So You Have a DAW; Now What? Ideas to Get Started!

So you've got your DAW, you've read my previous blog post about them, and you may have picked up my book, but now what? You chose the one that would work best for your learners but have no idea where to begin. Don't worry, try these easy activities and projects to get you and your groups started off on the right foot.

Blue banner that reads "So You Have a DAW; Now What? Ideas to Get Started" with a workstation screen in the background.
So you have your Digital Audio Workstation. Now What? Some great ideas to get started.

Looping

Using BandLab for Education, Soundtrap for Education, or GarageBand Live Loops learners can create fantastic music in--quite literally--seconds. Show learners the basics of how to drag and drop a loop into place and how it lines up with the grid. In the case of Live Loops, show learners how to launch a loop and what happens when another loop is added to the grid. Once you've given them the basics and explain how it works, give learners the chance to experiment and explore with dragging, dropping, and launching loops. This is where the best learning happens because I find that we learn how to fix issues together. Often, the learners will solve problems for me and I find myself asking them how to fix the issue. This approach is especially useful if you as the facilitator are somewhat unfamiliar with the software. You don't need to know everything before you begin because you will learn it together. Give them ample time to experiment and create.

Tips for Success
A track indicating which icon is for looping and which is not.
The difference between the loop and not loop!

  • For BandLab or Soundtrap, make sure learners know the difference between how to repeat a loop and how to trim a loop. This will be a very helpful skill when they are experimenting and doing their next bit.

Where to find the loops and the packs

Loop Composition

Once you know learners are comfortable with how the loop function works, have them compose a piece of music. Choose a form. I often choose ABA because it is simple and relatively easy to understand for most learners as young as 6 years old. Composing doesn't have to be difficult; give learners minimal parameters so they don't feel too restricted when they are composing. The only parameters I give learners is that it has to be in ABA form and they have to find a way to end it that makes sense.


For Live Loops (GarageBand for iPad), composing happens in real time, so having learners create something that they can perform but might be slightly different each time would be ideal. Have them plan out a road map and see what happens. Sometimes the best music happens in spontaneity.

Endings

How to end their work:

BandLab DAW screen with the automation icon circled in red.
Where to find the automation feature in BandLab. Similar icons exist in most DAWs.

  • In BandLab or Soundtrap using the automation feature, learners can do an 80s style fade out at the end.

  • Learners can "mix it down" to the end from multiple to only one instrument left.

  • Learners can end it after the final loop is complete.

  • Finding an interesting rhythm, chord, or sound to end on in the middle of a loop can be very effective.

Podcasting

Any DAW is great for creating podcasts, but BandLab, Soundtrap, and GarageBand make creating your own podcast more accessible than many others. Soundtrap, in particular, has a quite intuitive podcasting feature with voice-to-text and text-to-voice editing capabilities; if you delete a word from the script, Soundtrap deletes the word for you in the sound clip too!


Podcast Opening

Even if learners don't have a complete podcast episode, having a podcast opening can be a very fun project. Personally, I had a lot of fun coming up with my own instrumental version of a podcast opening and experimenting with the words that go over it. Learners can create a short loop (or original) composition that evokes the mood or theme of their podcast, then they come up with a name for their show and can write a script for how they are going to introduce their podcast.


A Jingle or Product Ad

Have learners create a product and then a jingle or advertisement to go with it. If it's a jingle, it could have lyrics or not. Some jingles become a recognizable brand without using lyrics (think Duracell, or A&W). Their parameters could be set to it only being 30 seconds long or that they must get their point across in the first 15 seconds. This project definitely touches many subject outcomes and is a great cross-curricular connection to Language Arts specifically.

Tips for Success
Where to find the Latency Test in BandLab.

  • When recording a vocal part over a backing track on BandLab there is quite a bit of latency unless you run a latency test to correct the latency. When you run the latency correction function in BandLab for Education, the most effective way to get it to correct is to isolate the track from the headphones into the recording microphone you are using by starting the correction and then making sure the headphones are placed over the microphone to hear the click.

  • Use a good wide-diaphragm condenser microphone for recording vocals or voice. An affordable and durable model for schools is the Audio-Technica AT2020 or the versatile Apex 445B.

  • If you have a good external microphone, a USB-powered audio interface is essential. Take a look at Behringer UM2 or the M-Audio M-Track Series of audio interfaces.

  • Wired headphones are essential for any multitrack recording. Podcasts and Jingles are no different.

Video Game Character Theme Music Using MIDI

Check out this blog post about MIDI if you need a refresher or an introduction. Using square and sawtooth wave synth sounds in the MIDI function, learners can create retro video game sounds. To really get the retro sound, use BeepBox and then import the MIDI information to your DAW. Chrome Music Lab's Song Maker app will do this too! Learners can create a character, design them using Canva for Education (or old fashioned paper and pencil) and then create theme music for that character using the MIDI workstation in BandLab or whatever workstation works best for you.


I'm hoping these more simple lesson ideas and tips for success get you going positively with technology either for the first time or some new ideas on where to go next. Send me a note if you need help with any of this.


Until next time, Happy Musicking!

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