Jul 23 2007

Bringing Stories to Life

High school students use sound effects to heighten the power of the spoken word.

High school students use sound effects to heighten the power of the spoken word.

Weaving writing assignments into music class is as easy as do-re-mi. At Torrington High School in Torrington, Conn., most students enthusiastically pen their compositions because they know they will not only record their words, but use music and sound effects to enhance their projects.

Lesson description: Students re-create a short story using sound effects and music. They review their stories and make a list of words and/or phrases they want to enhance with sound effects. Students have the option of using sound effects from a class network folder, searching the Internet or creating them in the music lab. The purpose of the music is to enhance the mood of the story and not overpower. Students layer the sound effects and music into audio-sequencing software. The final projects are rendered as an MP3 audio file and saved on a CD. Projects may then be uploaded to your school’s Web site as completed podcast assignments.

Subject area: This lesson is for a high school music technology class but may be used for any grade level with modification. You will need audio-sequencing software or loop-based creation software, such as ACID Pro or GarageBand. Other necessary equipment includes MIDI/audio keyboards for creating music. Internet access is optional.

Curriculum Standards: This lesson includes standards from the Technology Institute for Music Educators at www.ti-me.org and from the National Standards for Music Education at www.menc.org/publication/books/standards.htm:

  • Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines.
  • Listening to, analyzing and describing music.
  • Understanding relationships between music, other arts and disciplines outside the arts.

Resources: Search engines are helpful to allow students to search for stories, if the students do not write their own. Horror and science fiction stories tend to work best. Students may refer to Google.com, the school library and English teachers for direction on appropriate stories. Students will also need Internet-connected computers equipped with Microsoft Word, ACID Pro or GarageBand. Use a plug-and-play USB microphone.

Grading Rubric: Grades are based on how well students’ stories are communicated using sound effects and music. Students work on their own to create one- to two-minute files that show volume and pan envelope changes, and edit at least two loops using the chopper function in ACID for completion of the assignment. Students can use the same story if desired because each will have a different thought process in creating the music.

Teaching Tips

  • Depending on the grade level, teachers may want to limit the criteria by selecting the story and sound effects for students.
  • Sound effects may be found on the Internet or by purchasing sound-effect CDs.
  • Upper grade levels may combine this assignment with English classes to create interdisciplinary learning opportunities.
  • Ask each student to play his or her file, while the rest of the class writes down what they think is happening in the story. The short stories should be about four- to six-paragraphs long, and can be edited.
  • The music files tend to be one- to two-minutes long with none running more than four minutes.