Valley Center students finding their digital music groove

11/22/2011 5:00 AM

11/22/2011 2:37 PM

Brittany Fitzpatrick loves music, but she’s never considered herself musically inclined.

“I love to listen to music, and I like singing all different types of music,” said Fitzpatrick, 16, a student at Valley Center High School. “But I don’t play an instrument or anything.”

Now she can play keyboard, drums, guitar, violin and more — all from a computer keyboard or touch-screen iPad.

Vocal music teacher Mike McCormick developed the school’s first-ever digital music class, called “Music, Media and Me,” as a way to help tech-savvy teens find their musical voices.

“Some of these kids are already established musicians and some can’t read a note,” McCormick said. “None of that matters because in here, you just start wherever you are.”

Besides the risers and the upright piano in the choir room, McCormick’s classrooms look more like computer labs than music rooms. A dozen new iMacs line the walls in one area. Twelve iPad2s jockey for charger space in another.

During class, students use Apple’s GarageBand program to compose, create, edit and record music. This week they worked in groups of three or four to learn and perform a Christmas song on iPads.

Eduardo Juanes, a 16-year-old exchange student from Mexico, played the melody of “Jingle Bells” on lead guitar while four classmates provided backup with iPad drums, bass and synthesizers.

The class is “a lot better than sitting around doing paperwork,” said Derrick Warden, 14.

Earlier this year, around Halloween, McCormick assigned each student to create a two-minute sound filler for a horror movie. They learned how to cut and paste samples of eerie sounds and edit them down to a precise two minutes.

Fitzpatrick’s creation included footsteps, squeaky doors, thunder, giggling children and her own voice, digitally altered to sound deep and maniacal, shouting, “Run, little girl, run!”

McCormick, who has taught music for 27 years, said he’s learning as much as the students. Maybe more.

“They sit down at a computer and know exactly what to do. It’s been part of their lives since they were born,” he said.

Even so, “these kids mainly use technology for Facebook and texting,” he said. “I wanted them to think creatively, to really push themselves.”

Freshmen Brooklyn Bosch and Kaylee Love worked recently on a mashup of songs from Justin Bieber’s new holiday album. McCormick said the assignment helped them learn about musical transitions and dynamic contrast.

Bosch and Love just thought it was fun.

“Both of us are obsessed with him (Bieber),” Bosch said, nodding her head in time with “Drummer Boy” as she worked on the file. “So we thought, what better way to do our Christmas project?”

The students will perform their digital holiday music during a “Breakfast with Santa” fundraiser at a local elementary school, McCormick said.

As the class develops, he envisions students creating movie trailers, working with local businesses to write jingles and serving as in-house DJs for a school dance.

“We have so many goals,” McCormick said. “We’re just at the tip of the iceberg.”

Experts say jobs in the field of sound and video editing are expected to increase 22 percent over the next decade, McCormick said. “It’s kind of amazing to think how far the students could take this.”

Auna Wilbur, a senior who sings and plays piano in her church’s worship band, said she was thrilled to learn her high school would offer a digital music class. But not just because she’s considering a career in music education.

“I play around with GarageBand at home all the time,” she said. “So I thought, ‘Hey, this is what I like to do at my house.’ … It doesn’t feel like school.”

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