Archive for the ‘notation’ Tag

Using Noteflight in creative music projects

Are you familiar with Noteflight? Noteflight is web-based notation software that lets you create scores and play them back on your computer and it has recently brought a whole new level of musical understanding and student ownership to some of my classroom composing projects.

One of the ways that I build a class composition is by asking each child in the class to create a short riff/ostinato (1, 2 or 4 bars, usually) within a given key signature or using a pentatonic scale or mode; we then decide together how to combine these to make one long piece. We might write a list of who is playing and when, and rely on each individual to remember their own part (rather than notating each child’s invention separately), or we might use a flexible paper score, putting each child’s name on a single sheet of paper or card, then moving the cards around until we find an order/combination that we like.

Noteflight brings an extra dimension to these projects. I am able to create a real score using standard notation to show how the children’s riffs have been ordered and combined. I can add their names above their line of music when it begins. Best of all, I can play the score for them on the interactive whiteboard or via a data projector so that they can see and hear their composition as it progresses. As the cursor line moves along the staves, the music plays. We can even play along with the computer. In other projects, gaining this understanding of the whole piece – and where each person’s riff or ostinato fits into the larger context – can take several music classes to really establish. Noteflight clarifies everything by making it visual, and the children can immediately experience the whole piece in one sitting.

The formal score also gives an additional authenticity and validity to their work. It formalises their creation and gives it status, in the same way that framing children’s artwork, or publishing their stories and drawing in real books gives the work status and endorsement. The first time I used a Noteflight score with a class, I observed how eagerly the children looked for their own name, and how focused they were as they watched the music progress, mallets poised and ready to play. They felt incredibly proud to think that their music work had resulted in something as impressive-looking as this score!

Image found at – a great story about weird and wonderful scores.

We use Noteflight as a practise tool. It encourages them to continue playing if they make a mistake. They hear how a small hesitation before they begin to play may mean they miss the downbeat – and they then learn how to manage this so that they can find their place in the piece. And, even though most of them don’t know how to read music, the Noteflight score helps them memorise the piece. Over a series of 2-3 lessons we become less reliant on Noteflight and spend more time practising away from it than with it, until it can be performed completely independently.

Unfortunately you can’t embed Noteflight scores on blogs. But if you follow the link below, it will take you to my most recent Noteflight score, a piece of music created by the Upper Primary class at the Language School. They will perform this work on Tuesday afternoon. It is a complex piece for a diverse group like this, many of whom are playing music in a group for the first time in their lives, but they have learned it, and memorised it. Hover the cursor/mouse over the top of the first bar so that a small orange ‘play’ triangle appears. Click on the triangle and enjoy our music!

The wonderful clarity of western-style notation

I’ve found myself in the middle of a really interesting project with the Middle Primary students at the Language School. A focus this term on pulse has taken us into working with simple rhythmic notation (using crotchets, quavers and rests – or quarters, eighths, and rests, as you prefer). I hadn’t planned to introduce western-style notation this term – in fact, I’m not sure it has ever featured in my work at the Language School – but now that I’m in the middle of it, I’m not sure why it hasn’t been a feature.

For one thing, it’s visual. And it can be ‘read aloud’ by the students using simple, logical sounds (ta, titi, and sah). It makes sense to them.

We started with whole notes/semibreves. This was not a good place to start, as they hadn’t yet started internalising pulse. Ditto for minims/half-notes. Things really cranked up when we got on to the crotchets and quavers. We began to invent different rhythms. We said them, clapped them, then put them onto untuned percussion instruments. We divided into two, then three groups, and so were playing three different rhythms concurrently.

And here is the joy of it all – it all hung together! Beautifully. “Well, of course!” I can hear all the music teachers chorus,with a slight air of impatience. These tools have been around a long time, because they work. But what is exciting for me is to see just how quickly and effectively they work without much verbal explanation. They are supported by the musically-consistent environment of the music classes (we have strong attention to musical detail); they also enable the children from China and Thailand, some of whom have had music instruction prior to arrival in Australia, to tap into their knowledge and learning from their country of origin.

For the newest arrivals, and those from refugee backgrounds, who tend to be sruggling with literacy and who have had incredibly disrupted schooling, if any schooling at all, it also seemed to make sense. There are five children in the class who fit this description (Horn of Africa, and Middle Eastern nationalities); only one child was clearly still guessing what was going on, the others seemed to have made sense of the task and were gradually piecing things together.

Today, we progressed things further, writing a rhythm, and then adding pitches to it to make a melody. I gave them a 5-note pentatonic scale to work with, and asked them to suggest which pitches should go where. As we progressed through the rhythm, I played them what they had invented so far. We came up with a funky little tune, and learnt it. Applying pitches to a known rhythm was a good challenge even for the most competent students. They had to figure out how to glance quickly at the board, and then back down to their instrument. We did a lot of echoing, so that they could establish a strong aural memory of the tune.

So, now in week four, we have a 3-part rhythm played on a range of instruments, and a melody, which I have started accompanying on the guitar. What’s more, it all hangs together, with very little direction or correction from me. I think the visual representation of what they are playing helps them put the different parts in context with each other, perhaps.

I think it is going to become a song. The school has been asked to perform in a local Refugee Week community celebration at the end of term – I think this Middle Primary song might end up linking to that event.