Empower Students to Create Musically

Find resources to help students learn the music creation process, from writing and composing through recording and production.

Grades K-12 20 min Resource by:

The creation of an authentic product can be used to demonstrate prior learning, drive project-based learning, or serve as a general catalyst for deeper exploration of the art and craft of music. You can make a case for music performance being a “creation of artistic expression,” and while performance is a frequent and important goal in the study of music, it is often less of an original creation than a “re-creation” or expression of another artist’s work. Creation, while often involving a subsequent performance, takes the musical journey to its pinnacle. By creating something new and original, musicians put all of their previous learning into action. Original music creation is an area that might get skipped over due to the business of crowded schedules and deadlines. However, it is an essential part of music study and one that pushes students to the highest levels of cognitive complexity.

There are rich collections of digital, online resources that can help to facilitate musical creation. This includes tools for notation, composition, songwriting, recording, and producing. When we take students to this creative space and provide them with creative tools, we not only stretch them but also inspire them to be lifelong lovers and creators of music.

The technology tools in this article focus on various aspects of the creative process. Some resources assist with writing, some provide virtual instruments for both practice and creation, and others help to facilitate the recording and production phases of music creation.

 

Write and Compose

There are digital tools available to assist in many stages of the musical writing process. Some provide writing suggestions while others offer composition scaffolds or tools to audition your ideas and write them out in a sharable format. Notation and composition programs are primarily intended for composing music and producing a printable score, audio file, or both. There are popular paid versions of software programs available that offer robust and professional-grade features and options. However, we’ll focus on tools that have a free version, as these will be the most accessible starting points for teachers and schools—even those with no budget. As you review the options, note that some of them are web-based while others require a local install. When selecting the tools to explore, consider which student devices are available to you and your students. Students do not need to spend money to produce excellent quality final products since the free or lite versions of these tools produce excellent results. However, if students choose to pursue writing and recording more seriously in the future, the free tools will provide an excellent opportunity to learn the foundational skills needed to use any product—even the most expensive, paid versions.

The following list includes music writing tools that you can add to your digital toolbox. Many of these tools reinforce music theory while empowering original writing and creation.

  • AutoChords.com
    • Get suggestions for song chords in the selected key.
    • Choose a key. Preview a chord progression to help you write songs.
  • Finale Notepad
    • This tool features a collaborative and simple interface.
    • Use it to compose, play back, and print your compositions.
    • This program is for Windows only and requires an installation.
  • Flat
    • Add music notation to documents and slideshows.
    • The Google Docs add-on is a lite version of the web-based software.
    • Create 15 scores with the free version. Collaborate in real time. Compose and play it back.
  • Hookpad
    • Compose while getting chord and melody suggestions as well as integrated music theory.
    • Start with the free trial, and then pay either a one-time or monthly fee if you wish to continue using this tool.
  • Learn How to Write Songs
    • This site provides a suite of interactive songwriting tools.
    • Use the interactive generators to create chord progressions, melodies, rhythms, song structures, keys, song prompts, and more.
    • Access reference tools, like a thesaurus, rhyming dictionary, and drum loop library.
  • LilyPond
    • Create professional-looking sheet music scores.
    • This is a free, open-source product for Unix, Mac, and Windows that requires an install.
    • The program is very robust and equal in quality to many paid products, but most users agree that there is a significant learning curve involved.
  • MuseScore
    • This is composition and notation software. Use it to create, play, and print sheet music.
    • Import MusicXML and standard MIDI files.
    • Export as a graphic, MusicXML, or audio file.
    • This program is robust, free, and requires a Windows or Mac install.
    • Use it to write for piano, guitar, orchestra, jazz, choir, band, marching, and more.
  • Maestro
    • This app is free on Google Play. Pay only if you wish to remove the ads.
    • Compose and then play back your composition.
    • More than 100 instruments are available.
    • Save sheet music as a JPEG, PNG, or PDF, and export it as a MIDI or MP3 file.
  • MasterWriter
    • Choose the songwriter option.
    • Use the site to help find the correct words (rhymes, phrases, word families, figurative language, etc.) for your lyrics.
    • There is an integrated audio recorder to capture your ideas.
    • Use it free for 90 days, and then pay monthly to continue the service.
  • Noteflight
    • This is designed for teachers and syncs with Google Classroom and other learning management systems.
    • Compose music and create music scores.
    • Play it back to listen to your composition.
    • Create up to 10 scores for free.
  • OpenSong
    • Use this free, open-source tool to manage lyrics, chords, and lead sheets.
    • Install on a PC, Mac, and Linux.

Record and Produce

Once the music has been written, a logical next step is to record it. Recording performances of original music can be extremely motivating and gratifying, and it takes the ideas, notes, and words from the page to an auditory experience that listeners can enjoy. Fortunately, with the explosion of free online recording tools, this process is very accessible to students of all ages. There are several types of tools on our list of recording resources:

  • The actual recording tool
  • Plug-ins that can be added on to some of the more full-featured platforms
  • Music and sound samples that can be used in recordings
  • Virtual instruments that can be used to create and capture musical parts
  • Free, online courses that teach the art and science of music production

Taken together, this collection of resources can empower your students to be writers, performers, recorders, and producers. By taking part in this creative process, your students will learn the art, science, and appreciation of music at a deep and personal level.

  • Akai MPC Beats
    • This is a great tool for creating beats that can be used in electronic music and hip-hop.
    • It’s described by some as a “beat making DAW” (digital audio workstation).
    • It includes a drum sample grid and a 2 GB library of sounds.
    • You can create by triggering drum pads, using the piano roll, and using the sample editor to “chop and edit.”
  • Audiotool
    • This is a free, online production studio.
    • Create synth sounds, drumbeats, and loops.
    • Write and record a song from start to finish with these tools and sounds.
  • Audacity
    • This audio production suite includes intermediate to advanced features.
    • If you own a Windows PC, this is an excellent option.
    • The Google Chrome extension allows for use on a Chromebook, but the stability is not as good as when it is fully installed on a PC.
  • BandLab
    • This is a music production studio with free loops and samples, virtual instruments, and MIDI functionality.
    • Download finished recordings as MP3 or WAV files.
    • Use online or with the app.
  • Beautiful Audio Editor
    • This is a browser-based recording and production suite.
    • It features effects, editing and export options, and a Google Drive integration.
  • GarageBand
    • This robust audio production suite is free for Apple users.
    • It is full-featured and includes effects, sounds, and loops.
    • This must be installed on a Mac or an iPad.
  • Online Tone Generator
    • This site includes a pitch shifter and other audio editing tools.
    • Upload audio and change the pitch without impacting the tempo. Download the altered file.
    • This suite of tools includes the pitch shifter, a time stretcher, a voice generator, and more.
  • Online Voice Recorder
    • This simple, one-button online audio recorder is great for younger learners or situations where you need a quick, one-take recording.
    • Share the recording with a link, embed code, or download.
  • Soundation
    • Create, record, mix, and produce entire songs.
    • Create a solo or collaborative project.
    • Use the thousands of royalty-free tracks that are included.
    • Use MIDI instruments or record live.
    • Students must be 13 years old to create an account.
    • Learn how to use this tool through their YouTube channel.
  • SoundBridge
    • The premier feature of this free option is its simple interface and VST plug-in compatibility.
    • It includes a built-in drum machine.
    • This must be installed on a PC or Mac.
  • Soundtrap
    • This audio production suite is suitable for projects ranging from simple voice recordings to podcasts to full music productions with multiple tracks and effects.
    • Use the free loops and samples in your recordings.
    • It is cloud-based and requires no local install.
    • Take advantage of their free learning academy.
  • Studio One
    • This digital audio workstation can be used for comprehensive musical recording and production.
    • Use the free version or upgrade for more features.
    • There is no plug-in support, but it comes with a Native Effects plug-in suite and over 2 GB of loops and music content.
    • It features an intuitive work environment that is great for beginners, with drag-and-drop functionality.
    • It must be installed on a Mac or PC.
  • Tracktion Waveform Free
    • Tracktion describes their product as “the world’s best, fully featured, completely unlimited free DAW for all music creators.”
    • There are no track count limits, and it allows VST and AU plug-ins.
    • This must be installed on a PC or Mac.
  • TwistedWave
    • Use this browser-based audio recorder for mono, single-track recordings.
    • Record up to 5 minutes with the free version.
    • This is an intermediate option. While not full-featured, it provides more options than simple start-and-stop recording tools.
  • Vital
    • Use this synth to edit and customize wave tables.
    • You get 75 presets and 25 wavetables with a free account.
    • Install on a PC or Mac.

Tinker and Adjust

There are several auxiliary tools available online that can be helpful when you are working with your audio files. Think of these options as utility tools in your audio toolbox.

  • Audio Cutter
    • Upload a file to edit it.
    • Trim an audio file and fade in or out.
    • Extract audio from a video file.
  • Audio Joiner
    • Upload files to edit them.
    • Merge or cross-fade tracks.
  • Online Audio Converter
    • Upload or open a file, choose your desired settings, and convert it to another audio format.
    • Download your converted file.

Add Samples and Loops

If you’re looking for music samples and audio clips to integrate into your projects, there are websites available that offer free resources. Most provide royalty-free sounds, beats, loops, and samples while some provide the tools to create them yourself. Here are a few options to get you started.

  • CreateRaps.com
    • While the recorder portion of this site is no longer functional, you can still download beats.
    • Use downloads with another audio tool to edit and add vocals.
  • Freesound
    • Access free sound effects.
    • Students must be 13 years old to create a free account and download the files.
    • Over 100,000 sound effects are available.
  • Incompetech
    • Download audio tracks for projects.
    • Tracks are free to use with attribution.
  • Jamendo
    • This site hosts royalty-free music.
    • Access over 400,000 free music tracks for streaming and download.
    • Attributions should be listed as described when using samples.
  • MusicRadar
    • Find samples, loops, and sound effects.
    • There is no cost to search, listen, and download clips.
  • SoundBible.com
    • Access free sound effects. Creative Commons licenses apply and are clearly marked.
    • Download as WAV or MP3 files.
    • This site is funded by advertising, which is prominent on the page.
  • Splice
    • This is an online library of royalty-free music samples and audio plug-ins.
    • Explore millions of loops and one-shots, including some that have been used in Grammy-winning recordings.
    • Although this is a subscription service, you can get a free trial to see if it’s right for you.
  • YouTube Studio
    • Choose the “Audio Library” option from the left navigation menu.
    • Download free music tracks and sound effects to use with your projects.

Create and Capture With Virtual Instruments

While many musicians record their performances on physical instruments, some also utilize virtual instruments in the writing and recording process. Some options provide sounds to be used with MIDI while others offer a stand-alone creation and programming tool. Drum and rhythm machines are especially common and useful, and they can be used to create foundational tracks upon which musicians can layer other instruments and musical parts.

  • drumbit
    • Create drumbeats that you can record, save, and download.
    • Adjust the volume, tempo, swing, kit, pan, and more.
  • HTML5 Drum Machine
    • Create drumbeats.
    • Choose a kit and program the instruments.
    • Export your finished work as a WAV file.
  • Komplete Start
    • Get a free library of VST plug-ins and samples with this suite from Native Instruments.
    • Download over 2,000 sounds and more than 6 GB of content, including drums, percussion, basses, synths, acoustic instruments, and more.
    • Install on a PC or Mac and use it with your DAW.
    • This bundle includes Komplete Kontrol, a free program that allows you to browse, preview, and play samples and recordings. Komplete Kontrol requires a local install.
  • OneMotion Drum Machine
    • Use this tool to create drumbeats with a drum set that features more traditional drum kit sounds.
    • Visualize the player in 3D.
    • Export as a WAV file.
  • Online Sequencer
    • Create music tracks using the piano roll-style grid layout or import via MIDI.
    • Choose an instrument (piano, guitar, percussion, orchestra, etc.).
    • Choose your time signature and key.
    • Export your finished work as an MP3 or MIDI file to use in other projects.
  • PatternSketch
    • Program a pattern or tap it out on your computer keyboard.
    • Export your patterns as MP3 or WAV files.
  • Rhythm Composer iO-808
    • This is a virtual reproduction of the classic Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer.
    • The 808 has been used to create the signature sounds of electronic, dance, and hip-hop music.
    • Create your beats and tracks online and download them for use in other programs.

Learn About Music Production

In addition to accessing free music creation and production tools online, you and your students can also take free, online courses to help you learn the craft of the music creation process. Here are a few resources to get you started. Of course, you can go beyond this list by searching YouTube, Vimeo, or other video sites for individual, user-uploaded tutorials and lessons.

  • Learning Music
    • Learn the basics of making music through resources sponsored by Ableton.
    • Work through a series of interactive lessons.
  • Learning Synths
    • Go through a series of interactive screens to learn how synthesizers work.
    • This site is also sponsored by Ableton.
  • Pro Audio Essentials
    • Learn recording and production concepts through this course.
    • Explore lessons on compression, equalization, and digital audio basics.
  • Soundfly
    • This site offers both free and paid courses.
    • Pick a focus by choosing one of three sections featured on the site: produce, write, or play.
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