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Taking a line (of music) for a walk

by June Kinoshita

The artist Paul Klee famously said that the art of drawing was like “taking a line for a walk.” What if you could take a line of music for a walk? That’s just what it felt like when we held our first-ever composing workshop over Zoom.

We were not at all sure how our experiment would work out. A group of us popped onto Zoom on November 12 at the appointed time (10:30 a.m. ET). Because we didn’t know how many participants would have Hyperscore running on their computers, we decided to take a collaborative approach. Peter shared his screen and the group proceeded to build a piece of music together.

We started with the percussion window in 4/4. To get things going, I proposed a bass drum on each quarter note to establish a steady pulse. We each took turns adding a new percussion line: a cymbal on the fourth beat of each bar, another on the first beat of the fourth bar, then a high-hat on the first beat of the second and fourth bars. Each time we added a layer, we listened and discussed whether we liked what we were hearing. Once the percussion track had achieved a satisfying density, we played with the tempo and settled on a moderate speed that had a pleasing swing to it.

A Hyperscore percussion window four beats long with purple note droplets arranged on some of the instrument tracks
Percussion window with drum and cymbal notes

Once we were satisfied with the percussion track, we moved onto the melody. Lisa P. hummed a four-measure melody which Peter noted down in the Melody Window. After a few tweaks, he captured the tune perfectly with its subtle syncopation. What instrument should play it? A tenor saxophone felt like a good fit for the melody’s soulful, gently melancholy vibe.

A Hyperscore melody window with six purple note droplets filling two measures
Melody window with a syncopated tenor saxophone tune

With a melody (orange) and beat (red) in our “toolbox,” it was time to go to the Sketch Window. First, we took the orange line for a simple stroll, a straight line on middle C for two bars. Then we decided to jump it up an octave. After two bars of that, we added a second orange line underneath it to add harmony. We then took the orange line down a hill, from high C to low C. Halfway down the hill, another orange line came along and decided to head in the opposite direction, up the hill. It felt like time to add percussion, so we laid in a flat red line like a rock-steady floor. Two bars in, a yellow line joined in…a simple descending bass line that Peter had whipped up. 

A polyphonic Hyperscore melody window two measures long with four descending chords
Melody window with descending chords for use as a bass line

We quite liked where this was going, but we wondered how the descending orange line would sound if we imposed a bit of harmonic structure to it. Classical mode converted our soulful melody into C major—all wrong! General harmony worked well for the sloping orange parts but robbed the original theme of its specialness. Peter then showed us a cool trick. He could select sections and turn off the harmony function, restoring the original. That was fantastic, as we could now preserve melodies that we wanted to keep exactly as written, while allowing other parts of our piece to “collaborate” with Hyperscore’s machine intelligence. 

And that, folks, is how you take a line of music out for a walk.

The finished collaborative composition

If you have a basic subscription to Hyperscore, you can find our little opus on the Community board (“Composing Workshop 1”). If you want to remix it, just give it a new name and it will be saved to your account. To share it with the community, just make sure to check the “share” box. 

Our Second Saturdays workshop is held on—surprise!—the second Saturday of each month at 10:30 AM US ET over Zoom. Everyone from anywhere is welcome to join. Just register for the series to receive the link.

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Accelerated learning for music

by June Kinoshita, Executive Director, New Harmony Line

“Next time you hear the phrase learning loss, think about whether we really want to define our students by their deficits instead of their potential.” – Ron Berger, “Our Kids Are Not Broken,” The Atlantic

As schools navigate the post-lockdown world, educators are turning to “accelerated learning” as a method to make up the ground lost over the past two years. But this moment can be about so much more than clawing back lost time. This is also a moment to open our minds to new possibilities. “Acceleration does not mean assigning some students to remediation while others are allowed to fly,” writes Ron Berger, senior advisor of teaching and learning at EL Education. “Accelerating learning means moving students into exciting new academic challenges with a growth mindset for their potential.” 

An accelerated learning approach for music education is precisely what we are championing through the use of HyperscoreTM and our “inverted pedagogy.”

Hyperscore is an intuitive, graphical composition tool developed at the M.I.T. Media Laboratory by composer Tod Machover and a team of musician-engineers with deep knowledge of composition, music theory, artificial intelligence, and interface design. Hyperscore has been used in Machover’s Toy Symphony and City Symphony projects, in which hundreds of school children composed original music that was incorporated into symphonic works. These children have heard their work performed by major orchestras including the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Toronto Symphony, and Lucerne Festival Orchestra.

In these projects, we saw how Hyperscore completely shifted the relationship between children and professional musicians. This technology, in the hands of creative, inspired teachers and mentors, empowered children to share their stories and experiences through music. The children were treated with respect, their voices validated.

How Hyperscore works

In the Hyperscore environment, melodic motifs are created by “dropping” dots and lines in a “melody window,” a grid in which the vertical axis represents pitch and the horizontal axis represents time. Motifs are assigned a color, and then that color “pen” is used to draw a contour in a “sketch window.” The position of the line changes the pitch of the motif. Multiple motifs can be layered and combined to build more complex musical structures. A horizonal “harmony line” can be dragged up and down to create harmonic tension, release, and modulation. The user can also impose classical western harmony on the composition with the click of a button.

“My students absolutely loved creating their own songs with ease,” enthused Jenn Stiegelmeyer, the General Music teacher at Wickham Elementary in Coralville, Iowa, who tested Hyperscore in her classroom this past spring. “The program made sense to them right away and they felt very successful from day one. They came into class excited and ready to get started, and they often wanted to share their creations.”

“Hyperscore represents a quantum leap—rather as if someone could speak in a foreign language simply by deciding what one wanted to say and using one’s body in a natural way,” says Howard Gardner, the cognitive psychologist renowned for his theory of “multiple intelligences.”

Putting creativity first

Embodied in Hyperscore is a different philosophy about teaching creativity and engaging children in music. It’s a playground for kids to experiment, go crazy, have fun, and then the teacher can guide a conversation about what they just did. How does that make you feel? Why do you think that is? What could you change to get a different effect? What’s the story you want to tell? Let’s think about how we can do that.

How does this fit in with accelerated learning? According to a Carnegie Corporation report, accelerated learning includes:

  • Deeper learning through complex and meaningful problems and projects;
  • Prioritizing high-level skills and content and creating teaching and learning pathways;
  • Access to grade-level content despite the absence of some knowledge and skills from previous grades;
  • Identifying the most crucial knowledge and skills that students need and integrating those into lessons;
  • A long-range plan, building on a foundation of assets, not deficiencies;
  • Assuming all students can learn literally anything with the right instruction and support.

In the hands of teachers who understand its capabilities, Hyperscore meets all of these criteria. It empowers users to compose deeply personal, original music. What could be more complex and meaningful? Hyperscore prioritizes high-level skills, such as constructing a sonic journey, which then opens pathways to teaching about underlying ideas such as pitch, rhythm, harmony, and counterpoint. Because it starts at the high level and “back fills” basics concepts as needed, students won’t get left behind. The ideas and skills students need become naturally integrated into work on their composition, in the service of a goal that is personally rewarding.

Composing with Hyperscore enables an empathetic educator to recognize each student’s assets—their singular stories, their unique experiences and feelings—and celebrate and validate them. It doesn’t matter if the student does not know a quarter note or a key signature at the outset. They will learn it when they have a reason to do so.

Set your imagination on fire

For educators who have not previously taught music composition, or even composed themselves, the prospect of coaching a group of students to compose can be daunting. Even for those who have taught composition, it may not come naturally to overturn their traditional training. Recognizing these hurdles, the team behind Hyperscore has developed a variety of tools and resources. These include:

  • Short video tutorials on Hyperscore basics;
  • Teaching modules which map to national arts standards and can be customized for different grades;
  • Monthly office hours on Zoom for Q&A with the Hyperscore team. Educators who are new to teaching composition to students can learn tips for running creative composing workshops for different ages and backgrounds.
  • Virtual, one-hour workshops in which anyone—educators, students, the general public—can dive into creative composing experiences in a supportive, judgement-free environment.

Hyperscore is a versatile, flexible tool that serves a broad range of backgrounds and musical genres. It brings a fun, game-like element to a variety of teaching methods and curriculums. But Hyperscore truly soars when teachers recognize its unique capabilities as tool that empowers children to explore self-expression and musical storytelling.

Our mission, ultimately, is to transform individuals’ relationship to music. When children are given the opportunity to create music, they will start to experience music in a deeper, more personal way. They will begin to venture beyond what’s popular, what’s the latest earworm, and start to discern the intention behind many different types of music. When children are given the tools to find their voice, they will also be better able to hear what other voices are trying to say.

Take away the barriers that we put in the way of young people, give them permission and space to create music, and support them in drawing out their authentic voices. The results may be among the most rewarding learning experiences they, and you, will ever have.

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DonorsChoose Toolkit

If you would like to use Hyperscore in your classroom but don’t have funds in your school’s arts budget for a classroom or school subscription, one option is to raise it through a crowd-funding platform like DonorsChoose. Founded in 2000 by a Bronx high school teacher, DonorsChoose has raised more than $300 million and funded over 2 million classroom project requests.

It’s fairly straightforward to sign up and put together a pitch for your donors. Note that you have to have successfully raised funds previously through DonorsChoose before you can make a Special Request purchase, which is what Hyperscore would be. But don’t worry! It’s not hard to find items you need anyway for your classroom through DonorsChoose’s registered vendors and earn the points you need to qualify to make a Special Request.

We’ve put together a “toolkit” for you to make the process as simple as possible. Our toolkit includes:

  1. A slide deck showing an example of a pitch and explaining how, once you raise your funds, you can make the purchase. (Note that Hyperscore is a Digital Resource so you would need to follow the process for getting reimbursed.)
  2. A Word document with examples of language you can use to craft your Hyperscore pitch.
  3. The DonorsChoose link where you can sign up.

That’s it! Good luck, and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions.

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Learning from the kids

We recently participated in the CreatedBy Festival to celebrate STEAM week at the Boston Children’s Museum. It was an honor to be among the 30 or so organizations chosen to take part. It was quite the learning experience.

We were given a tabletop on a third floor corridor where we vied for the attention of children who were dashing by to check out the Brio train displays and a spectacular view of the harbor. Happily, when we asked, “would you like to make some music?” most kids were all in.

Making Hyperscore controllable through touch screens was a great move on our part, as every child within seconds became engrossed with tapping the Melody Window to see what sounds came out. What we hadn’t anticipated is that they would want to use Hyperscore as an instrument. They were so excited by the sounds they could make that it took some persuasion to get them to understand that they could make melodies and re-play them. They needed to make a big leap.

We also observed that when we showed them the Sketch Window, the children, not surprisingly, tried to use it in the same way as the Melody Window, poking at it to try to make a sound. We realized they needed to make another big mental leap to understand that lines drawn in a Sketch Window offered a higher level control over the melodies created in the Melody Window. Once they got the idea, though, their excitement was palpable. One boy couldn’t stop leaping about and dancing in delight. It made our day.

In a structured, classroom setting, it might be easier to teach children how to use Hyperscore. But in an unstructured, festival exhibit setting, I feel like it would be beneficial to come up with other ways to guide kids through the journey. If you have ideas, we’d love to hear them!

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David Grohl on inverting the pedagogy

June Kinoshita, Executive Director

Okay, so the Foo Fighters’ frontman didn’t exactly say “inverting the pedagogy,” but in an interview with the New Yorker, he shares a story that perfectly illustrates this core idea. As a kid, he was riding in the car when Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” came on the radio. David and his mom sang along. When it came to the chorus, he took the Mick Jagger part while his mother took the Carly Simon part… 

“And so we break off in harmony and it was in that moment that I realized and understood that two different notes form a chord,” he recalls. “I’m like wait a second. Hold on a second. And then the kick drum does that, and then the snare drum does that, and then, so I started listening to music not just as a sound, I was listening to music and the patterns.”

This is exactly the kind of ephiphany that deeply engages a kid and draws them into a life-long passion for music. It is moments like this that Hyperscore makes possible, whether it’s by a child noodling with the software or being guided by a teacher who understands how to give the child space to discover the magic.

We love having conversations about teaching to compose with Hyperscore. Come hang out with us at our monthly Zoom Office Hours!

See More:

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Transforming lives through music

by June Kinoshita

At New Harmony Line we are dedicated to transforming lives through music. Whether you are young or old, tapping into your inner composer and expressing yourself through music is not only a lot of fun, but we believe it can enhance your life in many ways.

Last month, our co-founder, Tod Machover, had the opportunity to speak at the global Wellbeing Summit in Bilbao and present some of his current thinking about the role that creativity, arts, and technology play in promoting human health and well-being.

In this video of his talk, Machover cover some highlights in his Media Lab group’s work in music and health, and also in community building through collaborative music projects. The video ends with a glimpse of the newest City Symphony project on the theme of healthy communities that they are planning for Bilbao. You’ll see a snippet by a 10-year-old Hyperscore composer and hear how a couple of Machover’s Media Lab graduate students took his idea and fleshed it out. Hope you enjoy it.

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BIENESTAR SÓNICO a través de HYPERSCORE

Imagina…Escucha…Compone…Sana

Invitamos a los jóvenes de Bilbao (cualquier persona menor de 18 años) a crear nueva música que inspire, a “escuchar un mundo” donde el bienestar se nutre, se comparte y está disponible para todos. Estas composiciones, creadas con el software Hyperscore desarrollado en el MIT Media Lab, utilizan gestos visuales para crear contribuciones musicales únicas. Los participantes pueden tener algo de experiencia musical, pero no se requieren habilidades musicales en absoluto: solo necesita poder seleccionar entre varias opciones de dibujo en la pantalla y pensar creativamente. ¡SOIS TODOS BIENVENIDOS!

La aplicación web Hyperscore se puede utilizar en el colegio o en casa, en cualquier momento y en cualquier lugar. El trabajo creativo se apoyará en línea a través de tutorías y comunicación con los diseñadores de Hyperscore en Boston, EE. UU., así como con mentores de proyectos locales en Bilbao.

Cualquier persona interesada en unirse a este proyecto está invitada a unirse a una llamada el 25 de abril a las 6:30 p.m. Esta será una oportunidad para escuchar más sobre el proyecto y aprender a usar Hyperscore. Para registrarse en esta sesión, debe enviar un correo electrónico a Guillermo Zavala o llamar al 606 27 57 45. Guillermo enviará un enlace de zoom antes de la llamada.

Las composiciones enviadas antes del 14 de mayo de 2022 serán consideradas para su presentación durante el Wellbeing Summit en Bilbao del 31 de mayo al 3 de junio de 2022. Todas las entregas formarán parte del punto de partida de BILBAO SYMPHONY, compuesta por Tod Machover, e interpretada en Bilbao en 2024.

Este programa es parte de THE WELLBEING PROJECT. ¡Únete a nosotros para explorar cómo podría sonar una “comunidad de bienestar” usando una de las mejores plataformas de software de música del mundo!


Sonic Wellbeing through Hyperscore

Imagine…Listen…Compose…Heal

We invite young people in Bilbao (anyone under 18) to create inspiring new music, to “hear a world” where wellbeing is nurtured, shared and available to all. These compositions – created using Hyperscore software developed at the MIT Media Lab – use digital visual gestures to create unique musical contributions. Participants could have some musical experience, but absolutely no musical skills are required – you just need to draw, to listen, and to think creatively. EVERYONE IS WELCOME!

The Hyperscore web application can be used in school or at home, anytime and anywhere. Creative work will be supported online through mentoring and communication with the Hyperscore designers in Boston, USA as well as local project mentors in Bilbao. 

We will be scheduling a Zoom meeting on April 25, 18:30 pm local time for anyone who is interested in participating. This will be a chance to hear more about the project and learn to use Hyperscore. To register for this session, send an email to Guillermo Zavala or call/text 606 27 57 45. Guillermo will send a zoom link before the call.

Compositions submitted by May 14, 2022, will be considered for presentation during the Wellbeing Summit in Bilbao from May 31-June 3, 2022. All submissions will form part of the starting point for a BILBAO SYMPHONY, composed by Tod Machover, and performed in Bilbao in 2024. 

This project is part of the WELLBEING PROJECT – please join us to explore what a “community of wellbeing” might sound like using one of the world’s coolest music software platforms! 

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Listen to the children

by June Kinoshita, Executive Director, New Harmony Line

I’ve been reading the wonderful New York Times opinion series by guitarist and social activist Tom Morello, and his post “How I Taught My Son How to Shred Like Crazy” really landed for me. Morello, an esteemed rock guitarists known to legions of fans for his stints with Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave, and as a member of Bruce Springsteen’s touring E Street Band, recounts how a guitar teacher almost derailed his musical dreams when he was 13 years old. Eager to master guitar licks from Led Zeppelin and Kiss, he marched into his first guitar lesson only to be told he had to first learn to play scales. It was years before he returned to the guitar when he founded his first band.

I wonder how many millions of children have been steered away from music by similar “thou must master the basics first” mindsets. Of course, drilling scales, arpeggios, and chords into your muscle memory is essential for mastering an instrument. But if a child is on fire to learn a piece of music they love, or to explore making sounds that mean something to them, a great teacher will find a way to feed that flame.

Having learned this seminal lesson in his youth, Morello recounts how he cautiously approached his 9-year-old son, Roman, early during the pandemic lockdown about learning “Stairway to Heaven,” and soon discovered he had a shredding prodigy on his hands. Roman ended up collaborating with Nandi Bushnell, the British-Zulu drumming phenom. (I first learned about Nandi through my fangirling of David Grohl; watch their epic drum battle). Here’s their song, a call to arms for the world to take action against climate change. This resonates so much with us because the driving motivation behind Hyperscore and everything we do is to empower kids to find their voice. They have a lot to say. Watch:

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Meet the team: Sep Kamvar

Board member Sep Kamvar is a computer scientist, artist, and entrepreneur.  He has been a professor at MIT and Stanford, and a co-founder of Wildflower Schools (a network of Montessori microschools), Mosaic Building Group (an AI-based residential construction company), and Celo (a mobile-based global payments platform for cryptocurrencies).  Sep’s main contributions to computer science have been at the intersection of computer science and mathematics, particularly in the fields of numerical linear algebra, peer-to-peer networks, and information retrieval. 

Sep is the author of three books and over 40 technical publications and patents, and his artwork has been exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens among others. Sep received his PhD in scientific computing and computational mathematics from Stanford University and an AB in chemistry from Princeton University. 

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Meet the team: Alysia Lee

We’re thrilled to welcome Alysia Lee to the board of directors of New Harmony Line. Kennedy Center Citizen Artist, Alysia is the Founder and Artistic Director of Sister Cities Girlchoir (SCG), the El Sistema-inspired, girl empowerment choral academy in Philadelphia, Camden, and Baltimore. Lee is the education program supervisor for Fine Arts Education for the Maryland State Department of Education across five arts disciplines: music, dance, visual art, theatre, and media arts. She is the President-Elect of the national service organization, State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SEADAE).

Alysia is the series editor of Hal Leonard’s Exigence for Young Voices, the new choral series uplifting Black and Latino composers for young choir ensembles. Her piece ‘Say Her Name’ is published by Hal Leonard. Recent composition commissions include Baltimore Choral Arts, Portland Lesbian Choir, and GALA Choruses. Lee is a faculty member of the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University. Additionally, she is a Board member of Chorus America and the Advisory Board for ArtsEdSEL.

Empower kids to tell their stories through music. Set their creativity free with your support!

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