Music, meaning-making, and machines

What does making music actually mean? Why does music matter to us? What goes on in our minds when we write, perform, and listen to music, and how is that different from what happens when a generative AI program creates a song? What does that gap mean for our relationship to AI-generated material? And just how did we get to this point with generative AI? In an August interview with Chamber Music America on the pitfalls and potential of AI as a tool for creating music, innovative composer & New Harmony Line Board Chair Tod Machover gives his perspectives on these nuanced and tricky questions.

Machover delves into the history of AI, including as it relates to his own groundbreaking work into the nexus of technology and classical music since the 1970s. He discusses early hopes for AI as a means of understanding and modeling how human minds work, and the divergence into what AI has predominantly become – generating replicas of the end result of the human creative process rather than engaging transparently or meaningfully with the process itself.

Is this isolation from the process such a problem? According to Machover, it can carry with it the risk of losing what makes original music meaningful in the first place: the expression of a person’s lived experiences, feelings, and hopes. If machines are uncaring, then they cannot imbue creative work with meaning themselves. Meaning-making, and thus music-making, must take place in close collaboration with people who do have intention, and who care. In its current predominant form, AI digests and replicates work in ways that are virtually unknowable for people interfacing with it on the user end; the process by which the work is generated needs to be shaped by human users who know what they want. What we have now is very potent, but it is not a substitute for the music that human users who bring their own meaning and care to the process create.

There is certainly great potential in the realm of artificial intelligence as it relates to making music. Machover shares ideas for ways this may look, using as an example the process of composing a piece and collaborating with an AI to generate iterations of mood and instrumentation for that piece. AI is very powerful indeed, and the prospects of human cooperation with AI are vast. These possibilities are diminished, however, if we do not pivot to designing and implementing these technologies with intentions and goals that center the creative process itself.

Read the full interview on the Chamber Music America website, and share your thoughts with us!

Cover image: Possessed Photography via Unsplash

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Hyperscore removes barriers to expression for kids with disabilities

A Dusty Computer Opens Possibilities

For years, Casey Burd pulled out his old dusty dinosaur computer that had become an invaluable tool and the basis of integrated arts and music units in his classrooms at the Hawkswood School – a private school in Eatontown, NJ that serves students on the Autism spectrum and multiply disabled students. It had become so meaningful thanks to a program that he had downloaded onto it over 15 years ago – Hyperscore 4.

This year, that old computer finally gave out. Not wanting to lose a resource that had become so important for him and his students, Casey reached out to the New Harmony Line team. Luckily, he connected with us at a time that the revamped, web-based Hyperscore 5 is newly available, and for a much wider variety of devices. We are grateful that he joined us for August’s Office Hours to share the story of the incredibly versatile ways he has used Hyperscore over the years to create multifaceted opportunities for expression for his students.

The Power of Learning by Doing

Casey’s journey with Hyperscore originally began in the 2000s when colleague of his found it in an MIT publication. His school became enamored with the program after getting in touch with the old Hyperscore team and participating in a demo workshop. Despite having scant technology in the classroom at the time, Hawkswood began integrating it into their curriculum for supporting students’ expressive goals. In Casey’s words, “Hyperscore is a fantastic experiential tool, a true ‘learning by doing’ experience for our students whose skill sets are varied. In this way, it levels the playing field, offering a way for EVERY student to participate.” After 15 years in his classroom, among the many programs available, Hyperscore is “still the best one, especially for my needs, and my students’ needs”.

During the Office Hours meeting with Director of Education Cece Roudabush, Casey walks us in detail through his teaching processes. He and his colleagues integrate many axes of artistic expression, accessibility tools, and creative applications of Hyperscore to remove barriers to expression for far more students than traditional music pedagogy. They link art, music, and expression in myriad directions and configurations that maximize points of access and understanding for students.

For example, he has run Hyperscore on interactive Smartboards – an interface that allows for access to musical experimentation and expression in ways that other instruments that do not, particularly for students with limited mobility and range of motion. He uses Hyperscore in conjunction with a wide variety of accessibility tools and aids – such as switches, pointers, and large, highly visible color indicators – to enable each student to participate in ways that work for them. Casey also tends to use Hyperscore’s Classical harmony mode, which frees students to be as creative visually as they want while having all notes in the piece sound together consonantly. As many opportunities are given as possible for different ways of comprehending and learning what is taking place in the classroom and in the program, so that everyone can participate. Accessibility is not just a buzzword or an afterthought here – it is at the very center of the project. In this context that Casey and his colleagues have facilitated, any student is able to make music and express themselves in Hyperscore, thanks both to the accessibility tools in his classroom, and the ways that Hyperscore itself removes barriers to composing music.

One frequent project over the years that has brought together visual art and music through the intersection of Hyperscore is painting, as a classroom, murals inspired by the Hyperscore sketch window interface. Casey has directed this exercise most often as an introduction into the way that music looks in Hyperscore. He and his classrooms have even translated these murals directly into musical performance: each student is assigned or chooses a color and an instrument to play, and Casey slowly reveals the mural the class has painted, from left to right, from behind a large sheet of paper. As each colored line and dot is revealed, the student with the corresponding color plays their instrument for the time that the line or dot is still being revealed. This introduction into the notion of musical time moving left to right often makes the transition into using the Hyperscore software itself more intuitive for many students. Sometimes, they then translate the mural they painted into music written in Hyperscore itself.

Hyperscore’s use as an experiential tool, as opposed to strictly a compositional tool, is crucial in Casey’s classroom. Using communication devices to express preferences is part of the expressive goals of many of Casey’s students. Through the medium of Hyperscore, expressing preferences can be compelling and interesting – “What color do you like? What instrument do you like?”. and Casey believes that this expression through Hyperscore can support his students’ overall communication in different contexts as well. This pedagogy has many of the therapists that share the classroom space – working with students on their speech goals, expressive goals, and physical therapy goals – excited due to the effectiveness and potential at play in the space of artistic and musical expression.

Continuing with Hyperscore in years to come

We have been thrilled to speak with Casey and learn about the ways he has integrated Hyperscore into his pedagogy. Likewise, Casey has been thrilled to upgrade to the web-based Hyperscore 5. Having Hyperscore on his laptop is a game changer after using the same old computer for 15 years, and he expects that his students will love the visual theme customization after looking at the default theme in Hyperscore 4.3 for so long. These visual themes, and the wider range of instrument sets available in Hyperscore 5, grant even more crucial opportunities for students to express themselves and their preferences in the classroom. Bringing Hyperscore 5 to his students also means that they have the opportunity to experiment on their own devices outside of the classroom.

We join Casey in our excitement to see what expressive possibilities open up with Hyperscore in his classroom in the coming years. The ways Casey has integrated Hyperscore into his teaching are truly aligned with our ethos of access and removing barriers to musical expression for all. We hope his experience is an inspiration to other educators who hold these values dear!

Watch the full interview with Casey here:

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Hyperscore music curriculum now on MusicFirst

We are pleased to announce that in collaboration with our friends at MusicFirst, our Director of Education Cece Roudabush has designed and published a curriculum for teaching music concepts and composition in Hyperscore. There are three curricula available for varying levels of experience, appropriate for 4th graders and up.

This curriculum is available in the MusicFirst Classroom resources for teachers. If you are a teacher and already have a MusicFirst Classroom account, you can log in at the designated link for your organization. If you do not yet have a MusicFirst Classroom account, your organization or school must first register with MusicFirst. Then, your administrator will be able to send you an invitation code to register for an account.

Once you are signed in to MusicFirst Classroom, you will be able to access the “Composing Music with Hyperscore” curriculum module via your dashboard:

  • From your dashboard, select the “Content” drop-down menu from the top menu bar, then click on “MusicFirst Library”:
  • Next, select the “General Music” category:
  • You will see a wide variety of courses and curricula that you can browse through. To find the Hyperscore curricula, you can filter by the “hyperscore” keyword in the search bar. You’ll see three curricula that are separated by students’ experience with music into “intro”, “intermediate”, and “advanced”. The intro level may typically be more appropriate for 4th graders, while the intermediate level and advanced level may be more appropriate for 5th and 6th graders, respectively. The higher levels delve into more sophisticated musical form and software features, while the intro level uses simpler language. For all three levels, though, no prior training in musical theory is required. Select whichever level is appropriate for the students you are instructing!

Once you select the curriculum, you will see the lessons and tasks included. You can click into each lesson page to see a detailed lesson plan that utilizes elements of the Hyperscore interface to demonstrate and teach music theory and composition principles. There are also educator resources included where you can read about the pedagogical philosophies at the foundation of Hyperscore, and decide what approach best suits your classroom.

As part of using this curriculum you will sign up your classroom for Hyperscore through MusicFirst Classroom itself, and organize your lessons and grades there. If you are using a MusicFirst Classroom trial, you will automatically have access to a trial version of Hyperscore through MusicFirst. If you do not yet have a MusicFirst Classroom account and would like to sign up for Hyperscore through MusicFirst Classroom, you can fill out the request form here.

Hyperscore has the power to inspire and enable all students to make music and explore their own creativity. We hope the resources and lesson plans we have made available on MusicFirst serve you well as you support your students in their musical journeys. Happy composing!

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Hyperscore strikes a chord with Houston summer campers

In Houston, Texas, on the morning of July 18th, 13 young music students began their second day at the Faith-2-Form (F2F) Music Foundation Music Summer Camp intently focused on making music in a wide range variety of rhythms, melodies, and timbres. In this collaborative composition workshop, they were not playing physical instruments – their musical medium was Hyperscore.

The F2F Foundation, founded by esteemed musician, composer, and recording artist Vel Lewis, is a nonprofit based out of Houston that aims to give all children, particularly youth who have been disadvantaged and marginalized, the tools to enrich their lives with music and to allow them to share their gifts with the world.

An exciting way that this mission is carried out is through the F2F Music Summer Camp, where participants – music students in Fort Bend County – are immersed in two weeks of STEAM workshops and classes led by experts in music performance, technology, software, production, business, psychology, and more.

Given our mission to enable children everywhere to discover and express their creativity through fun and accessible music composition, we are thrilled to collaborate with an organization engaged in such essential work of bringing youth and music together. After New Harmony Line Director of Education Cece Roudabush led an online composition workshop with Hyperscore at last year’s inaugural camp, we were honored to be invited back to lead a more in-depth workshop this year.

Vel, Cece, and our Chief Technology Officer, Peter, joined the 13 students on the morning of the 18th to facilitate the workshop. We began with a group composition exercise to introduce the participants to the basics of Hyperscore. One by one, Cece called on each student in the room to make a small musical decision about a shared Hyperscore piece – should a subsequent note in a given motive be higher, or lower? Longer, or shorter? Should the line move up, or down? Was the piece complete, or should we keep working on it? It was an exercise in showing how many micro-decisions come together to form a whole in the process of making music. Above all, it was an invitation to listen closely – and listen they did, with many students asking unprompted to hear a motive again before making their decision. The students acted together to compose a single piece, and it was wonderful to witness of the power of collaborative composition.

Once the students voted that the collaborative piece was finished, having established the principles of composing in Hyperscore, we moved toward individual composition, each student working on a separate device. The quiet focus in the room was palpable, and they took to using the software very quickly. A lovely dynamic emerged organically during this period of the workshop: the two students who had also participated in the Hyperscore workshop at last summer’s F2F music camp began to assist their peers who were newer to the program. Everyone was engaged and invested using the time available to create their own piece, and supported each other, too – after all, no composition is ever truly a solitary endeavor.

We always come out of workshops having learned from the participants about the various ways people learn music composition together, and more about how Hyperscore can facilitate this process. The speed and enthusiasm with which the campers took to the software was striking, and being able to cover both an egalitarian group composition process and individual composition sessions was a testament to the versatility and accessibility of Hyperscore to support different styles of composition and learning. No matter what level of expertise with the program the campers had coming in, they all came out having focused their creativity and imagination through Hyperscore.

Though the workshop had to come to a close, all students left with a demo version of Hyperscore so they could continue their experimentation and composition at home. We are immensely grateful to Vel and the Faith 2 Form Music Foundation for welcoming us back for the second year of the F2F Music Summer Camp, as well as to all the young composers who made music with Hyperscore!

Special thanks as well to the Harris County Public library for lending us tablet devices for each camper.

For more information on the F2F Music Foundation, visit their website here and get involved with supporting their important work. If you are new to Hyperscore and want to join in on sparking your own musical imagination, set up an account today.

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Fraction Attraction: composing a song inspired by math

What goes on within a musical composition that can make us *feel* the driving pulse of a beat? What makes the introduction of syncopation, or stress on the off-beat, often feel so exciting and unexpected? Building a bridge between music class and math class, fractions play an essential role here. Teachers and students alike can have fun using math to compose music, and students can witness in their own compositions how fractions are fundamental to creating different musical moods. We entered into this month’s Second Saturdays workshop with the aim of composing a piece inspired by, and that could illustrate, this facet of musical math.

New Harmony Line’s Director of Education Cecilia Roudabush kicked off this month’s Second Saturdays workshop with a lesson on this concept – the rhythmic, fractional values that make up music. Understanding a single measure as a whole that can be divided up into several pieces can be easier for many when visualizing a measure as a bar or a pie cut into different sized pieces:

After a visual primer on how a whole measure can be made up of many different combinations of half, quarter, eighth, and sixteenth notes (among other values), we discussed how stress can be placed on different beats and off-beats in the measure to create different effects. For example, in 4/4 time (when there are 4 quarter-note beats per measure), many pop songs place more emphasis on beats 1 and 3 than 2 and 4, while oftentimes in jazz music more emphasis is placed on 2 and 4.

We jumped into Hyperscore to start composing with these concepts in mind. Translating Cece’s lessons into sound, we created melody windows with motifs breaking up the measure into different rhythmic values – one whole note, two half notes, four quarter notes, and eight eighth-notes:

Then, we started layering them against each other in the sketch window to hear the ways they relate to each other. We hear the articulation of a quarter note every two eighth notes, a half note every four eighth notes, for example. We ended up with an intro with each of these motives in sequence, creating a “countdown” effect, before layering them against each other and using changes in instrumentation to make the different length notes sound out clearly against each other.

The different colors in the Sketch window each represent one of the above melody windows.

We added more complexity to the piece by creating melody windows that include rests to emphasize certain beats (and off-beats). We also decided to add more interest to the composition by contrasting the single-pitch motives we were working with against a singsongy melody window with varying pitch. A percussion window demonstrated the frequent effect that rhythm sections have of underscoring stress on certain beats of the measure:

With these different elements we gradually wove together a densely textured, bright and bouncy tune. Listen to the full piece “Fraction Attraction” below – and check out the full recording of the workshop as well to see our composition process and watch how the piece came together! Join in on the fun by registering for our free composition workshops that take place every second Saturday of each month – we look forward to making music with you!

Cover image courtesy of solod_sha via

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The Melt: Composing a song from an audio prompt

This month’s Second Saturdays Hyperscore composition workshop started with a sound:

Striking and familiar yet uncanny, this sound, which we encountered in this 2020 article from The Guardian, is that of Antarctic icebergs melting. The sound of rushing water is punctuated by an eerie and percussive whooshing and popping sound, which, as the article explains, is the sound of primordial air breaking out of millennia-old bubbles, held no longer by the ancient, now melting, ice.

We listened to this in the context of taking inspiration from clips of sound from the world for musical composition. How might we translate the feelings that came up, and the rhythms of the sound of the melt itself, into music? We set out to find one answer to this question during the workshop.

We began by naming the feelings and atmospheres that were evoked for each of us when we listened to the sound of the iceberg. Themes arose as we spoke of familiarity, awe, uneasiness, uncanniness, and surprise. What sounded like rushing water in the clip was a familiar, even comforting sound, but the interruption of the strange popping sound gave an edge to this feeling. The additional context that knowledge of climate change gave to the sound – the melt reaching farther into the ice, and getting louder, every year – added a somber, even grim, undercurrent. We wanted to approach composition both mirroring what we were literally hearing (a constant, smoother sound punctuated by sudden and unexpected pops) and the emotional reactions that this sound and its context created in us.

Moving into Hyperscore, we decided to start with some melody windows that could serve as an ambient, slow backdrop to the piece, using notes with long durations and in a low register, using a timpani and strings for our instrumentation.

We then created some strokes to correspond to these motifs in the Sketch window. The result was melodically tense and rather menacing.

We had our “consistent” sound which we then wanted to break up with unexpected interruptions and percussive splashes. To add a rhythmic yet unpredictable element we composed two faster-moving melodic motifs on pizzicato strings – one with a measure broken up into 3 notes of equal value (in other words, a half-note triplet), and one with a measure broken up into 4 notes of equal value (in other words, quarter notes).

When played together and layered into the Sketch window, they created a kind of rhythmic dissonance and a sense of driving momentum that broke above the surface of the steady and slow sounds we started with. We decided to emphasize this sudden and inconsistent effect to introduce these new sounds in the Sketch window (represented by the light and dark green strokes) as fragments that would pop in and out before returning in earnest and persisting for what would become the climactic moment of the composition:

To add even more emphasis to this climactic section and create a mood of mounting urgency, we created another 3-against-4 rhythmic figure on woodblock in two Percussion windows and added this in the Sketch window as well:

The intensity of the climactic section increased with the addition of the orange and purple percussion motives.

We liked it but found that we were deviating some from the unpredictable sense that we got from the popping in the initial iceberg sound clip. To reintroduce that surprise, we created a version of the green motifs that was a bit more sparse, while still maintaining the 3-against-4 feel, and applied this to the green strokes only in the latter half of our piece.

We decided to tweak the percussion windows as well, making the note attacks much more rapid and inconsistent and adding in some triangle hits:

We continued on with this process of listening to our composition, reacting to what we were hearing, then making changes and additions according to our reactions. Through this process in the course of the rest of the hour-long workshop, we added a mournful, soft ambient drone of low flute and organ, and a jerking, syncopated melody played on pizzicato strings.

We arranged all of the building blocks we had created into a form that ebbed and flowed between themes of rattling urgency and dirge-like somberness. Without planning to, we ended up creating a rather atonal and dissonant piece that nonetheless carried in its undercurrent a driving movement that enthralled us when we listened to the final product. We ended by titling it, appropriately, “The Melt”.

Listen to the final, 80-second-long composition below, along with a recording of the full workshop including our brainstorming, composing and editing process.

Iceberg image courtesy of Angie Corbett-Kuiper via Unsplash

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From silence to song: writing music from curiosity alone

For the May edition of our Second Saturdays composition workshop, we chose not to write from a prompt. It can often feel risky or intimidating to face the prospect of creating “something from nothing” – where to begin? It was precisely for this reason that we wanted to experiment with this process. Hyperscore shines when composers lead with an open mind, and can help to lower the barriers of “the blank page”. Composers of all experience can learn to trust their musical intuition with the tools of Hyperscore.

Using Hyperscore, we simply began by choosing an instrument set -folk band – and putting down some notes into a percussion window. We added one percussion instrument at a time, reacting to what we were hearing when we played it back. What does this instrument sound like? Do we want fast or slow notes, on the beat or off the beat? Most importantly, how does it feel to listen to it, and do we want it to feel different? We ended up with a steady, dense rhythm that was heavy on syncopation and evoked a slow, erratic march:

Next, we moved on to add some melodies. We agreed to start by creating a bass line riff that could repeat throughout the piece, forming a solid, catchy underpinning. Going through several iterations and asking each other what we heard and what we imagined was essential for the composition process. The bass developed into a two-instrument section, with one bouncy, quick motif complementing a swaying legato figure. After listening to them all together in a Sketch window, we made some edits to the melody windows so they would stand out and complement each other better and landed on our final versions:

Adding all three motives into the Sketch window, we decided to use the Classical harmonic mode and to experiment with creating regions of tension and release with the Harmony Line. Fine tuning these sections meant plenty of listening back, making slight changes, and then listening again.

We had rhythm, a bass line and a basic harmonic structure – now a piece was really starting to develop! It was time to bring in more melody. We created two variants on one melodic theme – a lightweight twinkling dance on a music box, and a half-speed repetition of the same theme, lower and more dramatic, on guitar:

We also decided to add an additional, more stripped down version of our main rhythm theme to add some variety and interest throughout the composition.

Weaving together all the elements in the Sketch window, making edits and additions following our intuitions and desires, we landed with a piece that had an uneven yet regimented feel. For us it was evocative of animated clocks ticking in and out of time. It reminded one of our participants of the classic tune “My Grandfather’s Clock”, after which we named the composition.

Listen to the final composition below, and watch the recording of the the full workshop, including our process of brainstorming and editing:

Photo of clocks courtesy of Andrew Seaman via Unsplash

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Removing barriers to creativity with Hyperscore

Getting students invested and excited about music can be one of the most challenging aspects of teaching the subject, as many educators know all too well. Students may come to conclusions early that music just isn’t for them, that they’ll never understand, or decide that they don’t want to learn all the complicated lingo and notation just to be able to express themselves. Hyperscore was built with this in mind, designed to open up surprising new avenues for learners and slip between the gaps in the barriers that block students from being able to access their musical curiosity and wonder. In a recent EdSurge feature article, music educator extraordinaire and Hyperscore enthusiast David Casali shares his personal experience of how Hyperscore inspired his classroom to express their creative talents for music in previously unimagined ways.

Musical voices blossom

Casali came across Hyperscore at the height of the pandemic, at a time when remote classes made it even more difficult to connect with students. Facing disengagement from students and wanting to find ways to bring the most reticent voices in the classroom into the fold, Casali decided to experiment. Inspired by his students’ love of playing games, he had the idea to integrate Hyperscore into Scratch, the popular program used by millions of children to program computer games, and ask his students to compose music to add to Scratch games. The experiment was a resounding success, and Casali saw the barriers falling between students and their previously out-of-reach musical inspiration. One student who was had been convinced that she had no musical talent submitted an assignment using Hyperscore and Scratch that spoke to quite the contrary! Throughout the classroom, students showed off their creative voices for music – some for the first time in their lives.

Making music education work for students

This experiment in Hyperscore and Scratch was a crucial step for Casali in rethinking how a music classroom could be relevant and accessible to students, and how to remove artificial barriers to creativity. With these groundbreaking tools, students do not have to be restricted by pre-existing ability to play an instrument or decipher the nuances of traditional musical notation. When these barriers are lifted, students can express musically what is already in their hearts and minds. They can take a leading role in their musical education rather than only following rigid and inflexible curricula. When teachers are willing to listen to the needs of their students and hear what excites them, tools like Hyperscore are there to support them in uplifting and amplifying their students’ voices.


Hyperscore through the years

Hyperscore is experiencing a renaissance in its lifetime through the recent release of the web-based Hyperscore 5. However, Hyperscore is by no means new on the scene. It has a storied history of sparking the musical imaginations of people around the world. The proven success of Hyperscore is indeed what gives us our drive at New Harmony Line to make the software available and accessible to all.

What’s the story?

Hyperscore has been making waves in the musical and educational worlds for over twenty years. From its imaginative beginnings in 2000 at the MIT Media Lab, Hyperscore has spanned the globe and inspired countless teachers, students and composers. Diverse groups of collaborators have used Hyperscore to compose 7 symphonies (and counting!) performed by prominent orchestras across the world. In equal measure though in many different ways, children, adults and elders have found expressive, therapeutic, and connective meaning through composing in Hyperscore. Today, New Harmony Line is reinvigorating the revolutionary power of Hyperscore by bringing it to new audiences and classrooms everywhere.

The years laid out

History matters – and keeping an accessible record of Hyperscore’s history of positively impacting lives matters deeply to us. To this end, we have published a History of Hyperscore timeline on our site which spans 2000 to present. Now anyone can take a dive into the archive and explore what has made Hyperscore compelling for over two decades. What’s more, this is a living record, and we will continue to update the page as exciting new developments for Hyperscore continue to take place. There is certainly much on the horizon, and we look to Hyperscore’s history of opening possibilities to inspire every step we take.

Empower kids to tell their stories through music.