The iPad Elements Project with St. Mary’s School

Nathan Thomas, one of our music hub partners talks us through his process of teaching music tech & composition on the iPad in St Mary’s Primary School.

In this project I introduced 60 children to composition with 15 iPads using an app called iMaschine. Rebecca Turner (their teacher) and I split the 60 children into 4 groups – Earth, wind, fire and water and paired them up with an iPad each.

The aim was to teach the children how to sample and record sounds from around their school environment and programme, edit and manipulate those recordings to reflect their chosen element.

Each class started with a meditation, some weeks I used my Tibetan singing bowl to get the class to focus on their hearing and understanding of different sounds. Clapping and stomping games helped the students understand simple rhythms and built their confidence with expressing ideas, time keeping and making suggestions.

The expectation was high considering that some had never worked on an iPad before and none had seen the app iMaschine.

Using the built in microphone on the iPad, I sent the students around the school to collect sounds and create a pallet of 16 noises. The sounds were then edited to reflect their element. They where shown how the samples could be panned, pitch shifted, gain changed, one shot and choke edited.

Further classes were spent on how to programme the iMaschine’s built in sounds. The students were able to choose a drum kit from the library and they where shown how to programme simple house beats and rhythms. Within this process they learn how to play to a click, how to programme 16 kick drums to create an 4 bar loop and then add 8 snares and hi hats on the off beat. Their simple rhythms worked really well and created a very instant way of forming groves and beats. Each student got to show case their work at the end of these classes and share what they had programmed.

It was at this stage that they knew the principles in sampling and recording original sounds as well as how to programme built in samples and beat sequencing. The students were then able to integrate their original sounds over the top of their programmed beats, creating very unique soundscapes and groves.

Once the students were happy with their compositions they recorded a live performance of their work using the mixing page to fade sounds in and out and mute channels that they had also effected with effects such as delay and filters. These pieces were then put together into one final piece journeying through earth, wind, fire and water.

They also wrote poetry about their elements which was then recorded and edited into the final mix. The students responded very well to both the creative brief and the technology and have created amazing soundscapes and drama through understanding sound and how we can manipulate samples to create emotional effect. This was an excellent introduction to music technology and sonic art supported brilliantly by Mrs Turner and the team at St Mary’s.

Working with iPads and the app iMaschine is very intuitive and instant for the students but more importantly it has the creative freedom to really play with the original recordings and create very unique pieces of music. I was a little apprehensive with teaching so many music technology principles to such a young group but the software and iPads made every process very interactive and visual and they understood very quickly the tricks and tips along the way. Overall this was a successful pilot project and this was largely down to the brilliant students and Mrs Turner at St Mary’s school.