Monday, 29 November 2010

I made a song with Audacity and an iPhone

Gtauk by Steve Philp  
Download now or listen on posterous
gtauk song.mp3 (2576 KB)

At the end of every term I start thinking 'music'. It might be that it's just the season for performances and that I've got my guitar out, but inevitably over the next few weeks I'll have a group of children trying to create some piece of music or other.

I've been using Audacity for a few years - plugging in the school's old keyboards and seeing what children can come up with. This year however we've invested in a couple of iPods, so I've been wondering what I could do with them. I've been experimenting over the weekend to see what the time limits and snags might be and I think I have a reasonable solution for a way of creating some music with just an iPhone and Audacity. Although I have to admit, I have cheated slightly - I played a guitar - and that's something none of my children can do, still here's what my sequence looks like so far. If you want a more detailed explanation, let me know - this just a quick 'big brushtrokes' picture of what I did.

  1. Find some words for the song. I did a Wordle of the Google Teacher Academy Blog that Kevin McLaughlin had started. While I was recording other bits, I looked at the Wordle and tried to find words that would rhyme and might fit together until a song of some kind appeared.
  2. Start recording drum tracks into Audacity. I used DrumTrack8 which I like because it's got a copy of my old Boss 808 sound that I used to use in the 1990s. Not that I used that particular sound for this song. Depending on how complex you want to be, you can record all the drums together or on separate tracks. I chose to do Kick and Snare together, highhat on its own, ride on its own and some fancy toms on their own track too. I then used Audacity's fade in, fade out and amplify (with a -200 quantity) to cut some of the drums where I didn't want them, for example I only wanted ride in the chorus.
  3. Find a tune. Try to match some words to it. While I was recording the drum tracks I picked up my guitar, tried a few chords and tried to make some of the words from the Wordle fit. This is the tricky bit for the children I guess - as most can't play guitar - I'll have to work out how to make this step accessible to the children.
  4. Record the tune. With the drum tracks done I recorded my guitar track onto my iPhone using Recorder Pro. I couldn't record it straight into Audacity because my cheap mic had broken.
  5. Record the words (i.e sing!). I then sang into Recorder Pro and transferred that into Audacity too. This is the really weak bit for me - I can't sing very well - my voice is thin and my tuning is... interesting. This was also where I had the largest snag. Aside from the quality of my voice, Recorder Pro seems to stop recording when there's silence, so when I synced it back onto Audacity is had cut out some of deliberate gaps. I've tried to add some silences back in, but the words don't quite mesh with the beat at some points because they're out by the odd hundredth or so.
  6. Add some harmony and other stuff. I used Nlog Free synthesiser app to add some more sounds. I love this one. I can't play keys but I can play Nlog. Sort of.
  7. Balance. The worse thing in a pop song is when you can't hear the words. Except when I'm singing. So here, I did a little bit more fading in and out and amplify adjustment on the different tracks.
  8. Mix Down. Finally I assigned some tracks a little to the left and a little to the right to give that fuller sound achieved by a bit of stereo and I saved the track as an MP3
If I'd had more time I would have recorded some extra vocals to pad out my voice. I may have even tried some harmony.

If I'd had a lot more time I'd have found someone who can sing to do my vocals for me.

Next stop - try something like this with the children. Should be an interesting learning experience for us all.

The words of the songs are:
I once was settled with what I knew
I thought I needed nothing new
In a bubble of my own
A tiny world was my home

But then cool awesomeness
Different practices
In a Network Earth
Couldn’t settle then
Had to jump right in
Into a different world

I’ve Gone Google at GTAUK
Posted time to a blog via Twitter that day.
So certify me.

Teachers from every different nation
Showing some steep appreciation
Demonstration and explanation
All in the name of education

New technologies
New literacies
Squeezed into each hour
Better practices
It’s going to work for years
This is education power

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