Monday, November 29, 2010

Kids Learn How to Make Music without Instruments

By Lisa Schencker
The Salt Lake Tribune
First published Nov 26 2010 11:43PM
Updated Nov 29, 2010 10:55PM

In less than five minutes, 13-year-old Destiny Sivels produced a techno song, complete with a staccato beat, snare loop, synthesized bass and male vocals exclaiming in a high voice, “I hear destiny calling me.”

She had no instruments, no experience and is not a musical prodigy. She’s just a seventh-grader who took a music creation and production class at Northwest Middle School in Salt Lake City.

“It’s really easy,” Sivels said, removing her padded headphones. “I thought of it because my name is Destiny.”

A handful of Salt Lake City School District kids and adults are taking the classes, in which they use software donated by Sony to produce everything from techno to rock to classical music. Steve Auerbach, who founded the local music program and formerly worked at Paul Green’s School of Rock, asked Sony to donate the ACID Music Studio software to the district.

He now teaches the class once a month at Northwest during the school day and at Northwest and Highland High after school and during the evenings as part of the district’s community education program. He also teaches it at his studio in Salt Lake City.

On a recent school day, Auerbach taught a handful of middle school students how to use the program to create songs by mixing and matching sounds, instruments and vocals. Students can choose from a library of about 50,000 sounds and loops ranging from clarinets and guitars to cars crashing and storms. Students can adjust pitch, tempo and key.

“Has anyone seen a mixing board at a concert, the thing with all the knobs? That’s what this is,” Auerbach told students. “You can pick up pieces and move them around like a puzzle.”

First he played a piece and asked them to listen for different sounds within it: cymbal, guitar, drum. Then he sent them back to their computers to create their own compositions, keeping in mind the way different sounds come together to create an overall work.

Laina Su’esu’e, 13, put together vocals and beatboxing to create an a cappella piece.

“It’s really cool that kids could actually even try this out,” Su’esu’e said. As she worked, her head bobbed to the beat.

Sitting next to her, eighth-grader Deija Magalogo melded turntable scratching, bass and vocals, declaring “One, two, three on the M-I-C” to create what she called “old school hip hop” like the early 1990s rap her parents prefer.

“When you first look at it, it seems really hard, but when he explains it to us, it makes it seem a lot easier,” Magalogo said.

Elisa Bridge, a community outreach coordinator at Northwest, said Auerbach’s class, which he teaches during the school’s monthly half-day enrichment program, is one of the most popular. Auerbach started offering it last year as an after-school class at Northwest, and this is the first year he’s teaching it during the school day.

“There’s a lot of interest for that type of class,” Bridge said. “It’s an opportunity to develop a different skill.”

It may seem like a far cry from the traditional band, choir and orchestra classes typically offered in schools, but Auerbach said in this digital age, it’s important to teach kids digital media arts.

For the kids, it’s a chance to craft the kind of music they normally enjoy only outside of school.

“At this middle-school age, with this group of kids, it’s nurturing their creativity,” Auerbach said. “It’s getting them to think outside of the box and learn a little bit about music.”

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