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Song Maker

This lesson has two activities that show how different shapes of notes on a music staff make different sounds. In the first activity, students use Song Maker to draw different shapes on music staff and describe the sounds each one makes. Song Maker is an experiment in Google's Chrome Music Lab. In the second activity, students figure out the missing notes of simple tunes. Students don't need to know anything about music to do either activity, and each one takes about 45 minutes.

A special team within Google called Google Creative Lab created Chrome Music Lab. It works in the browser, so students don't need to download any software or sign in. It has 14 different experiments, including Voice Spinner, that let you play back a few seconds of recorded sound, change how fast it plays back, and even play it backwards. Spectrogram turns the sounds of different instruments or live music into a colorful heat map. With Rhythm, students can create their own percussion patterns. You can read about all 14 experiments here. There are also Google Music experiments outside of Chrome Music Lab. Some of the most fun are word-synth, paint with music, Blob Opera, and semi conductor.

Why this activity?

When students see how notes form a shape on a staff, it helps them understand that where the notes are placed affects how they sound. For example, the pitch goes up when you play a set of notes with a positive slope, but it goes down when you play a set of notes with a negative slope.

Finding the missing notes in simple songs is a good way to train your ear to hear notes and to learn how the placement of notes makes music. It also gives students practice testing , which is good not only for finding the right note but also for the engineering design process and the scientific process.


If you give students a few minutes to try out Song Maker, you'll find that they quickly figure out how to use it. Songmaker is made to be easy to use and interactive, and you don't need to know anything about music to use it. Tell them to play around with the instruments, the tempo, and the settings. Before starting the first activity, they should reset Song Maker to its initial settings. They could do this by reloading the page or restarting Songmaker.

In the Shape activity, students will use the notes in Song Maker to make a shape and then describe the sound it makes. Students can add drawings to the worksheet by clicking in a box, going to Insert → Drawing → New, and then using the drawing tool in Google Docs. A better solution is to have them take a screenshot of their Songmaker drawing and put it in the cell. This activity works best if kids can use a computer with a touch screen.

I found that most of the students' descriptions of the sounds were bland, so I added a word bank of sound words to the worksheet. Depending on the level of the student, you might find more appropriate word banks or have the class make their own. You can also have them compare the sound to something else. After the activity, it would be good for students to talk about how they described each sound.

In the activity "Finish that Tune!," students are given a simple melody in Song Maker and have to find the missing notes. It would be a good idea for the whole class to do the first song "Mary Had a Little Lamb," together. If you have trouble picking out the notes, don't worry. The full tune is on the teacher's version of this worksheet. To show how to find the missing note, switch back and forth between playing the full tune and the tune with the missing notes.

Students who played an instrument were better at figuring out the meaning of songs than those who didn't. Still, no student completed the whole worksheet. In a 45-minute class, students who didn't play an instrument usually finished two or three songs. Some of the students thought of the idea of working in pairs. They would play the whole tune on one computer and the unfinished tune on another computer at the same time to figure out which notes were missing.


Songmaker Slideshow

Experiment with Shapes worksheet

Finish that Tune! worksheet


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