Finding and using simple, effective music technology tools

While I’ve been preparing materials for a new online course, Music Technology for the Terrified, I’ve been thinking a lot about the barriers (both perceived and real) that many teachers face when incorporating technology into their music classes. Whether it’s a fear of things going wrong, a lack of time to explore or try new techniques or the feeling that students are much further ahead of the curve, technology can be a big hurdle for some. The aim of the course is to present quick and easy ways that technnology can be used with students by showing a range of resources – like iNudge – that (hopefully!) remove some of these hurdles.

iNudge is a free interactive website that’s accessible on any online computer. Interactive websites such as iNudge, and Incredibox which I wrote about a few weeks ago, remove the need for installation of software, they don’t require you to use a specific computer operating system and they’re automatically updated. They also work really well on your interactive whiteboard. Based on Andre Michelle’s simple online Tone Matrix, iNudge was developed by the team at Hobnox, who also created the more complex Audiotool interactive site.

iNudge allows you to create great-sounding musical patterns quickly and easily. In his book, Using Technology to Unlock Musical Creativity
, Dr Scott Watson lists iNudge as one of several simple software tools that can remove parameters and limitations that stifle creativity because it is very easy to use – for students and teachers alike!

What’s it all about?

iNudge works as a simple tone matrix (similar in concept to the rather pricey Yamaha Tenori-on) which allows you to create musical patterns by clicking on squares on a 16 x 16 grid. The pattern plays back in a loop and the pitches are based on the pentatonic scale, so pretty much everything sounds good! You can create patterns with single notes or chords and you can even have multiple layers playing simultaneously, each with their own unique playback sound.

The Basics

The best thing is to just go and have a play with the site – click on squares and let the music evolve. Go on, have a go. I’ll wait here 🙂 .

Oh good, you’re back. Addictive isn’t it? While you were playing, you would have discovered the following:

  • You can click on a grid square to activate a note
  • You can click on an active square to clear the sound
  • You can click and drag your mouse over the grid to add lots of sounds at once, or to “draw” an image, letter or number
  • You can use the pause playback by using the pause button on the bottom right
  • You can use the circular slider next to the pause button to control the volume overall
  • You can choose a new layer on the right of the screen and add additional patterns with different playback sounds

Advanced Controls

In addition, there are some advanced controls which you can access by clicking on the More button. These extra controls allow you to:

  • Change the overall tempo
  • Adjust the volume of the active layer
  • Adjust the pan
  • Clear the active layer
  • Make the pattern longer by using the + button

Tip #1: set up a pattern on two or more different layers. While you’re looking at one of the layers, hover your mouse over one of the other layer buttons on the right to see a “ghost” version of its contents. This can help you ensure that each layer contains a contrasting pattern.

Tip #2: Having tested iNudge in a large number of different classrooms and presentation venues, I’ve found that the dark background colours can make it difficult to see the grid lines on the screen. Draw your blinds or curtains if you have the option!

26 ways to use iNudge in the music classroom

iNudge has LOTS of applications in the music classroom, from teaching and reinforcing concepts, to sparking compositions or creating loops for larger projects. Some of the concepts you could reinforce using iNudge include:

  • Patterns in music
  • Ostinati
  • Texture and timbre
  • Layering
  • Form
  • Rhythm
  • Pitch
  • Composition and arranging

Here are some practical ways you can incorporate iNudge into your music classes:

Pitch

1. Visually and aurally demonstrate the difference between high and low pitches with young students. Students can make a high note on the grid and then a low note.

2. Demonstrate an ascending pattern

3. Demonstrate a descending pattern

Discuss and demonstrate voice-leading and the relationship of more than one melodic line in part-writing

4. Contrary motion – use a single layer to show two melodies moving in opposite directions, or use two separate layers (each one will have a different playback sound)

5. Similar motion – use a single layer to show two melodies moving in the same direction, but with changing intervals

6. Oblique motion – use a single layer to show one melody remaining at a constant pitch while the other one moves

7. Parallel motion – use a single layer to show two melodies moving in the same direction, with a constant intervals

Rhythm

8. Working with the premise that each of the 16 horizontal squares if equivalent to a semiquaver, have students work out where they need to click to make iNudge play on each beat of the bar

9. Use one of the layers to discuss subdivisions of the beat: make a row of crotchets, make a row of quavers beneath the crotchets and then make another row of semiquavers

10. Ask students to notate one of their iNudge rhythms using stick notation

11. Use the drum layer to discuss the parts of the drum kit: first, you could show the students a real-life kit, or this online interactive drum kit image, or the drum kit that appears in the GarageBand for iPad app. Teach the students a basic rock pattern using body percussion. Then, discuss programmable drum machines and show the bottom layer in iNudge. What do letters up the side of the matrix mean? Have students recreate the basic rock pattern on iNudge.

Texture

Use iNudge to create examples of different musical textures:

12. Create a monophonic piece with a single melody on one layer

13. Create a polyphonic piece with multiple melodic voices – either on a single layer, or with voices on two separate layers

14. Create a homophonic piece with a melody on one layer and an accompaniment on one or more other layers

Timbre

15. Create simple pattern on top layer and then mute it. Create another pattern on next layer and then compare the quality of the sound on each layer. Describe the timbre of each one using a suggested list of timbre words (such as mellow, harsh, thin, full, metallic, round, reedy, brassy, piercing, flat).

Explore the major pentatonic scale

16. Working with a single vertical column, identify which note in the grid is the tonic. Create a pattern using notes only on that row.

17.Ask the students to find the tonic in another octave. Create a pattern on that row. Can they find it a third time?

18. Working with a single vertical column again, ask the students to work out what other notes iNudge uses (identify the notes using letter names, scale degrees or solfa). Can they recognise the scale?

19. Ask students to recreate a provided pattern of notes: write down a pattern using letter names, numbers or solfa which students can recreate on iNudge.

Simple composition activities

20. Composition using a motif: choose a known song that uses only notes of the pentatonic scale and select one motif from that song to recreate on iNudge. Develop the motif by adding more notes to the grid, then using two other layers (or more), create an accompaniment. I decided this could be a good idea the other day and created a piece based on the first phrase of Oh Susanna (the first pentatonic song that came to mind!). Here’s my example:

The original motif sounded like this (play the pattern by pressing the play button and then when you’ve heard enough, press the Pause button):

And once I had developed the motif and added some more parts, like this (play the pattern by pressing the play button and then when you’ve heard enough, press the Pause button):

Later, whilst looking at some Tone Matrix examples on Youtube I discovered that someone had already used the concept by developing the first part of Mary Had A Little Lamb (this example uses the more simple Tone Matrix tool, not iNudge, but the concept is the same):

iNudge Name Composition

21.In Using Technology to Unlock Musical Creativity, Scott Watson suggests using your name as a starting point for an original composition. Draw your first name or initials on the top layer and then add some accompanying parts on other layers.

22. A variation on the name composition above could be to draw one letter on each layer. You have 8 layers in total, so you could write your entire name if it fits, a combination of a full (short) name and initials, or a nickname. You can use the drum layer for one of the letters (makes an interesting groove!) or save it in order to create a “regular” drum beat.

23. Compose music for video games: if you ever tackle a “compose your own video game music” project with students, iNudge can work well as a compositional tool. The Frogster layer, in particular, sounds like classic video game music. Students could create contrasting musical examples – a happy/relaxed example that goes with the parts of the video game in which the player is succeeding, and a dramatic/suspenseful example to warn the player that something ominous is about to happen.

Create an ostinato

24. With iNudge displayed on a data projector (and with speakers attached), ask the class to compose ostinato. Students can then recreate the ostinato using tuned percussion instruments.

25. Students can also improvise over the top of the class ostinato, or play known pentatonic-based songs using tuned percussion instruments.

Song Form

26. Click on More and then use the + button to add extra sections to your pattern. Create a ternary form piece (A-B-A): first of all, copy your original pattern twice so that you end up with three identical sections, then vary the middle section by adding or removing sounds.

Sharing Your Compositions

Once you’ve finished creating your composition, click on the Get and Share button. There are options for emailing a link to your iNudge creation, copying the link, or embedding it into a web page.

At this stage, you can’t export your iNudge compositions as WAV, MP3 or MIDI (something for a future update perhaps?), so you’ll need to be a little crafty if you want to use your iNudge creations in another program, or save them locally on your computer. One option is to use Audacity and there are some instructions on the Audacity website here. Another option is to video-record your composition using a screen capture program like Jing (free) to capture a video-recording of the iNudge screen. Importing the resulting video into a program like GarageBand, Mixcraft, or Acid will give you separate video and audio tracks. You can simply delete the video portion, leaving the iNudge audio behind.

iNudge and iPads

You can’t use iNudge on an iPad because it is a flash-based website. However, there are a few apps available that are based on the tone matrix concept. Try Beatwave (free).

Like to know more?

If you’re interested in discovering more easy-to-use music technology resources like iNudge and learning how to use them in music education, you can join the next Music Technology For The Terrified online course. We also look at iNudge and similar tools during the Interactive Whiteboards in the Music Classroom online course.

Are you using iNudge?

Do you already use iNudge in your classroom? What sort of things have you tried?