Today I was lucky enough to be taking part in a SonicPi workshop at the National Museum of Computing who have spent a very busy summer providing a range of activities for local children. The workshop was specifically aimed at 10 – 13 year old girls and aimed to get them to be creative whilst using a Pi (and programming). We had 7 girls attend and only one who had done any type of programming before.
Having not had any prior experience with the Sonic Pi software I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of complexity and output but I was pleasantly surprised. The session started with Carrie Anne Philbin demonstrating how to play a note in the SonicPi editor using the language Ruby. The command ‘play 60’ is all that was needed (if you’re interested 60 is the midi note number). After this she shows them ‘play 60 play 62’ and we compile to see what happens. You don’t hear two notes. Why? They’re playing at the same time – what musical device do we need to use to put a space in between? Pause? In this case ‘Sleep’. From here they were off.
With my teacher’s head on what amazed me was the progression that you saw in such a short space of time. As is expected in this situation a group of children start trying to find the range of notes possible, whilst others tried to compile a recognisable tune. After a while Carrie Anne showed the children the notes necessary for Twinkle Twinkle. They then used their now developed sense of the syntax to code the notes to be played in the correct order with pauses. From here they repeated sections and created the well-known tune.
From here the children went off in different directions – some worked on loops to allow them to repeat lines of code, some used random notes to create an individual piece of music each time. Others were using threads to allow them to play several notes at once. These are all quite complex programming concepts, however, when using them to create music they seemed almost instinctual.
Over the hour and a half session the children achieved a great deal and we finished the session by playing each piece of music they had create. I can’t wait to try this in a classroom!