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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 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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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, it is hugely helpful to set a goal. And what could be more fun than making music for something kids already love: video games!

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 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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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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A Toronto documentary

We just discovered that the terrific documentary, “Urban Symphony,” which follows the development of A Toronto Symphony, is available to watch on YouTube. This was the very first of Tod Machover’s City Symphony projects and we get to see how the composer and his team at the M.I.T. Media Lab collected sounds of the city and collaborated with school children, varied communities in Toronto, and the musicians of the Toronto Symphony to create this kaleidoscopic sonic portrait of the city.

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A Hyperscore compendium

Hyperscore has been used by children around the world to compose original pieces. Their compositions have been performed by musicians, from rock bands to major orchestras. Check out this collection of some of our “greatest hits,” each one a wonderful expression of each child’s spirit. We can’t wait to release the new version of Hyperscore for the Web!

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

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