Sonic Pi session with PGCE music students & Sonic Pi at the Library

Research Session with PGCE Music Students – report by Mick Chesterman

After a warm up and an activity involving a broken version of Happy Birthday and finding out what music is for “Five minutes or Forever”, we launched into an exploration of Sonic Pi. The two main aims of this part of the session were:

  • introduce the concepts of tinkering in the area of creative digital media making
  • explore the possibilities of Sonic Pi as a tinkering, exploratory tool

Rather than giving an introduction and demo I asked them to start up the program and play around with an aim to create something, perhaps starting with Happy Birthday if no other inspiration came.

There was a wide range of different levels of experimentation and approaches to the tasks. Some of the recorded feedback during and at the end of the session included the following key ideas and  quotes. [quotes to come]

What is Sonic Pi?

Sonic pi is a way to make digital music by writing lines of computer code. It is a free piece of software available for download at their website.


It comes with help as part of the programme and other resources are available here-

Key Learning Points

In a nutshell:

  • some students are happier working in a more exploratory, self discovery way than others
  • one minimal intervention is to make sure all students are able to make a noise before a group exploring session to prevent them getting blocked
  • midi / line notation would be a good way to explore making melodies and transcribing them from a written format to one using code

Sonic Pi at the Library

Based on activities and feedback from the PGCE group the following activities and worksheets were created:

Part One – working with beats

To get started so that we can make fun noises without going into too much theory we went from a game to making a simple beat. First up we did the camp – call and response song called Boom Chikka Boom. Here are the lyrics.

This is “repeat after me” song. Just repeat the lines after the leader shouts them. There are many different “styles” this song can be sung in, so don’t limit yourself to the ones given below!

  • I Said A Boom! (repeat)
  • I Said A Boom Chica Boom! (repeat)
  • I Said A Boom Chica Rocka Chica Rocka Chica Boom! (repeat)
  • U-HUH (repeat)
  • OH-YEA (repeat)
  • One More Time Baby Style (repeat the whole song sounding like a baby)

There are other Styles to say the normal lyrics rather than making up other words:
Grandpa style – with lips wrapped over teeth, Frankenstein style, Opera Singer, Underwater – wiggle finger over lips,

Ordering the Beats

The next step was to give out some worksheet that had been cut up into strips. The task was to put them in the right order.

It was explained that each beat needs a sleep sheet in between it or they all happen at once. So participants tried to work out if it was a big gap / sleep between beats or a small one.

Boomchicka and sleeps sheets are linked here for download you can edit them in open office software.

Part Two – bringing in melodies

It was great to be able to use the resources of the Music section of the Central Library to introduce how music is written down. We grabbed one of the pianos and started to look through all the surrounding sheet music. One of the young participants amazed us with his rendition of Hall of the Mountain King.

We found the middle C key on the keyboard and some other notes as well. It was fun to use the keyboard and all the sheet music around us to introduce the simple concepts of musical notation.

I explained we could use a way of working called line notation (midi) that the PGCE music students introduce. I gave out the sheets with Jingle Bells as music notation and we tried to play it on the piano.

Then it was back to the computers to play around with melodies and try to transcribe Jingle Bells.

Part Three – Mashing up and encouraging exploration

The next part of the workshop was much less structured and involved working with where the young people wanted to take their coding and musical experiments.

Some were very happy to keep going with the job of transcribing the melody. For them it was a good exercise in accuracy and attention to detail.

Some wanted something else. For those we introduced a new sheet with other experimental sounds which they integrated into their beats or melodies.

Others were interested in bringing together the melodies and the beats for those we introduced the ideas of working in threads to have more than one stream of noises happening at once.

Quotes from participants

What was the biggest change in the workshop?

For us it was when Finn got the hang of what we were doing and started to make up his own sounds and compositions. Real eureka moment.

 Other Resources