboard and a microphone connected to our main computer. Kids love to add different keyboard chords and voice sounds to their songs. I had a student make pictures of keyboards with the correct keys to push in each key (which I am willing to share if you would like them).

We have used the microphone capabilities to create the "My Life as an Instrument" Podcasts and then we added music. Information on that assignment is available here and here.

Above all, Garage Band is a great motivator in my classroom. Kids LOVE to create music and the fact that they can use that creativity to get more motivated about learning music....Win Win for the music program!


Clay Burell said...

I hope you'll consider making a screencast (see or jing) of the ABACABA or whatever form, and talking us through it. I bought a keyboard for my Mac so I could explore songwriting on GarageBand and now, as you know, I'll have more time to devote to it.

So I'm all ears and eyes for any screencast tutorials you might make to teach me to write basic songs :)

Let me know if you want pointers on how to use SOM or make a tutorial. We can talk on Skype or iChat (even desktop share, if you have Leopard).


TJ Shay said...


Thanks for the suggestion! I took you up on it and there is now a tutorial Screencast! I hope you enjoy it and it makes sense!