Making Music in the Upper Division

Posted on Thursday, January 4th, 2024

In the Upper Division music classes, students aren’t just learning how to play music, but how to compose it! The students have been working on various projects using online music creation platforms to express their creativity and find their own sound.

As Music Specialist Abby Shuppy explains it, “The whole curriculum with Green and Blue is based around playing music on instruments, and also then creating our own music. So it kind of hits some different parts of students’ talents.” For some students , their talents lie in playing instruments, and for others it’s the process of creating music, and exploring the technology involved in music production that allows their creativity to shine. 

The Upper Division exploration into music production begins in the Green Cluster, with a program called Chrome Music Lab. This “music lab” is a simple program that allows students to place squares on a grid to determine pitch, as well as rhythm. This helps students learn the basic skills of music creation, which they will then expand on in the Blue Cluster. In the Blue Cluster, students learn the program Soundtrap, which acts as a digital music workshop, or studio. Soundtrap expands on the abilities of Chrome Music Lab, by allowing the user to search through premade loops for beats, as well the ability to add your own voice for singing, and even a podcast function. The first project the Blue Cluster students did this year was creating “The Worst Song Ever.” This project gave the students an opportunity to get used to the technology and a space to play around with what it can do, without worrying about the finished product sounding perfectly polished. Ms. Shuppy also uses this project to talk with the students about what makes music good, and how to identify what elements in the “bad” songs they’ve created can be adjusted into something easier on the ears. Here’s an excerpt from our interview with Ms. Shuppy where she showed us a student’s project:

Blue Cluster have also used the program to create other projects, including a movie soundtrack. Once the students were comfortable with the technology, they chose what elements to use that will help tell the story of the movie they are imagining. In our interview with Ms. Shuppy, she played a few clips from a project in progress that opened the song with grand orchestral chords, which faded out to a soft beating rhythm before the addition of a trap-like beat. The students used the website Epic Online Orchestra to create the chords that they will use in their project. Hear more from Ms. Shuppy:

Ms. Shuppy said one of the best parts of using programs like these in music class is that it gives the students a lot of choices in what they want to create with. Some may want to use their own voices while others don’t, or maybe they enjoy a simpler melody rather than one with layers of instrumentation. “It gives students a chance to be expressive, they can have no prior experience and just start to get creative in that realm,” she said.