Taking It Outside: Making Music & Art Inspired By Nature

(pour des raisons techniques, le français suit)

Over the last few years, I’ve turned to nature for rejuvenation, enjoyment and solace. I’m not alone in this: the number of people accessing national, provincial and municipal parks has increased enormously. Connecting with nature is something everyone can do, whether in a park, looking out a window or walking down the street. Making music and art inspired by nature is just a step away.

To kick off the new school year, I’d like to share a nature-based art activity that anyone can lead: the sense walk. The sense walk can then go in various directions depending on student and teacher interest and curriculum needs, including creation of soundscapes, loops, radio dramas, podcasts and more. 

Sense walks 

Sense walks are a variation of sound walks, or walks in which participants bring their attention to the sounds around you. For the purposes of this project, participants are asked to tap into three senses: sound, sight and touch (See downloadable pdf for a print-able worksheet).


  • Pen
  • Handout (see downloadable pdf)
  • Weather-appropriate clothes and shoes

Start with where you are: 

  1. Ask participants pay attention to their surroundings and to write down: 
    • one sound that they hear (e.g. a sneeze, a car honking, a bird chirping etc.)
    • one item they see (e.g. a pen, a friend, a car, a tree)
    • a sensation they feel (e.g. a breeze on their skin, warm, cold etc.) (n.b. participants often take this as an emotion, which is fine)
  2. Ask volunteers to share one of their observations.
  3. Note the similarities and differences between volunteers’ observations. Reinforce observing sound and sensations — otherwise, most observations will be sight-based. Encourage observation with greater detail (e.g. I heard the car honking too — how far away do you think it was? I missed the bird — can you describe its call to me? What colour was the car you saw? Can you describe the sound it made?)
  4. Explain the concept of a sense walk — a walk done without speaking in which each person makes observations of what they hear, see and feel. Ask participants to name places that look, sound and feel different than where they are right now.
  5. Brainstorm possible routes and destinations for a sense walk. For example: 
    • School: through school hallways, past gym, and out front doors; destination: school yard;
    • Neighbourhood: out front door, down street to alley, destination: halfway down alley as far from city traffic as possible
    • Park: on or off paths, close and far from water, trees and traffic
  6. When the route and destination has been decided: 
    • Give a handout and pen or pencil to each participant
    • For outdoor sense walks, prepare weather-appropriate clothing and footwear

Sense walk: 

Remind participants that the goal is to make observations without speaking. Sharing will happen at the end of the sense walk.

  1. Participants write their observations throughout the walk, stopping as necessary. Stop for a few minutes along the route in 2–3 particularly interesting places. These can be predetermined or spontaneous, following any unexpected events that happen en route. At the destination, stop and continue observing for 4–5 minutes.
  2. Ask volunteers to share one of two observations of what they heard, saw and felt over the course of the sense walk.
  3. Go on multiple sense walks! Experiment with: 
    • different routes and destinations,
    • indoor and outdoor spaces,
    • times of day, and
    • season.


  • Assign a leader and a sweep. The leader leads relatively slowly so participants have a change to write, and so the group stays fairly close together. The sweep keeps an eye on the route and the rest of the group so that the participants who have the most to write don’t get left behind. Both the leader and the sweep should know the route and destination.
  • Make sure all participants know where you are going and about how long the activity will take in advance. This helps participants understand how long they are being asked to observe for and not chat with each other.
  • Consider how far the walk is. With the aid of the handout and a varied walk, I find participants be attentive for up to 20 minutes without speaking, depending on age. If chatting starts (which usually happens around curiosity about each other’s observations), give a few minutes to participants to share with a friend, or with exchange as a group. Adapt the length of time to your group. I prefer starting with several observation periods of shorter time frames, and giving the opportunity for participants to share their observations, so they understand quickly how varied observations can be from person to person. As the activity continues, I usually lengthen observation time frames for the places participants have named as particularly interesting.
  • When at a stop along the sense walk, name how long you are going to observe your surroundings for (e.g. 3 minutes). Use a visual aid to show where you are in the time period to avoid the inevitable question ‘how much longer?’

PART TWO: Imagining place from music 

While listening to a piece of pre-composed music such as Louise’s work Songbird for inspiration, ask participants to create an imaginary place, describing this place through observations of what they see, hear and feel.

Observations from the sense walks can be used as necessary. Some participants mix and match observations from multiple sense walks to create a new imaginary place; others alter or make variations of observations, still others launch into storytelling about an event or a place from their past, while others invent an entirely new world with fresh observations. All of these ways are good. Once participants are ready, ask volunteers to describe their imaginary place to each other.

This activity is part of the cultural mediation activities for Sources, my upcoming solo album and outdoor installation featuring music inspired by the St. Lawrence Seaway. Co-creation processes based on sense walks have led to improvised soundscapes, radio dramas and podcasts, as well as Sources.

“Close your eyes and imagine this scene. You walk along the bright orange and red sandy shores of the Magdalen Islands… pay attention to the sounds, to the wind, observe and then gather some of those sounds and craft those into a story. That’s part of what’s been happening at the Grosse Ile School with Teaching Artist Louise Campbell…” Alison Brunette, CBC Breakaway (2019)

For those of you located in Montreal and area, how about a workshop series culminating in a field trip? The outdoor installation of Sources, music inspired by the St. Lawrence River, will take place in May 2023 at Parc Frédéric-Back, an accessible urban park with a mandate of environmental education and sustainable development. For more information, or to host a workshop series and installation in your neighbourhood, contact me at: mlouisecampbell(at)gmail.com

FUNDING for myself and other artists is available through:

Wishing everyone an excellent beginning to the artistic season and school year, and plenty of outdoor time!

L’emmener dehors : La musique inspirée par la nature

Au cours des dernières années, je me suis tournée vers la nature pour me ressourcer, m’amuser et me réconforter. Je ne suis pas le seul dans ce cas : le nombre de personnes accédant aux parcs nationaux, provinciaux et municipaux a considérablement augmenté. Se connecter avec la nature est quelque chose que tout le monde peut faire, que ce soit dans un parc, en regardant par la fenêtre ou en marchant dans la rue. Faire de la musique et de l’art inspirés par la nature n’est qu’à un pas.

Pour lancer la nouvelle année scolaire, j’aimerais partager une activité artistique basée sur la nature que tout le monde peut mener : la promenade sensorielle. La promenade sensorielle peut ensuite aller dans différentes directions en fonction de l’intérêt des élèves et des enseignants, et du curriculum, y compris la création de paysages sonores, de boucles, de pièces radiophoniques, de podcasts, etc.

Première partie : Balades sensorielles

Les balades sensorielles sont une variante des balades sonores, ou des promenades dans lesquelles les participants portent leur attention sur les sons qui vous entourent. Pour les besoins de ce projet, les participants sont invités à puiser dans trois sens : l’ouïe, la vue et le toucher (voir le pdf téléchargeable pour une feuille d’observationl imprimable). 

Matériaux : 

  • Stylo
  • Impression de feuille d’observation (voir pdf téléchargeable) 
  • Vêtements et chaussures adaptés à la météo

Commencez par où vous êtes :

  1. Demandez aux participants de prêter attention à leur environnement et d’écrire : 
    • un son qu’ils entendent (par exemple, un éternuement, un klaxon de voiture, un gazouillis d’oiseau, etc.) 
    • un objet qu’ils voient (par exemple, un stylo, un ami, une voiture, un arbre) 
    • une sensation qu’ils ressentent (par exemple une brise sur leur peau, chaud, froid, etc.). n.b. Des fois, les participants prennent cela comme une émotion, ce qui est bien, aussi. 
  2. Demandez à des volontaires de partager une de leurs observations. 
  3. Notez les similitudes et les différences entre les observations des volontaires. Renforcez l’observation des sons et des sensations – sinon, la plupart des observations seront basées sur la vue. Encouragez l’observation avec plus de détails (par exemple : J’ai aussi entendu la voiture klaxonner – à quelle distance pensez-vous qu’elle se trouvait ? J’ai raté l’oiseau – pouvez-vous me décrire son appel ? De quelle couleur était la voiture que vous avez vue ? Pouvez-vous décrire le son ?) 
  4. Expliquez le concept d’une balade sensorielle – une promenade faite sans parler dans laquelle chaque personne fait des observations sur ce qu’elle entend, voit et ressent. Demandez aux participants de nommer des endroits qui semblent, sonnent et se sentent différents de l’endroit où ils se trouvent actuellement. Réfléchissez aux endroits où votre groupe aimerait faire une promenade sensorielle et à l’itinéraire à suivre. 
  5. Faites un remue-méninges sur les itinéraires et les destinations possibles. Par exemple : 
    • À l’école : dans les couloirs de l’école, devant le gymnase et devant les portes ; destination : cour d’école ; 
    • Dans le quartier : devant la porte d’entrée, de la rue à la ruelle, destination : à mi-chemin de la ruelle aussi loin que possible de la circulation urbaine 
    • Au parc : sur ou hors sentiers, à proximité et loin de l’eau, des arbres et de la circulation 
  6. Lorsque l’itinéraire et la destination ont été décidés : 
    • Donnez une feuille d’observation et un stylo ou un crayon à chaque participant. 
    • Pour les promenades sensorielles en plein air, préparez des vêtements et des chaussures adaptés à la météo. 

Balade sensorielle :

Rappelez aux participants que le but est de faire des observations sans parler. Le partage aura lieu à la fin de la marche des sens. 

  1. Les participants écrivent leurs observations tout au long de la balade, en s’arrêtant si nécessaire. Arrêtez-vous quelques minutes le long du parcours dans 2–3 endroits particulièrement intéressants. Celles-ci peuvent être prédéterminées ou spontanées, suite à tout événement inattendu qui se produit en cours de route. 
  2. À destination, arrêtez-vous et continuez à observer pendant 4 à 5 minutes. Demandez aux volontaires de partager l’une des deux observations de ce qu’ils ont entendu, vu et ressenti au cours de la balade sensorielle.
  3. Partez en multiples balades sensorielles ! Expérimenter avec : 
    • Des lieux différents, 
    • Des espaces intérieurs et extérieurs, 
    • Des moments de la journée varié, et 
    • Des saisons différentes.

Astuces : 

  • Attribuez un leader et une personne pour être à la fin du groupe. Le leader mène relativement lentement afin que les participants aient l’opportunité d” écrire leurs observations, et ainsi le groupe reste assez proche les uns des autres. La personne à la fin du groupe garde un œil sur le parcours afin que les participants qui ont le plus à écrire ne soient pas laissés en arrière. Le leader et la personne à la fin du groupe doivent connaître l’itinéraire et la destination. 
  • Assurez-vous que tous les participants savent à l’avance où vous allez et combien de temps durera l’activité. Tenez compte de la distance du parcours. À l’aide de la feuille de travail et d’une balade variée, je constate que les participants sont attentifs jusqu’à 20 minutes, selon l’âge. Si la jazzette commence (ce qui se produit généralement par curiosité pour les observations de l’autre), accordez quelques minutes aux participants pour partager avec un ami ou pour échanger en groupe. 
  • Adaptez la durée à votre groupe. Je préfère commencer par plusieurs périodes d’observation de durées plus courtes, et donner la possibilité aux participants de partager leurs observations, afin qu’ils comprennent rapidement à quel point les observations peuvent être variées d’une personne à l’autre. Au fur et à mesure que l’activité se poursuit, j’allonge généralement les périodes d’observation des lieux que les participants ont désignés comme particulièrement intéressants. 
  • Lorsque vous vous arrêtez le long de la balade sensorielle, indiquez pendant combien de temps vous allez faire des observations (par exemple, 3 minutes). Utilisez une aide visuelle pour montrer où vous en êtes dans la période afin d’éviter l’inévitable question « combien de temps encore ? » 

Deuxième partie : Imaginer un lieu à partir de la musique

Tout en écoutant une pièce de musique pré-composée telle que l’œuvre Songbird de Louise pour s’inspirer, demandez aux participants de créer un lieu imaginaire, décrivant ce lieu à travers des observations de ce qu’ils voient, entendent et ressentent. Les observations des promenades sensorielles peuvent être utilisées si nécessaire. Certains participants mélangent et associent les observations de multiples promenades sensorielles pour créer un nouveau lieu imaginaire ; d’autres modifient ou font des variations d’observations, d’autres encore se lancent dans la narration d’un événement ou d’un lieu de leur passé, tandis que d’autres inventent un monde entièrement nouveau avec de nouvelles observations. Tous ces moyens sont bons. Une fois que les participants sont prêts, demandez aux volontaires de décrire leur lieu imaginaire les uns aux autres. 

« Fermez les yeux et imaginez cette scène. Vous marchez le long des rives de sable orange vif et rouge des Îles-de-la-Madeleine… faites attention aux sons, au vent, observez puis rassemblez certains de ces sons et créez-en une histoire. Cela fait partie de ce qui se passe à l’école de la Grosse-Île avec la médiatrice culturelle Louise Campbell… » Alison Brunette, CBC Breakaway (2019)

Pour ceux d’entre vous intéressés par la médiation culturelle, le FINANCEMENT pour moi-même et d’autres artistes est disponible via :

Pour ceux d’entre vous situés à Montréal et dans les environs, que diriez-vous d’une série d’ateliers se terminant par une sortie sur le terrain ? L’installation extérieure de Sources, une musique inspirée du fleuve Saint-Laurent, aura lieu en mai 2023 au parc Frédéric-Back, un parc urbain accessible avec un mandat d’éducation à l’environnement et de développement durable. Pour plus d’informations, contactez-moi à : mlouisecampbell@gmail.com.

Je vous souhaite un excellent début de saison artistique et d’année scolaire, et beaucoup de temps en plein air !

Getting pitchy

Funnily enough, I find one of the biggest challenges in facilitating participatory creative music is how to deal with pitch. It seems silly since pitch is one of the fundamental parameters of music.

Here’s the situation: I walk into a high school band room full of 20 to 30 teens playing wind instruments. Our task is to co-compose, rehearse and perform a piece in one hour. I’ve just met the players. I don’t know their musical taste or level of music theory, let alone their names. It’s go time!

The first thing I do is make sure people know that there are no wrong notes in a creative process, only interesting ones (see Knitting Lessons for more). After that, it’s crucial to find a way for everyone to talk about pitch easily. When I’m a guest in a high school band class, we usually warm-up with the lingua franca of high school band, a concert Bb Major scale. Happily this lends itself to speaking in scale degrees.

EDIT: A number of people have asked me to explain what scale degrees are. Scale degree associate a number to each note of the scale (i.e. the first note of the scale is 1, the second note of the scale is 2, etc.). Here are the scale degrees for CM:

           1     2     3     4      5     6      7     8(1)

CM:   C     D     E     F     G     A     B     C

And for FM:

          1     2     3     4      5     6      7     8(1)

FM:   F     G     A     B     C     D     E     F

When dealing with transposing instruments for whom the sounding pitch has a different letter name per instruments (e.g. concert Bb is a fingered Bb for flute, a fingered C for clarine), scale degrees lets you ask for ‘scale degree 1 in concert Bb Major’. Each musician then translates this into a pitch on their instrument. So rather than saying “flutes play x, trumpets and clarinets play y, altos play z, oh and you’ve got French horns…”, I can simply say, “play scale degree X”.

I wax poetic about scale degrees. Even if a group is not familiar with scale degrees, it takes maximum 10 min. for to become comfortable with them. Not only do they make pitch-based exercises easier to lead as a facilitator, scale degrees empower participants to speak directly with one other, rather than going through me, their teacher or a transposition chart. Easy communication means people are more inclined to make music on their own, which is ultimately what I hope for.

Once you have decide on how to talk about pitch, here’s a process to find pitch material:

  1. Ask four participants at a time to play any note on your cue.
  2. Cue multiple times, asking participants to change notes on each cue, resulting in a series of 4-note chords.
  3. Ask participants to pick one of the chords to play with.
  4. Write the notes on the board, using scale degrees or transposing as necessary.
  5. On your cue, ask the full band to play any one of the four notes on the board, resulting in a rich orchestration of this chord.

This sequence takes around 20 minutes, including warm-up. I learn a lot about groups’ musical preferences and experience during this time, which helps me direct the process moving forward. Groups choose wildly different pitch material to work with, from crunchy atonal clusters to four-note jazz chords to open fifth power chords. I go with whatever a group chooses – it’s their music, after all.

Samples of pitch material chosen by different school groups

Here are some examples of the pitch material various groups have chosen:

  • 3-7
  • 1-3-7
  • 2-4-6-8
  • 3-4-7
  • 1-4-#4-5


In the next blog post, we’ll take this process on to the next challenge: a group that clearly wants to make beat-based music.


For Leila

Welcome back! To kick off the season, here is a tale about my 3-year old friend Leila, who she is, how she makes music and some thoughts on facilitating creative music with people of all ages, whoever they may be.

for Leila

I lost my mitts. Again. I always lose my mitts. This time it’s minus 33 outside and I’m outside the garderie looking at Leila playing in the snow, feeling the cold bite my hands. I can’t have come without my mitts. I would have noticed. They must be inside.

“Leila. I lost my mitts. Can you help me find them?”

Leila looks at me, puzzled, and keeps digging in the snow. I’m puzzled too. These mitts are huge – big black mitts that come almost up to my elbows, keep my hands warm in this frigid cold, and are really hard to lose.

“I lost my mitts, Leila. Where’d they go?”

She looks up, still puzzled, but I have her attention. What belongs to who is important to Leila. Ever since she could crawl, she’s brought me my things. My shoes when I’m sitting in the living room talking with her mom. My coat, bringing it to me in the middle of a crowded party. My backpack, dragging it with determination since it weighs almost as much as she does.

I ask for her help. I mean it. I don’t want to make the trek across the city in this cold without my mitts. I looked everywhere in the garderie. Even the garderie staff looked. Nobody could find my mitts.

“Leila, my mitts. Where’d they go?”

She looks up at me and makes the gesture every 3-year old I know makes that means ‘I dunno’. Then she starts looking: up, down, around. We walk to the garderie, the snow brittle and crunching under our feet. I open the door, and the warm air rushes out to greet us, fogging up my glasses so I can’t see anything.

“Where are my mitts, Leila? I looked everywhere,”

I say as I polish my glasses. I put them back on and see Leila holding my mitts up, delight shining out of her face.

“Leila, you found them! Where were they?”

“They were right there, Louise! Right there.”

And Leila holds my mitts while we walk back outside, holds them while I put her in her stroller, holds them while I struggle with that damn buckle, holds them while I get her snack. Holds them until we are ready to go. Leila looks up at me.

“Your turn, Louise. Mitts on. Yaay!!”

This from my 3-year old friend who just learned how to say my name in full, Lou-ise, two weeks ago. She’s looking after me. Looking after me in the best way she knows. Bringing me my mitts. Keeping my hands warm. Cheering me on.

This tale reminds me to pay attention to the person or people in front of me and recognize their strengths and interests. In the case of Leila, not only is she far better at some things than I am (keeping track of my mitts is not the only thing), she is one of the best improvisers I know. Ever since she was born, she has explored every object she can get her hands for it’s potential for sound, from scratching surfaces and fabrics with her fingernails to very purposeful real-time mixing using various sound-making toys. Put an electric guitar on the floor for her to play with, and she creates sounds I’ve never heard from a professional. It would be easy to assume that Leila doesn’t ‘know’ anything because she’s three, but then I would be completely missing out on what she already does very skillfully.

When I enter a room full of people ready to make music, I do my best to keep in mind that there is always more to another person than I can possibly know, and the last thing I want to do is underestimate someone. Who is this person? What do they know and like? What skill have they honed, and take pride in? How do they know and understand the subject at hand, and related subjects? How is this the same or different to how I know and understand these subjects? What can I learn from them? How can we make music together?

All the best in your creative music endeavors this season!

Droning on…

Circle games come out sounding very different depending on group dynamic. Some groups tend towards close imitation, leading to gradual evolution over time, playing with one or two of musical elements at a time. For example, if a group fixes pitch and focuses on changes in duration and dynamic, the group sound can become very drone-based, with gradually shifting timbres based on instrumentation. This is when droning on is definitely a good thing.

Campbell: Circle Game variations. Players play a fixed pitch (e.g. concert G) with a crescendo-decrescendo note shape. Overlap notes and breathe as necessary.

A different dynamic shape will create a very different sound. You can lead a different dynamic shape either by playing it or by suggesting it in words or images.

Campbell, Circle Game variations. Players play a fixed pitch (e.g. concert G) with the dynamic shape of a crescendo. Overlap notes and breathe as necessary.

We can flip the paradigm and fix a different element. Let’s fix the dynamic shape as a crescendo-decrescendo and leave pitch open. It’s a simple change, and sounds totally different. What happens when pitch and dynamic shape is fixed, and rhythm is open? Your drone might gradually start to groove. Open up pitch or dynamic shape, and we start to have more variety. Keep this up and your group will start to develop opinions about what is more musically effective, and you will be well on your way to creating a group composition. Here is one group’s score resulting from this process:

Co-composition based on Circles Games by Lindsay Place High School Etude students, facilitated by Louise Campbell in Culture in Schools workshop

This group tended towards close imitation when playing circle games. Other groups tend towards radical changes in sound, jumping from one musical element to another, creating surprise and contrast even as the pitch is stable. Both are interesting strategies and useful in their own right. It’s up to you to read the dynamic of the group and build on the strengths of the people and group you are working with. Every group will come up with something totally unique to that group! That’s the beauty of circle games.

Campbell, Circle Game variations


Circle games

The last post posed the question: what strategies can be used in creative music to focus on exploring potential rather than mistakes? To use current ed and tech buzzwords, ‘fostering a growth mindset’ is my primary task, whether as an Artist in Schools or Community Music facilitator with participants of all ages. For new groups, I jump in with a musical way of saying hello. A circle game, it’s really saying ‘hello… helloo… hellooo…ellooo…llooooo….’

Circle games are based on the simple musical principles of repetition and variation. First, form a circle. Then, play repeat-after-me: I make a sound and everyone repeats it as a group. The task is not exact repetition of the leader. Rather, the task is to make a sound similar to the leader. Start with simple sounds. Throw in a few silly ones for good measure. Laughter keeps things light, stretches peoples’ ears and ideas of ‘what goes’, and shifts focus from ‘right-wrong’ to simply playing with sound.

Once everyone is comfortable and knows what to do, you’re ready for a circle game. Here is a simple one:

Circle Games, by Louise Campbell

Sit or stand in a circle. One person makes a sound for the length of one breath. When you hear the person to your left make a sound, add your sound to theirs, imitating their sound in your own way.

This circle game is a great way to encourage listening. I’ve been in circles of 3 people to 60 people, featuring standard instrumentations to chaotic mixes of whatever people brought or could find. The magic happens when everyone is listening and playful and the circle takes on it’s own sound and rhythm. Now that you’ve said hello, the next post will feature suggestions for in-depth conversations in sound.




Notes from Knitting Lessons

‘If you make a mistake, do it twice. Then people think you did it on purpose. They won’t be any the wiser if you don’t tell them!’

Photo credit: Ben Hosking

This was my Nana’s advice when she was teaching me how to knit, one of the most awkward things I have ever learned. Combined with my penchant for following the gist of the instructions rather than actually following them, Nana and I had many mirth-filled knitting sessions turning mistakes into ‘design features’. Her words came back to me when I was recording a sketch of an open score for a friend and colleague. They apply beautifully to making creative music with amateurs.

Whether it’s knitting or making music, I prefer clear global direction to excruciating detail. Because of this, I write open scores that allow for a lot of wiggle room. This is a bonus when playing with loopers, because every loop comes out a little (or a lot) differently. When I sat down to record a sketch for my colleague, I had a plan – sections with pitch choices and processes for each.

And… recording!

Sketch for Knitting Lessons, for clarinet and loop station

Everything is going swimmingly until:

ME TO MYSELF: Bah. I made a mistake. (listens to 1:55 for a few loops and remembers Nana’s knitting advice)

Hmmm, actually that’s not bad, kind of foreshadows what I’m gonna do later.(continues process for section, building new loop)

Now to work in that mistake… (plays footsie with loopers 2:35-2:50)

… yeah, cool, that works…

Whoops! I didn’t mean that. (listens to new ‘mistake’ at 2:50)

Actually that’s pretty cool. I wonder if I can use that… (follows process to end)

If there is anything looping has taught me, it’s that unintended events are just as interesting, and sometimes more interesting, than intentional events. The two ‘mistakes’ in this recording were unintentional, but they became ‘design features’ to the point that they are now part of the final score. If I had stopped when I made the first mistake, I would never have found out where it would lead me.

That’s how Nana’s knitting advice applies to creative music making with amateurs. The greatest block to creativity and flow is right-wrong thinking. Sometimes mistakes are mistakes, in which case it is important to address the causes (just found where that pesky distortion sizzle came from…). More importantly, what strategies can be used to set up a creative music activity where right-wrong thinking doesn’t apply and mistakes are viewed as potential? More thoughts on that in the next blog posts. Welcome back to the new season and school year, everyone!

Going loopy

Featuring: École secondaire Pointe-aux-Trembles
Karine Lalonde, Music teacher
Nikola, Sec. III violinist

Working with teenagers can be as rewarding as it is challenging. Get them hooked on something and they’ll run further than you ever imagined. But if they’re not interested… ouch. I knew I hit on something earlier this year in an Artist in Schools workshop at École secondaire Pointe-aux-Trembles when I did a demonstration playing clarinet with guitar pedals. When I finished playing, I saw 25 teenagers with their mouths hanging open and heard: ‘on peut faire de la musique comme ça ?, ‘est-ce que je peux essayer ?, ‘mind-blowing’…

Hooking someone up to pedals is the easiest thing in the world. Just put the pedal on a delay setting, hold a mic by their instrument and ask them to play one note. The pedal plays it back. Over. And over. And over. This immediacy allows people to instantly hear what they played. Most amateurs are quite refined listeners; they know right away if they like what they hear or not!

This was certainly the case with Nikola, a violinist in his first year of playing and the first student to use my looper after the demonstration. We had the advantage of having completed two workshops on improvising in the Game genre, in addition to the excellent musical training he receives from his music teacher Karine Lalonde. Beyond that, I can take no credit for the following sound samples: I held the mic, explained how the loop pedal worked and Nikola took it from there. After a few trials, here is the first loop he made:

Rhythmic loop by Nikola, delay setting equivalent to mm=120

During the recording of this loop, Nikola wasn’t satisfied with a high, sustained sound and wanted something a little less piercing. Karine, a very fine violinist, showed him how to play a touch-fourth harmonic, which created exactly the kind of sound he was looking for.

Since Nikola’s first loop was rhythmic and droney, I suggested he do something contrasting using glissandi. Here is his second loop:

Glissandi loop by Nikola, delay setting equivalent to mm=120

After class, I wanted to show Nikola one example of what could be done with two contrasting loops. Here’s the result:

Loops by Nikola, arrangement by Louise Campbell

What I would really like to hear is what Nikola would have done with his two loops. My current homework: checking out free apps so students can record, create and mix their own loops with a minimum of gear. Look out, 2018-19, I’ve got some new Artist in Schools workshops in the making!

A note on tech requirements: tech does not have to be fancy or expensive. Here’s my rule of thumb: assess the gear you have and supplement to make it functional. Check out free looping apps, amps with built-in delay and reverb and loop pedals. Ask your students what they already know and do: chances are a few already make their own mixes. Use their favourite gear, and you’ll have an expert who’s excited to talk gear and share what they know with their newly plugged-in counterparts.

Memory and Making the Most of Ear Worms

Ever got a tune stuck in your head? And couldn’t get it out?

As Oliver Sacks discussed (Musicophilia, 2008), ear worms are songs that repeat over and over in your head. The jury is out on how and why this happens: but we’ve all had the experience of that tune going round, right round, baby, right round-round, baby, round like a record, baby….

You get the idea! Let’s use this funny brain hiccup to help you and your students create a memory game embedded with the information you want your students to know inside out and backwards.

The game: Fruit Salad is a rhythm game that features word-based chants. The chants are repeated and layered an indeterminate number of times. The following score uses rhythmic chants of different lengths: 3, 4 and 5 beats long. When layered, the chants phase due to their different lengths.

Fruit Salad, Louise Campbell

How to toss the fruit salad:

  1. As a class, learn each chant by heart. Loop as many times as necessary until comfortable.
  2. Drop a word(s) from the chant and replace it with a rest(s). See boxes in the score above for suggestions of what to drop.
  3. Add a word(s) back into the chant.
  4. Find a way to add/drop words on the fly.
  5. Divide your class into 2-3 groups, and assign one chant per group. Ask each group to practice the chant until they can loop it easily and add/drop words on the fly.
  6. Bring the class back together and loop the chants at the same time, adding and dropping words at will.

On the level of memory, participants learn the chants by rote, and then challenge and integrate memory through the game of keeping their place in the chant as words are added and dropped. The result is a groovy group rhythm in which different words from the chants pop out at different times. The game itself is fun to play, and has all kinds of interesting musical possibilities.

Now imagine how you can make this game work for you and your students in terms of memory – say you use this game when teaching your students about nutrition. Chances are if you ask your students on a test to name a number of fruits, they will come out with the fruit in the chant they learned. What if you and your students made up a chant with examples of each of the major food groups? The information will be even more committed to memory if students come up with the chants themselves.

A chanting game can be made out of any material you want your students to memorize. Pick a topic and ask your students to brainstorm words associated to that topic. Then ask students to play with the words as rhythm, dropping and adding, arranging and re-arranging the words to be as groovy as possible. For best results for memory, the chants can be made to represent a ‘chunk’ of information, as in one chant dedicated to a specific food group.

The key is to boil it down to the essentials – words and rhythm – to make the chant rhythmic and catchy. In the process of playing with the words, your students will be committing the chant to memory, building their own earworms out of information needed to master a subject. Who knows how far you and your students will take it – want your students to memorize the Periodic Table of Elements? It has some fabulously rhythmic words that would make a great rap!

Ack! Here comes the concert

You’ve been doing all this improv, everyone is having a great time, and now the concert is looming. What to do? I say improvise in concert, as is. Or you can get a wee bit more composition-y about it. Let’s take the previous blog post ‘Long tones made fun’ one step further…

The basic rule of the game stays the same: you can play a long tone, or a silence. Now for pitch choices. Play through several versions of this game using different pitch set options (see previous blog post or invent your own). Does your group like certain pitch sets better than the others? Take the group’s favourite pitch sets and find a way to display them so that everyone can read off the same chart – a white board, Smartboard or other kind of projection works well for this. Then have one person ‘conduct’ by pointing to which set they want the group to play and for how long.

This is what your white board might look like. The conductor points to a pitch set and the players go to town using those pitches!

Choose different conductors – each conductor will lead the group through the pitch sets in different ways with different timing. This alone is fascinating. For the concert, ask the audience to guess the rules of the game and then have your three most enthusiastic conductors lead the group through the same game – audiences love it, because they hear how active music-making is and they get to be a part of it, too!

Long tones made fun

I admit I’m a geek – I like to play long tones even after 30 years of playing my instrument. It’s a form of meditation when I get to forget about everything and enjoy making sound. I can wax poetic about it, but I also recognize that not everybody feels this way! Yet, more than anything else, long tones dramatically improve my students’ playing. So how do I make long tones interesting and inspiring for the less-geeky-than-me? Oh, I have so many ways…

Sound and silence

Instrumentation: Wind, brass, strings, pitched percussion
Age & ability: All ages, intermediate to advanced
Number of participants: 6-35

My long-time long-tone favourite is a game piece in which players have two choices:

    1. play a long tone
    2. play a silence

Campbell, Sound and Silence

The long tones and silences can overlap in any way, creating shifting textures and timbres as different instruments come in and drop out at various times.

Campbell, Sound and Silence, a variation

Pitches can be open or predetermined. Here are some examples of predetermined pitch sets:

Choose from:

          1. An E in any octave
          2. Any note of a specific chord, such as C Major or E minor minor 7
          3. Any note of specific scale, such as pentatonic, or D Major
          4. Any note from a tetrachord such as (0, 1, 2, 6) or C, C#, D, F#
          5. Any note of the chromatic scale

Any of these options can go on for a fair while. Encourage your participants to listen and respond to each other. Each group takes it in a different direction – yours will too.

More next time on shaping this game into collaborative composition.

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)

Follow by Email