Year 9 have been learning about Rap, not only its history but also the technical ins and outs – the flow, delivery, enunciation and style. After spending some time listening to classics such as Grandmaster Flash and Puff Daddy, they set about writing their own rap from scratch, starting with devising their own lyrics. Subjects varied from Communism and Feminism to Trump and rabbits… – you can never tell where inspiration will strike! They then had to compose a backing track and rap their lyrics over this. The whole process showed them that rap is a lot more complicated than it might appear. Here are some examples of their work:
Year 9 have had the blues since coming back to school after Christmas. They have looked at the origins and development of blues music and focused on the chord structure as well as identifying ‘blue’ notes and a walking bass line. After listening to some early blues by Robert Johnson and a blues standard, ‘Everyday I have the blues’, performed by B. B. King, they embarked on their own blues pieces. There are two examples of their work below – the first is a live performance combining a digital drum kit and a drum kit created through Logic Pro and played on a midi keyboard. The second was created on GarageBand and could be described as blues with a psychedelic twist!
Year 9 are trying their hand at improvisation which the Encyclopaedia Britannica defines as ‘the extemporaneous composition or free performance of a musical passage, usually in a manner conforming to certain stylistic norms but unfettered by the prescriptive features of a specific musical text’. Interesting that musical text or notation should be, by implication, restrictive and perhaps curbing creativity.
This is what one group have put together so far – the first piece you will recognise as a version of Seven Nation Army but the second is all theirs and most definitely ‘unfettered by the prescriptive features of a specific musical text’.
Year 9’s skirmish with experimental music continues as they explore music concrete. This took off with the invention and development of recording techniques in the 1950s which opened a whole new world to composers, a world which we 21st century-ites take for granted. Music concrete takes raw sounds and then manipulates and combines them into a musical composition.
The students’ first task was to collect a bank of sound samples using the Sampler in GarageBand. They then had to work out how they wanted to manipulate and combine them to create a piece of music. A lot of imaginative work went into this and you can hear some of the results of their labours below:
This piece combines samples and pre-composed loops – spot the topical content of one of their samples!
This is an imaginative remake of a song by The White Stripes in which the students use samples of their voices to realise the parts:
This, at times quite terrifying, piece uses a mixture of vocal samples and sounds recorded from around the school:
Year 9 were faced with the musical uncertainties of interpreting an aleatory score where key decisions affecting timbre, harmony and pitches are left up to the performer. Here’s the score they were all working on:
They came up with widely differing versions of the piece and definitely put their own stamp on it. Every one had a distinct character and was musically convincing in its own way. You can listen to a sample of their work below:
Year 9’s entree this term into the world of experimental music is well underway. They have been listening to various pieces which challenge their assumptions about what music is, how it is created and where is is performed, including Stockhausen’s Helicopter Quartet (for conventional string quartet, except that each player is sitting in a helicopter which takes off and flies around). Their composing brief was to create a piece of music without using any conventional instruments and with the focus being on rhythm, texture, timbre and structure.
Here are some of their creations:
Year 9 have been taking an in-depth look at rap and discovering how complicated it actually is to pull off one that really works. There are several important factors that need to be taken into consideration, including:
- the backing and how it interacts with the text
- the vocal delivery enunciation
- the flow – understanding the rhythms and rhymes in the text
The students have worked hard on this and you can here come of the fruits of their labours. The first one uses as its text Puck’s final speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the students said they were inspired by the example of MC Hammer that we listened to in class. The second uses a poem by Maya Angelou, ‘Life doesn’t frighten me at all’.
Next term Year 9 will be taking a look at rap and trying their hand at writing their own. By way of an introduction they have spent the last few lessons examining the relationship between words and music and the impact that the latter can have on atmosphere and meaning. Their brief was to choose one of two extracts from Macbeth and come up with music to accompany the reading of the extract that would set the scene, track the text and enhance the atmosphere. Interestingly, all except one group chose to use a predominantly string sound for their music and the general consensus was that it conveyed an appropriately dark mood.
You can listen to three examples of their work here. Two were composed on GarageBand and one was performed live on the piano.
Year 9’s focus in music for the first half of this term has been the Blues, its history, development, influence, and, of course, the music. They have listened to traditional Blues played and sung by Robert Johnson as well as more contemporary Blues performed by Jools Holland and have looked at the structure of the Blues. The Beatles ‘It’s Your Birthday’ even got a look in as an example of Blues influenced pop music.
Here are a couple of examples of the students own Blues inspired compositions. The first is performed live and the second was composed on GarageBand:
‘Do-it-yourself’ aleatory score was the title of the composing task for Year 9 – they composed their own aleatory pieces and constructed an accompanying score. Some aleatory scores are quite stunning visually and could almost be taken for works of art so one pair of students decided to visualise their composition as a series of London architectural landmarks. They managed to fuse a serious and ongoing interest in architecture with composing and art, with pretty impressive results. The composition shows a convincing sense of structure and pace which is graphically realised in their score.
Here’s the score:
You can listen to their music here: