Learn to Code as You Create Original Music with EarSketch

There are many different creative ways to introduce students to the joys of coding. Today we explore a web-based tool that connects coding to music production – EarSketch.

EarSketch - Compose music through programming.
EarSketch – Compose music through programming.

EarSketch was created by a team from Georga Tech and combines music composition with learning how to code in JavaScript or Python.  I did a little bit of research on this project and it looks like it has been winning the hearts of educators and awards from educational organizations for a while now. In fact, back in June, it was named one of the best websites for teaching and learning in 2018 by the American Association of School Librarians. You can read more about that on Georgia Tech’s website. Way to go EarSketch Team!

EarSketch is intended for high school students but according to the website, it works for older and younger students as well. Along with the web-based platform, there is also a curriculum that has everything you need to teach EarSketch in your computer class. For more information on their curriculum, go to the FAQs page and read more.

It has been years since I have done any real coding, I’ve never programmed in Python, and I was never one who could compose music. The site said “no experience necessary.” So, I thought, why not give this a try and see what I can do. I started with the Hour of Code Module and jumped right in.

Making MusicEarSketch

The interface looks a little intimidating when you first open it up. However, if you start with the Hour of Code module, there are instructions on the right-hand side of the screen that walk you through everything you need to know step by step. The instructions were easy to follow and in no time, I was shaking off my rusty coding knowledge and making music. Once you go through the first tutorial, the layout of the interface begins to make a lot more sense. It is actually fairly easy to navigate.

In the first tutorial, starts you off with sample code that you edit. Which is super helpful. For me, it is much easier to look at the exisiting code and walk through what it does instead of trying to code from scratch. In this first tutorial, I learned how to change the parameters of my functions and how to add music clips. I also learned how to create my own custom beats using variables. Even though it looks complicated, it was really simple once you knew what you were looking at.

The interface screen makes a lot of sense. The top center shows you your timeline and different tracks. You can see how your clips work together based on the parameters you set in your code. On the bottom, you see the code. On the left-hand side of the screen, you have all your libraries. Here you can find music clips, scripts, functions, and more. I also like how it uses the right language for both music composition and for coding.

By the end of the Hour of Code module, I had and nice little program and composed my first Grammy-winning hit. Ok, maybe it wasn’t that good but it was a song and I was impressed with myself.

In the Classroom

EarSkecth is a powerful tool for your classroom. It is true STEAM – the integration of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. I can see how this site will engage both your students who want to learn how to code and those who just want to make music. I think of students like my daughter who is a musician majoring in computer science. In high school, she was always looking for that one great tool to help her learn to code. I think this one would have caught her attention and helped her build both her coding skills and her composition skills. In fact, I’m sending her this link so she can play around with it on her holiday break.

I can see where this site would be great for the computer science class but also for a media class or technology class. It is also a great addition to your makerspace.

Don’t be intimidated by music composition or coding. Click over to EarSketch and start learning both today. Go ahead, make little music.

 

Connect with Ease using Talky

From Google Hangouts to Skype to Zoom and everything in between, there are many different ways to connect with others online. Most of them are feature packed and great tools. Sometimes, however, you just want a simple tool that will let you connect with someone online without having to exchange usernames or other information. Talky by &yet is a simple communication tool. It requires no downloads, no logins, and no hassle.

I was first introduced to Talky by my colleague, Carl, who helps us out as the sound engineer for the STEM Read podcast.  We were looking for an easy way to have one-time conversations with our guests. We needed something that didn’t require usernames, long-term contact connections or software downloads. Carl had us switch to this app and it has been working like a charm ever since.

Overview

Talky is a free site that uses your on-device microphone and camera to allow you to chat via the internet. You can also get the app for your mobile device. According to the website, Talky uses a new technology called WebRTC. I’m not sure exactly what that means. Visit their Privacy page to read more about this technology and what it is actually doing. There is a lot of information on how it all works and how it keeps your information private through encryption. You can also read through their privacy information. Set all the tech info aside and what you have is a simple way to connect with people through your computer or phone (Android users can use the web-based version while iphone users can use the iOS app).

To use the app, go to talky.io, create a room, share the link with someone you want to talk to, and talk away! Easy peasy!

Let’s break down the features.

Key Features

Talky is more than just an online chat tool. It is a collaboration tool that has many of the features you need to collaborate virtually.

  • Easy invite – To invite someone to your room for a chat, just send the link.
  • Audio and video – Chat using audio and video or just audio.
  • Password protected room – If you want more privacy for your conversation, you can set a room key.
  • Screen Sharing – There is the ability to screen share. However, it is only for Chrome and Firefox users. I run Chrome and I had to install the Talky Screen Share Chrome extension. Once I did this is worked really well.

    Talky (2)
    My daughter and I chatting via Talky. Using the screen share feature to share my screen.
  • Multiple People – Talky accommodates group calls. I could not find the maximum number. Go gather some friends and see how many can join the party line before you crash it.
  • Walkie-talky mode – In walkie-talky mode, you have to press the space bar to talk.
  • Integrated text chat – Like many of these apps, Talky also has a text chat feature. That comes in handy when dealing with connection issues.

As I mentioned earlier, we use Talky to connect with our STEM Read Podcast guests. For the most part, it works beautifully. So much easier than exchanging usernames and adding each other to our friend or contact list. However, we have had some sound and connection issues. Not a huge deal if you are just using Talky to chat with folks. A bigger deal when you are recording the conversation for a podcast. Because you are talking browser to browser and the data is encrypted, there can be issues. The Talky help page on the website has some information to help you troubleshoot your connection.

Overall, Talky is exactly what it is supposed to be. A simple tool for connecting with others. I love the simplicity.

For your classroom, this is a great tool for connecting students to experts or other classrooms. I like it because the set-up is so simple. I’ve used several different tools to connect with others and Talky is by far the easiest to use. So, create a room and give it a try.

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 27 Incredibox

Day 27: Incredibox

Is the music in you? Do you need to drop a beat and get your groove on? Me too! Head over to Incredibox and let the music flow.

Incredibox is a flash-based website and app that allows you and your students mix up an original tune with the help of some animated beatboxers. (They are kind of loveable, yet kind of creepy.) There are five different versions to choose from each with its own set of beats, effects, voices, and melodies. Creating a custom tune is simple. Just drag an accessory on to a beatboxer and he starts a loop. Layer on more sounds to create a track that is one of a kind.

Incredibox screenshot
My crew of beatboxers playing my jam.

Incredibox lets you record your track and download it as a wave file. You can also share your it through a link or social media. Listen to my original jam Sunrise. Your mixes are public so others can listen to your musical masterpiece. The ones with the most likes make it into the Top 50. You can search the library for mixes by title or email. Listen, like, and share.

Classroom Ideas

Incredibox a fun and easy way to get your students creating their own music. The controls are simple and don’t get in the way of their creative genius. Just drag and drop.

Here are some ideas for how to use it with your students.

  • Create their own mixes for a student-created dance party mix.
  • Mix up soundtracks for their favorite books and stories. Or their own stories.
  • Generate music for their multimedia productions.
  • Create a theme song for their podcast or video show.

Or – your students could create a live version of their mix like this creative group.

Head over to the Goodies page for more gems like this one.

Whether you want to get your students creating music for their multi-media projects or live out your secret DJ dream, Incredibox is a fun and easy tool to help you let the music play. Now excuse me while I jam. Hit it you loveable, creepy little beatboxers.

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 21 StoryCorps

Day 21: StoryCorps

I discovered StoryCorps about five years ago while wandering through the Chicago Cultural Center. I was with an old friend and we both stopped to examine the small recording booth, intrigued by its warm lights and cozy interior. “I have stories to tell,” He said to me with a sigh. Then asked, “Do you have some stories?” I smiled, “Of course I have stories, ” I replied. Then we both shrugged, walked away, and began weaving our tales.

Part of me wishes we stepped into that booth and recorded our conversation. We were childhood friends who drifted apart long ago and just reconnected as adults. There were so many questions we had for each other. So many shared memories that we each remembered differently. A lifetime of separate experiences to share. As we laughed through the back and forth of the memories, 30 years fell away and we became those two kids once again. Its been years now since we have spoken, but I still remember that day of reconnecting through our stories. I wish I could listen to it again. Connecting us in unexpected ways – that is the power of conversation.

We all have stories to tell and StoryCorps has spent over 15 years helping people capture their stories through intimate conversations in a small recording booth. Their mission is to not only capture our stories but to help us build connections through the art of conversation and interviews.

Our mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

To learn more about StoryCorps, watch this video from founder, Dave Isay.

As Thanksgiving approaches and we gather with friends and family to eat food and watch football, StoryCorps is kicking off their annual Great Thanksgiving Listen. StoryCorps encourages us all to take a moment, turn off the TV, turn on the audio recorder, and ask each other questions. They have created an excellent toolkit to help us break down the generational barriers and learn more about each other. They have also created an excellent standards-aligned toolkit for educators.

For an extra challenge, the StoryCorps team suggests taking your recordings and creating a digital story, using Adobe Spark Video. (Learn more about Adobe Spark Video from yesterday’s post.) Using visual storytelling elements such as old photographs, documents, quotes, and current pictures, you can create an amazing keepsake from your interview.

StoryCorps is not only asking us to record these moments but to share them to create an archive of our collective history. You can visit their site to browse through the interview archive.

Technolgy has made recording these precious moments so easy. There are free apps and digital recording tools that allow us to record our interviews with a touch of a button. Not sure what tool to use. Here is a list of apps and recording tools to help you participate in the Great Thanksgiving Listen.

As you make your Thanksgiving plans, think about adding some time for capturing stories. Personally, I think about all the family members I used to spend Thanksgiving with who are now gone. I wish I had taken the time to record their stories not only for me but so that my kids could listen and get to know them and the life they lived. StoryCorps says it best.

Listen. Honor. Share.

Happy listening!

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 14 Tabletop Audio

Day 14: Tabletop Audio

Nothing sets the right mood quite like the right music, or just the right mix of war drums, blade scrapes, feet scuffles and battle cries. If you are looking for the perfect sound backdrop for your next adventure, look no further than Tabletop Audio.

Tabletop Audio is an award-winning online catalog of ambient sounds and background music for any genre from sci-fi and fantasy to modern or horror. Tabletop Audio has over 100 tracks to choose from. Each track is exactly 10 minutes of unrepeating music and ambient noises that can help you create an auditory immersive environment. You can play one track at a time straight from the site, set up a playlist for a longer set, or download your favorite track to use offline. All tracks are advertisement free and licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Which is awesome!

Tabletop Audio
Sci-Fi tracks from TableTop Audio

I had not visited Tabletop Audio for a while (so little time for adventure these days, sigh) so imagine my surprise when I discovered a hidden treasure trove of new features, namely, SoundPad. SoundPad lets you be the adventure DJ and mix sounds to create the perfect ambient for your quest. SoundPad lets you select a scene, (Tavern, The Dungeon, Starship, Future City, etc.) and gives you a set of 30 or more sounds that fit that scene. For example, if you select The Dungeon, you can mix together some drips, bubbles, and rumbles to set you an edge. Even set off a trap or two. Finish things off with a growl and a roar. You can record your SoundPad scene or broadcast it live. If you broadcast it, anyone with the link can listen live as you spin up the perfect mix. Not sure what location you’re heading to? With the custom SoundPad option, you can mix and match sounds from any of the 12 audio sets. You are in control of your own auditory destiny. Sounds can play continuously or add just the perfect scream and just the right time.

Dungeon
Be a Dungeon DJ

Like the tracks on Tabletop Audio, the sounds on SoundPad are free to use and are advertisement free. However, they are not meant to be downloaded or used outside of the Tabletop Audio web-environment. Even so, they are a fantastic way to enhance your gameplay or live storytelling.

Tabletop Audio and SoundPad are not just for gamers. There are several ways this site could be used in the classroom. You can use the tracks in the background while you read aloud. Give the classroom an adventure or cosmic feel while students work on projects. Or, my favorite, let your students mix up the perfect audio setting for their own storytelling or performances. Have them change up their audio choices to see how it impacts the tone of their story. The tracks also make great writing prompts. Play a track such as a Lively Cafe or an Abandon Amusement Park and have your students write what they hear. Build a story around the sounds and music. It could be an excellent exercise in using descriptive vocabulary and details. Create some flash fiction and have them write as you use SoundPad to mix up a soundscape.

So, whether you are a seasoned gamer who wants to take their gameplay to the next level, a novice LARPer looking for the sound of an ice spell, or a classroom teacher who wants to transport their students to an abandoned lunar outpost, Tabletop Audio/SoundPad has everything you need.

You know, I think I might even start using this during meetings. I’ve always wanted to have a meeting on a SteamPunk Airship…

Head over to Tabletop Audio and check them out. If you like what you hear, show them some love through their Patreon or buy a t-shirt. For the latest news and info, check out their blog.