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Best music software for classrooms

The marketplace is awash with software for music, from toy-like games to complicated digital audio workstations (DAWs) for professionals. How’s a teacher to choose? Music educator Cecilia Roudabush, a 30-year veteran of the Iowa City schools and director of education for New Harmony Line, is always on the lookout for tools that produce satisfying results in real classrooms. She reviews some popular and favorite applications.

Chrome Music Lab
“Chrome Music Lab is a website that makes learning music more accessible through fun, hands-on experiments.”
User age: All ages
Best features
No account needed; click on any experiment for immediate use
– 14 experiments to choose from
– Shared Piano, Songmaker, Rhythm and Kandinsky all feature music making as their core purpose
– Shared Piano and Songmaker can be posted or shared
– Shared Piano can involve live collaboration with another user
– 6 of the experiments feature the ability to use your voice as part of the music making or conceptual process
– Quick connections to science, art, coding and math as well as musical concepts
– Every experiment has a question icon that loads a text description of how to use the experiment or what concept it is demonstrating
– All the tools are visual icons that most people will have used, seen as a computer user or can understand from experience (walking figure versus running figure for tempo)
– Works on any device that can load Chrome
Ease of use:
– Composing feature in Songmaker and Melody Maker is intuitive with experimentation
– Most students will explore the tools and use the ones that work easily for them
– Kaninsky requires a touch screen which is not evident
– May hold the attention of younger users for a longer time than older users; Rhythm is very fun but doesn’t expand beyond the 4 choices and is not something you can save or share
Teacher review:
There are many wonderful features to this online technology for elementary students.  Experiments like Arpeggio, Harmonics, Piano Roll, Oscillators and Strings are useful for presenting a facet of a concept. Melody Maker and Songmaker would be excellent introductory composition tools.  Shared Piano would be interesting for creating melodies that someone else could play back, but the synesthesia method used is backward from the usual “drop from the top and touch the key you need to play”. If elementary students haven’t used synesthesia videos from YouTube to learn songs on the electronic keyboard, that might not be an issue.

As 7th and 8th graders, my students were given the option of using Chrome Music Lab but most students chose not to use it as they had used it while in elementary school. The best usage of this in a one-trimester or -semester music technology class in secondary school is as a choice for free-time music making.
Pricing: Free
Icon: the Hyperscore "H" in blue, red, and green on black Hyperscore
A new way to compose music
“Lay down some notes, listen, react and evolve.  Hyperscore is an innovative web application with an intuitive graphic interface that puts creativity first and encourages active listening and purposeful composing.” 
User age: All ages. Under 13 need parent or school permission to create account.
Best features:
– Easy free account set-up. For Educator Version, instructor sends email invitation for students to join classroom.
– Intuitive composing workspace: drop notes into the extendable rhythm and melody windows, listen, edit and continue to create melodic and rhythmic motifs;  motifs can be arranged in the harmony sketch window alone, or in combination with, other motifs
– Music is composed visually, allowing the user to manipulate note values, place pitch and arrange motifs with their eyes as well as their ears
– 1-minute video tutorials accessible to all users
– Teaching modules for elementary to secondary included in Resources for Educators
– User can customize note shapes, instrument sets, visually themed workspaces, and rainbow-themed diatonic scale
– Unique harmonizing tool in the sketch window: “general” and “classical” will adjust notes to fit harmonic principles.
– Unique Harmony Line function allows the user to add tension, release or drama to their composition
– Cloud version saves work automatically; projects can shared and remixed, and moved to a personal account once the class is complete 
Ease of use:
– Creative composing feature is very intuitive. Most students of any age or ability will be able to use the program
– Students will explore and use the tools with little support needed once they learn the basic composing process (write, listen, edit)
– Students will quickly learn their preference for monophonic or polyphonic melodies with some instruction needed for stacking musically rather than just filling the space
– Intentional composing can be achieved with storytelling or prepared composition prompts
– Scaffolded curriculum would allow students to collect their work year-to-year in a portfolio showing increasing sophistication in their compositional style
– Contact district technology department prior to creating accounts to make sure emailed account codes arrive directly in student in-boxes
– New Harmony Line’s Privacy Policy contains a prepared Parent/Guardian consent form for family/student users under the age of 13
Teacher review:
As 7th and 8th graders, my students used the original Hyperscore as a composing and arranging tool. The majority of students could compose independently with the program because of its intuitive tools. Seeing music written visually was considered to be a strength of the program.  Students were able to edit and arrange motifs, and to judge what they liked and did not like about their choices.  Students also used the dynamic, tempo, harmonic tools, tone color and copy/paste features once they were presented as options they could choose to utilize.

The upgrade to the web-based version in 2021 has allowed students from ages 3 to 18 to compose original works of music with simple instruction on using the tools.  By inverting the pedagogy and allowing students to compose before structuring the theoretical understanding of their process, students showed amazing leaps of creativity in their rhythm pattern choices, melodic shapes, use of non-traditional time signatures and harmonic combinations. Asking students to name their piece often elicited a peek into the imagery within their work.  Giving a student a storytelling or prepared compositional prompt also yields amazingly creative work.

Composing, editing and arranging are its best usage in a one-trimester or -semester music technology class. Musically motivated students would find a trimester elective in composing with Hyperscore invaluable, which may lead to some career pursuits or lifelong interaction with music. Elementary general music teachers would benefit from using the program as a K-6 portfolio of mastery of compositional techniques.
– Free Starter Plan (5 projects)
– Basic $3.99/month (5 seats and 10 projects)
– Premium $9.99/month (5 seats and 20 projects); $8.00/month with annual plan discount
– Supreme $14.99/month (unlimited); $12.00/month with annual plan discount
– MusicFirst educator license. 30-day free trial. $199/year unlimited seating for 1 year; 3-year subscription $189.05/year unlimited seating
– General Educator
A fun, interactive music experience
“Create your own music with the help of a merry crew of beatboxers. Choose your musical style among 8 impressive atmospheres and start to lay down, record and share your mix.”
User age: Any age, as this program does not require account creation.  Parental Control button available in settings.
Best features:
– Immediate use with no account required (more content with downloadable app but not necessary to enjoy the experience)
– Very intuitive program; visual and textual help screens pop up once you choose your first mix set
– Available in 6 languages
– Drag and drop pre-recorded loops onto each beatboxing character which provides them with a themed “outfit” and a sound associated with their character
– You can record and save your mix (appears to be a cloud save because you do not enter any personal information although you can give yourself a handle for your mixes
– Name and share links immediately; the Playlist button allows you to see what’s been recorded in the last 24 hours as well as a Top 50 playlist of popular mixes
Ease of use:
– Arranging and mixing feature is very intuitive with visual/text guides if needed
– Most users will find this very fun and motivating
– You can spend hours listening to all of the mixes others created–inspiration to be found from the simple to sophisticated mixes
Teacher review:
As 7th and 8th graders, my students used Incredibox completely independently as a mixing and arranging tool. Most students used it purely for fun–they didn’t even realize they were making musical choices as they “played”!  Some used their mix as their final product for the composition unit and turned it in for a grade since their final product requirement was to spend 3 class periods ‘making music using technology’.  Although peers found it very entertaining, I made sure to label it as “mixing and arranging” rather than “composing”. 
Incredibox could be a wonderful introductory program into other mixing, arranging and editing programs or as a way to introduce composition during a one-trimester or-semester music technology class.  A few students will enjoy this for one class period and then be ready for something more sophisticated and not return to it again, whereas others will continue using at home or on their phone and share the website URL with others.  Most elementary students would find it just completely fun, although I did have a student or two who expressed concern that the beatboxers were bare-chested until you “dressed” them.  As a teacher myself, I find it to be a fun distraction that I return to a few times a year.
– Alpha version on website is free
– Educational Version 12 seat minimum for $12/mth
– App available on App Store, Steam, Microsoft Store for $4.99
– Merchandise store with coffee mugs to art ranging in price from $14.99 to $147.99
Make music in an online DAW
“An online studio where you can make beats, record & edit audio/MIDI, mix, and collaborate. 20000+ loops and samples. 15 audio effects.” 
User age: 13+ (use granted for those under 13 with Parent/Guardian permission)
Best features:
– Easy account set-up (Google login) for immediate use
– Video tutorials and user step-by-step guides
– Drag and drop pre-recorded professional loops from the Sound Library
– Choose audio effects for each loop
– Share links, collaborate or place your work in the Community forum
Ease of use:
– Composing feature is not intuitive
– Motivated students will explore the tools and use the ones that work easily for them
– Features a QWERTY virtual keyboard but does not have a step-by-step guide for using it
– The right toolbar has icons that are useful but not defined–most students will need to be taught their purpose and how to use the export feature
Teacher review:
As 7th and 8th graders, my students used Soundation independently as an editing and arranging tool.  No student chose to compose with it because they were too impatient to watch the videos and it was not intuitive for composing.  Students were able to independently understand editing and arranging sound loops and to judge what they liked and did not like about their choices.  Many students used the channel features but only at the surface level.  I had to teach students how to export their files to me for their final grade.

Editing, mixing and arranging are its best usage in a one-trimester or -semester music technology class.  Elementary students would be able to use the program with mixing and arranging lessons and guided practice.
– Free (3 projects and 1 GB storage)
– Starter (10 projects) $9.99/month; annual plan $4.99/month
– Creator (unlimited projects) $14.99/month; annual plan $9.99/month
– Pro (unlimited projects) $49.99/month; annual plan $29.99/month
Make music together. Online. Your everywhere studio.
The best collaboration platform for making music online.”
User age: 13+ (use granted for those under 13 with Educator School Account)
Best features:
Easy account set-up (Google login) for immediate use for 13+ users
Video tutorials for all features
Light and dark mode for personalization of workspace
Drag and drop pre-recorded professional loops from the Sound Library
Choose sophisticated audio effects for each loop with tutorials for using effects
Record,edit and collaborate on any device and store your work in the Cloud
Auto-tune feature offers the ability to pitch and modify voice recordings
Audio editing tools (volume, pan, filter sweep effects)
QWERTY synthesizer that allows you to easily play a virtual keyboard using the keys on your computer keyboard (dozens of sound settings available with effects settings) or a piano roll that allows you to click from low to high and extend the value with your mouse monophonically or with polyphony
Connects your microphone, guitar or any other electronic instrument to the program
Patterns Beatmaker tool allows you to make your own beats with 18 percussion instruments associated with a traditional trap set
Record, transcribe to text and edit your own Podcast which can be uploaded to Spotify or downloaded as a link for you to post anywhere
Educator Account links to all major LMS platforms and provides many of the features present in a personal use account with additional lesson plans and assignments
Ease of use:
Composing feature is sophisticated and would take multiple lessons for a student to learn the tools
Motivated students will explore the tools and videos and make incredible music; students who are taking a required course will need lessons and step-by-step assignments to use the technology and may find the vast resources overwhelming without finite boundaries
Beatmaker tool seems to only be quarter note values–there’s probably a video tutorial for that!
Easy to share, post, collaborate
Teacher review:
As 7th and 8th graders, my students used Soundtrap independently as an editing and arranging tool.  The composing tool has improved dramatically since we last used it.  Most students were able to independently understand editing and arranging sound loops and to judge what they liked and did not like about their choices.  A small number of students used the array of features, but the majority of students used it only at the surface level.  

Editing and arranging loops are its best usage in a one-trimester or -semester music technology class. An entire trimester or semester music elective would be needed to allow focus on the usage of all of the features of this online music technology tool which may lead to some career pursuits or lifelong interaction with music..  The podcast feature could be used by Language Arts, Drama, Musical Theatre and Music Production electives as well as in a Music Technology class through which a student could share their work, the work of others, reviews of current music or insights into the music they love. Elementary students would be able to use the program with mixing and arranging lessons and guided practice.
– Free plan
– Music Makers Premium $9.99/month; annual plan $7.99/month
– Music Makers Supreme $14.99/month; annual plan $11.99/month
– Storytellers (podcasts) $14.99/month; annual plan $11.99/month
– Complete $17.99/month; annual plan $13.99/mth
Education Version–30 day Free Trial (up to 500 seats with all features); School or District Plan $349 plus applicable taxes for 50 minimum seats ($6.98/seat); price per seat lowers as you add additional seats
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Creating a Character through Music

Think of one of your favorite characters from any form of media. Chances are, they evoke some emotional response in you that has drawn you toward them. Characters can be abundant sources of joy and inspiration for all of us, as can be seen from just a glance online at the copious amounts of fan art and works created by all sorts of people motivated by their passion for all sorts of characters.

We used a character as the foundation for making music with Hyperscore at our most recent Second Saturdays Zoom workshop. We began by coming up with a character: one attendee brought up her affection for capybaras, and we soon landed on Cappy the capybara as the protagonist for our musical story.

We brainstormed a list of association words and phrases that we imagined Cappy to have, to inspire the composition of his leitmotif – a musical theme associated with him that would repeat throughout our piece. “Sleepy”, “determined”, “furry”, “plump”, “aquatic”, and “adorable” were among these descriptors. Thinking of these words, we started laying down some notes in a Hyperscore melody window that would encapsulate Cappy’s energy, using the warm sound of a french horn.

An orange Melody Window plays two variations on a five-note figure using a French Horn.
Cappy the capybara’s theme

The next question was, what’s the story? Cappy needs an exciting adventure. Imagining various scenarios prompted a second character–a hungry alligator!

A green Melody Window represents the alligator, with string notes in the lower register that rise up to peak above the water.
The alligator’s theme

There should be more than danger motivating our story. What is something that would make Cappy happy? Why, some delicious fruit, of course.

The light green Melody Window with six flute notes in two bars
The fruit theme represents Cappy’s snack

And where does all this action take place? Alligators inhabit rivers, so we needed music to suggest rippling water.

A blue polyphonic Melody Window with eight notes in two bars creates a rippling water motif.
The water theme accompanies Cappy when he goes for a swim

Now that we had our main characters and setting, what about the action? Cappy goes out for a stroll and come to a river. He starts swimming but Alligator enters the scene. When Cappy realizes he is being stalked, he starts swimming faster. There’s a race culminating in Alligator lunging at Cappy!

A yellow to-bar Percussion Window has half notes alternating between high and low toms with a wood block on the off beat that ends with a "crunch" of triangle and tambourine.
A two-bar percussion figure depicts Cappy walking and racing, as well as munching on fruit

Here’s “Cappy’s Day.” Listen to hear the different themes and find out Cappy’s fate!

Hear the motifs that represent the characters and story elements, as well as the final composition.

Here is the full Second Saturday workshop showing in real time how we put this composition together. Peter shares a ton of subtle Hyperscore tricks and hacks!

Want to try this out yourself? Sign up for our free Second Saturdays workshops here.

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Exercising creativity

by June Kinoshita, Executive Director

There’s a lot of discussion these days about the importance of creativity. “Creativity is the skill of the future,” proclaims a 2018 article in Forbes. So many skills that were once essential for a livelihood have been replaced by machines, computers and now, AI. Artificial intelligence. What remains unique to people are personal histories, their embodied experience of the world, empathy, social intelligence, and originality.

Composing music is a fantastic way to exercise our creative muscle. It is about expressing a feeling or story in order to make a connection and evoke a reaction from the listener. Musical sounds are not necessarily representational, so you can invent your own sonic vocabulary. Music is wonderfully freeing because it is abstract. You can only judge it on its own terms. Is it pretty? That’s great. Does it set your teeth on edge? Intriguing! Does it fill you with emotions you can’t put name to? That’s powerful. 

Traditional music pedagogy puts up many barriers to composition. We designed Hyperscore to lower those barriers so that more people can have access to music as a creative pursuit. Technology can be a powerful ally of human curiosity and creativity. But we don’t want technology to replace activities that are meaningful to humans. It’s a delicate balance that we work hard to maintain with Hyperscore.

Because our roots lie in the MIT Media Lab, we are of course thinking about AI. In what ways can AI enhance musical creativity? In what ways could AI undermine it?

Curious to see how good AI is in another domain, writing, I tested the capabilities of ChatGPT, an AI-powered conversationalist. I asked it to “write a 100-word creative story about my cat Muji that makes some logical leaps.” Here’s what it came up with:

“Muji was an adventurous cat with a curious mind. She was always exploring her surroundings and getting into mischief. One day, while out on a walk, Muji spotted a bird perched on a tree branch. Without hesitation, she leapt into the air, determined to catch the bird. To her surprise, the bird flew away, leading Muji on a wild chase through the neighborhood. As she chased the bird, Muji made all sorts of creative leaps and bounds, jumping over fences and scampering up trees. Eventually, the bird led Muji to a beautiful garden where she was able to catch it and bring it home as a prize. Muji was proud of her catch and couldn’t wait to show it off to her humans.”

I would give this a B or C (if I were feeling cranky). It’s a serviceable story stitched together from clichés and a literal reading of “logical leap.” A real child would likely have injected more personality into their cat, sharing their pet’s singular quirks and inventing an adventure that would have surprised and amused the reader. 

I’m reassured that machine intelligence won’t pass the Turing Test for now, at least if it were pitted against a bright eight year old. That’s probably to be expected, because current AI systems are designed to trawl huge amounts of publicly posted factoids and phrases and come up with an anodyne result. (I do wonder how older students would do, after they have been pumped full of received wisdom, rubrics, and recipes for “correct” writing….) 

It wouldn’t surprise me if engineers are already working on AI systems designed to generate something unexpected when commanded to “think outside the box.” AI challenges us to ponder what each of us puts out into the world that is unique to the individual and adds value to others’ experience. Someday soon, AI will be able to simulate creativity. We will be forced to ask, is creativity the pinnacle of human endeavor? How will our definitions of creativity shift? What is the relationship between creativity and art? What is art in an age of ingenious machines? How might we envision worlds where we collaborate with these machines in transformational and truly equitable ways? That’s a topic for a future blog post…

Image credit: “Thinking outside the box, musically,” generated by DALL-E.

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Viva Vivaldi!

Have a joyful and musical New Year. We celebrate the universal spirit of music by sharing this exuberant rendition of Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by a South African children’s marimba band. We love how these remarkable youths deliver this Western classic with virtuosity, musicality, and joy. They breathe new life into a piece that has been overplayed in formal concert halls and remind us of how much we all gain by sharing musical heritage across geographic, cultural, and generational lines. To more boundary breaking in 2023!

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Composing for video games

Composing music can be a pure pleasure for its own sake, but to motivate a classroom of learners (not to mention oneself), it is hugely helpful to set a goal. And what could be more fun than making music for something kids already love: video games! Composing using Hyperscore’s easy, game-like interface makes it a great match for this theme.

We tried this idea out at our recent Second Saturdays Zoom workshop with David Casali. David presented three simple video games made by kids using Scratch. Scratch was created at the M.I.T. Media Lab, just like Hyperscore (literally across the hall). It’s a free, graphics-based programming language used by millions of children around the world who have amassed a vast, open-source trove of content, including animations and video games.

Composing for a few good games

Scratch offers a vast collection of kid-made video games. It would be overwhelming for students to search through them, so David suggests picking a few as prompts for a class. Here are the ones he chose. Each has a distinct feel. We picked Phroot Panda, in which the player has to catch pieces of fruit as they rain down from the sky.

“Frantic” and “busy” were some descriptive words for it. Putting himself in the mind of a fifth grader, David said the first thing he might do is set a fast tempo. We then went to work on the melody. Someone suggested a syncopated rhythm.

A Hyperscore melody window showing a basic syncopated rhythm on middle C.

Something jagged…

A Hyperscore melody window showing a melodic line that moves rapidly up and down with a syncopated rhythm.

We quite liked the jittery effect. Time to open a sketch window and start “painting” with this motif. We took this line for quite a hike…

A Hyperscore sketch window showing several lines moving up and down, some of them straight, some wobbly and some gently curved.

Definitely frenetic! Next we used the Harmony buttons to listen to our melody and settled on the Classical mode, tweaking the gray “harmony line” in the center to add harmonic tension and release. Peter added some punchy strings, ratcheting up the drama in the composition to match the game, and voila!

We downloaded the completed music as an MP3 file. David then showed us how to program the game to play to music. Here are David’s step by step instructions: Scratch Soundtrack Guide and Chant Remix on how to add a soundtrack to a Scratch program. You can watch the workshop in the video below and give a shot at composing music for your own games. Comments welcome!

Join in on the fun and spark your imagination for composing with Hyeprscore by registering for our Second Saturdays workshops!

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

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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 sixteenth-note of each beat, another as a quarter note on the fourth beat, then a high-hat on the second and fourth beats. 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 two-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 rhythm (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.

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 Hyperscore 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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Collaborative Composing

by Cecilia Roudabush Director of Education

Collaborative composing for band, orchestra or choir is something that would seem unfathomable to me if it weren’t for the City Symphonies work of MIT Opera of the Future Professor, Tod Machover. Hopefully, you’ve seen Hyperscore and understand the beauty of its simple design for the individual composer. However, if you are a visionary like Machover, all individuals who lead a musical ensemble would be clamoring to have their musicians compose together with Hyperscore, or as an arrangement of individual’s motives. Following that, the leaders would print the work in traditional notation using the export feature and, finally, perform their work for an adoring audience. What a challenge, and amazing experience, that could be!

If you took piano lessons, band, orchestra and/or choir like I did throughout my school years and into college, it was rare to play contemporary and diverse original works of music. As we learned in a July 2022 NPR online article featuring Dr. Rocque Diaz, Ms. Daria Adams and GSHARP, we should be playing original music from every culture and genre in addition to the Classics. I came across this 2014 Reddit comment thread when searching for a discussion on the benefit of playing the Classics of every genre and era as compared to composing and/or playing original work.

Stick with the Classics? Write original works? Collaboratively Compose?

Under the comment title below, it says “Posted by u/zamboniman06 8 years ago”

“Don’t get me wrong, I like to learn songs whether its tab or someone teaching or my earz (sic), but I get such a thrill creating a tune that it makes me [happy?] more often writing songs than learning songs… if that makes sense. EDIT: discuss.” Astoundingly, this one simple comment from u/zamboniman06 brought a long discussion thread of 135 comments.

To argue the benefit of learning music that’s already been created, JeeBusCrunk wrote, that “Great songwriters like Billy Joel, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder think the Beatles are the most important thing that ever happened to pop music (I tend to agree), and I believe you’re doing a great disservice to yourself as a musician if you don’t truly understand why they feel this way (even if you disagree)”. Anonymous, however, simply stated the opposite point with the simple words, “I don’t really create the songs I write, I hear them”. Sounds like something John, Paul, Ringo, George and Wolfgang would have said! Similarly, many of my students have said that when they use Hyperscore they never really know what they’re going to do until they start composing and like what they’re hearing!

The joy of an original composition

Probably, my favorite Reddit thread commenter was alividlife. This person stated Hyperscore’s philosophy to a T:

“…I’ve noticed in writing my own material, as soon as I take it seriously, and try and write something “awesome”, it’s a struggle of frustration. What has been proving a better way, is to almost be joyful…

It’s just a matter of getting the basic idea.
A Hook of some sort.
A chorus.
Then maybe a bridge.

…Keep it simple, and as it becomes refined, work on creating each part as a breathing whole. But ideally stick to the real simple fundamentals of harmony, and simple melody…I think a huge issue with creation in general, all art forms, is that inner-critic…Enjoy yourself, and your audience will appreciate you for it.”

Raise your hand for collaborative composing!

New Harmony Line is looking to emulate the work of Professor Machover with a visionary ensemble leader who is interested in collaborative composing, guiding their musicians to create and perform an original work. Realistically, in today’s work world I wouldn’t know a single ensemble leader who would have time to run the unit then arrange the resulting piece. Thus, we are looking for freelance arrangers as well. Raise your hand if you are the visionary! Raise your hand if you are the arranger of that future collaborative piece! Then contact me,, and we’ll write about your work in the New Harmony Line News blogs to come!

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Kids build a musical bridge with Hyperscore

From our archives. This story about the 2012 “A to A: A World in Harmony” concert in Yerevan, Armenia, is a testament to the power of Hyperscore to foster powerful collaborations.

The opulent Armenian Opera Theater in the heart of Armenia’s capital Yerevan will reverberate with some truly fresh sounds on the evening of February 25, 2012, as two of Armenia’s elite musical ensembles dig into new pieces composed entirely by children from Armenia and the United States. The concert features the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra and DOGMA, one of the country’s most popular rock bands. The event is co-sponsored by the LUYS Education Foundation and the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan to celebrate the embassy’s 20th anniversary.

Despite the composers’ youth – they range in age from 8 to 14 – their work is rich and rewarding to hear, thanks to the boost their musical imaginations received from Hyperscore, a music-creation software developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab by a team led by renowned composer Tod Machover. Hyperscore puts unprecedented composing power into the hands of people who long to express themselves musically, regardless of their formal training. More than that, Hyperscore turns out to be an exceptional tool for collaborative creativity. One of the pieces receiving its world premiere at the Yerevan event was jointly composed by children in Boston and Armenia.

Musical composition is usually imagined to spring from the minds of geniuses toiling in splendid isolation. But for the youngsters visiting the Media Lab earlier this month, the composing process was more like a cyber paintball game. Color-coded splashes of melodies and beats popped up on a large flat-screen monitor as a half-dozen students from the Armenian Sisters’ Academy in Lexington, MA, traded ideas over a Skype connection with their counterparts in a classroom 8,700 kilometers away in Yerevan.

Under Machover’s deft direction, the students launched into creating their new piece by humming melodies and tapping out rhythms, which were notated using Hyperscore. The screen quickly filled up with melodic ideas, or ‘motifs’, and a percussion sequence. The kids then started assembling their composition. “Do you want the piece to start with a big explosion, or something quieter?” Machover asked. Something quiet, the kids agreed. A motif was selected and “drawn” onto the digital canvas. A second pensive motif was introduced, and then it was time to bring in some livelier motifs to wake things up.

“How do you tell a story through music? How could we keep this moving, keep it building?” Machover urged. The kids started piling on layers, made a motif swing high and swoop low, tried out various harmonic configurations… and they were out of time. In one hour, they had put together the first minute of their piece. After a few more sessions, they completed a short but complex and fascinating work which they titled “Frenzy of Friendship”, ready to be orchestrated and sent to the Armenian Phil for its world premiere.

“We usually think of music as belonging to a special elite who have unique powers to create it and share it,” Machover says. “Hearing these exciting new pieces by young people renews my conviction that anyone can create original, valuable music given the right tools, environment and encouragement, and that through music we can build friendships, share individual visions, and enhance life’s meaning.”

To Jacqueline Karaaslanian, Executive Director of the LUYS Education Foundation, this is a perfect example of harnessing technology to spur creativity and collaboration. The foundation was established by Armenia’s President Serjh Sargsyan and Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan to transform the nation by raising the quality of education and infusing the country’s youth with a “can do” attitude.

“Hyperscore wakes up the genius within children and instills in them a desire to better understand a whole universe of worlds they had not previously imagined or considered,” Karaaslanian explains. “When children know that their elders and professionals will play their music, they are empowered. This process is beyond encouraging words; it validates children as thinkers and creators.” And that, she says, is vital for any nation that expects to thrive in our rapidly changing and interconnected world.

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Hyperscore enables “Amazing accomplishment”

As we reported previously, Hyperscore is being used by hundreds of school children in Toronto this fall to compose music for Tod Machover’s “A Toronto Symphony” project. How has it worked in practice? We found out last Friday when Tod met with around 300 kids gathered with their teachers on the campus of Toronto’s College Français. There to witness the occasion was Musical Toronto‘s John Terauds. He writes:

Hyperscore offers synthesized audio output of its own, but orchestrated by a real composer and played by the excellent young musicians on stage, these miniature compositions from pint-sized composers sounded remarkably sophisticated.

Here is one example, from Broadlands P.S. student Nebyou. What you see on the projection is the Hyperscore screen. The crazy doodle is the composition. The music is being played by members of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra:

Terauds says, “I have to admit that the ease with which the user becomes a creator worries me, because it feels too easy. Part of me considers this to be a form of pseudo creation, that only the careful application of pencil (and eraser) to notation paper is real creation.”

But the results have convinced him otherwise:

These children, many of whom I’m sure haven’t had any lessons music theory, were truly and fully engaged with the act of creating music.

Isn’t that what we all dream of?

The fact that their work will eventually find itself performed on the stage of Roy Thomson Hall seems almost superfluous after this amazing accomplishment.

Read John Teraud’s full post here: Toronto school children become engaged composers in Toronto Symphony experiment

Empower kids to tell their stories through music.