Sonic Pi…


Here’s some background to this new publication – available on Amazon.

Using computer programming for coding musical output is nothing new – boffins have been doing this for years, spending hours working on complicated and expensive machines in university research departments, churning out computer generated music that no one really wants to listen to. Sonic Pi changes all that. Here we have an easy to use and much more intuitive program. It is aimed at those new to computer programming, but powerful enough to generate really sophisticated music.

Part of the stimulus for development was to stake a claim for music in the new computing curriculum for schools, with its emphasis on computer programming as an important digital skill. Students are already finding this an utterly engaging way to make music, that also makes strong connections with their musical cultures and helps them develop broader and deeper levels of musical understanding.

The program comes with tutorials and worked examples, which fully demonstrate the possibilities. Users can generate melodic lines, chords and sequences, assign them to different synthesisers, edit the timbral profile of synthesised sounds, add various looping and chance structures, import sampled sounds and process these sounds using a range of effects. The coding makes it clear what is happening musically at each stage so students get good insights into how sounds can be organised musically. Once proficient, students can read a computer program in much the same way as experienced musicians can read a conventional musical score. It really helps some students get right ‘under the bonnet’ with learning about how music works.
There are two complementary approaches teachers can take with this software. The first is to take the students step by step through learning the
language and trying ideas out at each stage, so they gradually build up a programming vocabulary. This free application can be downloaded from which comes with useful on site tutorials and examples of Sonic Pi in action. Check out also the companion website as a source for further support.

The second approach is to provide some pre-programmed templates for musical activity. These can be set up to encourage exploration of a range of musical concepts such as chord progressions, theme and variations, building melodies and so on. Using the ‘live looping’ function allows students to make adjustments to various musical parameters as the music is playing. Using ‘what if’ type questions engages learners in trying out ideas, making musical decisions and developing programming skills. This is the approach we take in this publication. However it is always a good idea, if you are using a new concept for the first time (such as looping, randomisation, editing samples etc.), to cross refer to the corresponding sections in Sonic Pi’s Help resource. Here you will find much more detail on how these functions work and more on how you can control them.

Although this is a relatively new approach to making music, the fundamentals of good music making still apply. We still need to think about how good melodies develop organically and how rhythm patterns are structured and fit together in ways listeners can appreciate and recognise. The priority still has to be making music that sounds good – it is not just about clever coding. So always ask the question – is it musical? Will a listener find in this music some musical reference points they can connect with?

This resource has been written specifically to support the classroom music teacher in exploring new, innovative ways of delivering the music curriculum. The activities are aimed at older students but teachers will find that they can easily be adapted to suit a wide range of ages, abilities and teaching contexts.

Note: if you have ordered the book and are having problems downloading the coding, send me a message via the contact form on this site and I will forward by email.

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