In most situations in life, I think it’s always important to know and understand the rules before you go ahead and break them. This is especially important in music. Before you can make that cutting edge track, you must first know why the basics work and have been so popular. So in one of my Grade 4 class, my students listened to, studied and deconstructed the song, ‘Hella Good’ by No Doubt. An amazingly effective song (try not nodding your head when you listen to it), but so simple in it’s structure and composition in the same vein as ‘Billy Jean‘.
After we listened to the song, how it starts, the basic layers of the song, etc. We noticed a simple pattern. The students had already seen this pattern happen over and over again in new song and songs of the past. So we set out to create our own track, based on these simple but effective practices.
The students opened Garageband and laid down a kick drum track. Some went for a simple 4/4 beat while some went for a little bit more of a Hip Hop style. After this, they added their snare track. Then some cymbals. Then some type of percussion ‘flair’ like a hand clap, rim shot, a big crash, etc. This was hard for the students, as they wanted to add EVERYTHING to every track they made. As a result, the songs sounded very cluttered and over the top. So we came back to our example, ‘Hella Good’ and had another listen. The space between the percussion is what really makes this song so effective, so they went back and recomposed their percussion.
After they had a solid percussion arrangement, they went ahead and added some melody. This is where I crashed and burned as a teacher. I have absolutely no musical experience or background, so I could not teach them to play a melody. But almost all of the students play an instrument and can read music so they managed to lay down some interesting melodies with synths or pianos or horn sections.
I then showed them how to add voice recordings and how to manipulate them. They had a field day with this, singing and speaking into the computer mic, manipulating it to sound distorted, high pitched, low pitched, etc. They had a lot of fun!
After this they were just about finished. Except their song didn’t last very long and were very repetitive. We had another listen to ‘Hella Good’ to see how they added an intro and outro to their track. They noticed No Doubt slowly built up the song so that it didn’t start straight into the chorus. So they worked on structuring their songs to make them more interesting, to build up and down.
When they had finished, they surprised me and I think they even surprised themselves at how great their songs were. They created their own original composition, without the use of loops or copying other peoples music or ideas. I am extremely proud of them and their work. It just goes to show, the ‘remix generation’ can actually develop their own original work too. If Grade 4 students can do it, anyone can.