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Setting Text to Music

Subject: Music, English Language Arts

Grade Level: 9-12

Materials: For this project you can use GarageBand or Audacity software to set text or poetry to music. GarageBand is available on Apple computers, and Audacity can be downloaded for free from the Internet. MIDI keyboards are optional. GarageBand comes free with a Mac. Audacity works with both Macs and PCs. Microsoft Word or any type of word processing application can be used to generate text. A microphone and headphones are needed to record.

About: Students create original music compositions and incorporate original text.

The culminating project for the class is creating an album of original love songs. In pairs, the students write lyrics and compose songs to match.

The students research the conventions of writing poetry and learn about form in music from online resources. When they create the songs, they use contemporary software and multitrack recording techniques.

This project can be altered to set any type of text, either student-generated or selected from a work studied in class. Text generated using Song Form (with alternating verses and chorus), Narratives, and Poetry work well. Audacity works with both Macs and PCs. It is similar to GarageBand but does not have a loop browser. This can be overcome by searching on the Internet for royalty-free sound samples. You can download samples to your computer and then select “Project” and “Import Audio”. One bonus of the Audacity program is that it has fun effects. To use them, highlight the recording you want processed, and choose from the menu labeled “Effects." Then select “File” and “Export as MP3” to create an MP3 file that can be used in a podcast, iPod, or emailed. Selecting “File” and “Export as WAV” will produce a higher quality recording that can be burned onto an audio CD.


Students compose original lyrics that use the conventions of poetry.
Students create original music that reflects the mood and theme of a text using a common musical form (such as song form, ternary, or rondo).
Students create original music using multitrack recording techniques with contemporary software.
Students publish their work in two popular formats. They burn their song as an AIF file on a CD, and create an MP3.

This is the link to my Electronic Music Composition class page. Check the "resources" section for extra ideas.
This site contains examples of common musical forms such as binary, ternary, and rondo forms. It has excellent listening examples with visual aids that allow the students to follow along.
This contains lyrics, listening examples, and the history of the song "Eleanor Rigby" by the Beatles. This is an excellent example of song form.
This link explains common poetry forms and literary techniques.

Students demonstrate an understanding of the rules of the English language in written and oral work.
English Language Arts
Students use poetry or lyrics created in the classroom to develop musical compositions.

Day 1: Form in Poetry
Students understand common uses of poetry techniques and common poetry forms.
Computers with Internet access and word processing application
Students review common poetry techniques and forms. 1. Have them research online three common poetry forms that they think will be well suited to set to music. 2. Research common techniques that these forms utilize (end rhyme, accent, etc.).
Students create a short report with three common forms and three common poetry techniques. Since this is for the high school grade level, this short exercise is meant to be a review.
Review the reports from the students. Encourage them to share with the class. Observe their presentations.

Day 2: Using Form and Common Techniques to Generate Poetry/Lyrics
Students create a few lines of poetry in a chosen form.
Students use common techniques of poetry to generate original poetry.
The reports from yesterday.
Pen and pencil, or this can be done on a computer.
Have students review their reports from yesterday.
Have them pick a form in which they are interested in writing.
Have them use common techniques of poetry (as researched previously) to compose a few lines in their chosen form.
Encourage them to share their writing.
Complete a short poem by tomorrow.
Make sure the students are applying the form and conventions of poetry.

Day 3: Common Musical Forms
Students explain the differences and similarities among the following common musical forms: binary, ternary, rondo, and song form.
Computer with Internet access
Students follow the links above to research the differences among binary, ternary, and rondo forms, and listen to examples of each.
Students diagram and explain the differences among binary (AB), ternary (ABA), and rondo (ABACABA) forms.
Students follow the link to the "Eleanor Rigby" site and listen to the song while following along with the lyrics. Have them diagram the song (it is in song form).
Students decide which common musical form would best fit their poetry.
Check the student's song diagrams to see if the forms are digramed correctly.

Day 4: Composing Music for Text
Students make musical decisions regarding mood, tempo, form of the text, and musical form.
Computer with multitrack recording software such as GarageBand or Audacity
For homework, students choose a common musical form for their poetry. Today they begin to make musical decisions regarding tempo and mood. They can brainstorm by jotting down a few sentences. Have them evaluate their poem regarding these categories: 1. Mood: The mood of the text will influence which type of musical sounds accompany it. Which type of musical mood does your text promote? 2. Tempo: The speed of the music is also influenced by the mood. Setting a tempo at the beginning of the song is important in the recording process, so you should decide approximately how fast or slow your song should be. Hint: if it is sad, you may not want a fast tempo, and vice versa.
Set the tempo in GarageBand. Set your tempo first by adjusting the slider next to the blue display in the center of the window. The tempo should reflect the speed of the spoken text. All music from the loop browser will adjust to the tempo that you initially set, so it is very important that you do this.
Begin to find sound samples that match your mood. If you are using GarageBand, use the loop browser. The loop browser is the eyeball button at the bottom left. It is an excellent resource for finding prerecroded sounds to accompany text. Just click and drag the sound recordings up to the gray arrange area and place them where needed. If you are using Audacity, students can search for royalty-free sound samples online and incorporate them into their song.
Ask each student to describe how their selected sound samples fit the mood of their text.

Day 5: Recording Spoken Word
Students record their voices into their song on the computer.
Students learn to check levels.
Students unite poetry with a common musical form.
Students create MP3 and AIF files.
Computer with multitrack recording software, a microphone (built into some computers), and headphones
Show students how to record into the computer. In GarageBand, click the + button on the bottom left. Select “Real Instrument." Choose any effects that you wish to apply. Click the round red button to record.
Show students how to check levels. Have the student speak into the microphone. If the level meter turns red, then the signal is too loud. You will need to turn the volume slider down on the newly created track. This will help prevent distortion due to clipping; which happens when the sound signal is too strong.
Have the students record their spoken word (they can also sing) into the computer with their songs. It helps to wear headphones, so the speaker/singer can hear the tempo of the music.
Sharing Digitally from GaraageBand: To export your work after saving it, select “Share” and “Send to iTunes”. From iTunes you can convert it to an MP3 file (using the advanced menu), and share it via email or iPod. You can also burn a CD from iTunes. Sharing Digitally from Audacity: When finished, select “File” and “Export as MP3” to create an MP3 file that can be used in a podcast, iPod, or emailed. Selecting “File” and “Export as WAV” will produce a higher quality recording that can be burned onto an audio CD.
As the students are recording their voices to their sound samples, make sure that they are actually using the form they identified in previous lessons. There are rubrics associated with this project on my class website located in the "resources" section. See the links from above.


Eva Egolf


L.D. Brandeis High School
145 W. 84th
New York, NY 10027

Eva J. Egolf currently teaches Music Technology, Concert Band, Class Piano, and General Music at L.D. Brandeis High School in New York, NY. Her passion is teaching music composition through technology. She created the Music Technology curriculum and aided in the development of the Music Composition Lab at L.D. Brandeis High School. Mrs. Egolf is a music professional development facilitator for the New York City Department of Education. She majored in Classical Saxophone Performance and minored in English and Technical Writing at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. She also holds a Master of Arts in Teaching from Lehman College and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Music Education from NYU.


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