This past week in guitar we played with Noteflight, an online, cloud-based notation software program (I LOVE cloud based programs). We have been exploring rhythms, and how they are often represented on paper. (I say *often* because rhythmic notation is NOT universal and is just ONE way to visualize beat and sound). Of course, we practiced creating our own rhythms by jamming out in class. I would lay down a pattern and students would fill in the blanks. I actually got this idea years ago when I taught a world drumming class. This is a great way for students to create a pattern, listen to each other, and figure out how their pattern can fit into the greater groove.
Anyway, part two of learning about rhythms was to create a melody using tabs. What we have learned in guitar is that tabs often only give us part of the information. So, if you don’t know how the song goes, or don’t have access to a way to listen to the song, you might be out of luck. That being said, sometimes, and more often now, tabs are accompanied by rhythms, but they aren’t always clear as the notehead is not always shown and the difference between quarter notes and half notes can be confusing. Exhibit A:
You will notice in the second and fourth measures there are only three notes, so by process of elimination, there is a half note in there. And, we see that there is a space after the third note, so that would indicate that it is likely a half note, or a rest. But if you are just starting out, it is a little unclear, so I have the students add a rhythm line so they can see the actual rhythm. Exhibit B:
Much more clear and makes sense to the students as well. It IS a bit cluttered, but for the sake of the visualization, these has helped students visualize and internalize the pulse a bit more.
I should note that while technology can be a great tool, we cannot assume that the students that we work with are digital natives. Yes, they are on their phones and they know how to take amazing selfies, and their texting skills are top notch, but this does not mean they know how to send an email, sign-up for a program, create a log-in name and password. Those are skills that have to be taught. Understanding this, I created a tutorial that students referenced as I went through the sign-up process on my projector. Additionally, when I had students share their creations with me, I showed them step by step how to share and how to send an email. Indeed, I teach high school students, but their backgrounds are so varied that it is not safe to assume they even understand the need for email. In this time I also taught basic email etiquette.
Back to Noteflight and why I use it in class. I think it is an excellent opportunity for students to explore creating their own music. After we get settled in the first day, I just let them explore the program to get familiar with how it works. Like any computer program there are some really great aspects to it, and some clunky aspects to it. For example, in this day of good drive and automatic saving, I have to remind students about ever 10 minutes to hit the save button, otherwise their work wont’ be saved. Additionally, the presence of an “undo” button doesn’t exist, so that provides some frustration as well. But, overall, it is a lovely program.
As you will see in this video, Noteflight is a great way to double check students understanding of note values as well. I had this conversation with Kowsar during class as she was working with trying to align her Tab rhythms with the rhythmic notation. She is a very quiet young lady so I tried my best to repeat what she said.
The other thing to consider when encouraging students to create is that notation can limit what they create. Students brains have the ability to create incredibly complex ideas, but their understanding of what is going on is very limiting with relationship to putting it on paper. Some students may get frustrated with this, but I do my best to try to help them figure out whatever it is they have in their mind. Some students have great ideas that include septuplets or dotted rhythms. Rather than say, “No, we haven’t learned that” I work with them and say, “Wow!! Look at what you created! That is incredible!” And it is incredible.
Additionally, I don’t tell students what sounds good or what doesn’t. That isn’t my job. This is their creation. If they are struggling with finding the next “right note” I first encourage them to noodle around and see if they can come up with something. Then if that isn’t working for them, I might noodle around until they tell me I played something they enjoyed.
The final part of this whole project is that the students will receive a hard copy of their song and practice it and play it for me. While they are working on their creations, I encourage them to play what they have written, to make sure they can play it. I show them the tempo feature which increases or decreases the playback so they can practice along. Noteflight can be a great practice tool as well.
Creating is the bedrock of what we do in all the classes that I facilitate. It is so important to me that students walk away feeling some ownership of what they have done in class. This project elicits these feelings (along with frustration, which goes along with creating) and encourages the students to continue exploring creating on their own.