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Making Music With Found Sounds

If you read the work of music critics and their opinions, there is a good chance that you may have come across rants against the merits of certain genres such as hip-hop and electronic dance music, which heavily rely on sampling, compared to the more traditional composing and performance heard in genres such as classical, rock, jazz, salsa, and many others. The arguments, which are indefensible, are often made along the lines of “all EDM artists do is sample other songs to make new ones. They do not know what is like to play instruments and compose original music; therefore, they are not creating real music.”

When you come across statements such as the one mentioned above, your best bet is to ignore them. Musicians who respect others for the art they create will be the first to tell you the following:

  • Sampling has been around a lot longer than EDM and hip-hop.
  • Quite a few musicians work with “found sounds” in order to create original compositions.
  • Crafting new sounds, beats, and melodies from synthesizers and sequencers is similar to playing instruments.
  • The future of music is electronic, and sampling is not going away.

At Prodigies Music, we believe that children of the 21st century should receive a well-rounded education that encompasses music theory, active listening, performance, traditional instruments, found sounds, and digital music composition. American producer Craig Leon worked with Blondie, the Ramones, Suicide, and the Talking Heads before switching to classical music composition featuring synthesizers along with traditional orchestral instruments; he firmly believes that Johann Sebastian Bach would have written pieces for the Moog and the Hammond organ had he been born in the 20th century. We could something similar in relation to Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky and his 1812 Overture, which features passages of the French national anthem, cathedral bells, and even cannon fire. It is not hard to imagine that Tchaikovsky would have worked with sequencers to manage samples had he been born a century later.

Working With Found Sounds

Musicians have always been inspired by the sounds around them, particularly the sounds of Nature. Humans have always been fascinated by birdsong and canine howling, and these sounds are believed to have prompted the creation of wind instruments such as flutes. We associate Rimsky-Korsakov’s epic Flight of the Bumblebee with bees because this musical composition was in fact inspired by the melodic buzzing of these flying insects. We can say the same about Rossini’s William Tell Overture, which sounds like majestic horse galloping.

Technically speaking, found sounds are not musical, but this definition is gradually adjusting to the times. Underground hip-hop producers, who scour second-hand vinyl shops for exotic records they can extract samples from, are essentially working with found sounds. You can argue all you want abnout musical samples being already created and therefore not found, but this line of thought is as indefensible as the music critics who think less of EDM artists because they do not play analog instruments. These critics will not hesitate to put British psychedelic group Pink Floyd in the annals of classic rock, but they will not mention that the driving beat of Money, a hit single from the 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon, is a sampled cash register ringing up a sale.

A few decades ago, found sounds were mostly in the purview of avant-garde composers. The genre known as musique concrete, which emerged in the wake of World War II, was all about found sounds, both musical and non-musical. Later, Jamaican dub artists gave birth to what we know as remixing these days, but visionaries such as Lee Scratch Perry actually created entire new songs using accidental sound effects from analog recording equipment. When American funk drummer Bernard Purdie was a child growing up in Maryland, he was mesmerized by the percussive sounds emanating from industrial districts and passing trains; he would later transform these found sounds into beats such as the infectious soul rhythm in the 1973 Melvin Bliss song Synthetic Substitution, which in turn has been sampled dozens of times by hip-hop artists.

Found Sound Exercises for Children

Even though found sounds tend to be more fun when they are obtained from non-musical sources, young music learners should not be discouraged from working with recorded music samples. There is a clear difference between the two; the whole act of identifying a non-musical found sound, recording it, converting into a digital format, and working it into a song is more involved than simply isolating a music sample, but the creative process is rich enough in both instances.

Parents who are homeschooling their children should encourage theme to think of all the household objects that make sounds or noises, and which in turn can be recorded and fed into synthesizers, sequencers, mixers, and audio editing apps. There are two kinds of found sounds that can be obtained: accidental and incidental. The sounds made by a creaking door as it swings open are accidental; a beat drummed by a child using spoons and a counter surface are incidental sounds.

Found sounds, whether they are accidental or incidental, are meant to be recorded. The devices that can be used to this effect can be microphones, smartphones, or tablets. The most ideal and compact solution would be a synthesizer; a few that are recommended for children include:

It does not matter if the synth you choose is the instrument itself or a mobile app, although there is a cognitive advantage to physical equipment because of the tactile reward children get from pushing buttons and turning knobs. If the synth has a keyboard, the lesson can be greatly augmented. There is a chance that your child may end up falling in love with the synth, and it may end up replacing the instrument he or she prefers; in and of itself, this is wonderful, and parents should not fret about it. There is no telling if a child who is learning to play piano will later decide that the harmonica is more her style. Synths have been around since the 20th century, and they are just one of various modern instruments.

When working with synths and audio editing software, children simultaneously learn composition and recording techniques. It is up to parents to review the manual in order to teach children the basic functionality of recording, capturing, converting sounds, labeling samples, and editing them. A good approach is to always work with at least three samples at once; doing a single sample does not expand creativity as much. The choice of how the sample should sound once it goes through filters, envelopes, and effects is up to the children.

After the young composer is happy with how the sample sound, parents should offer suggestions on the backing beat or rhythm track, but the idea is to let children play around with all the available choices and their tempos. Starting out with the bass drum is always recommended. All synths offer predetermined samples, fills, and effects that children can add at will. While it is important for children to get the most out of their physical or digital instruments, parents should also take advantage of this lesson to point out some of the elements children should have already learned at this point. Music theory principles such as notes, measures, time signatures, tempo, and pitch can be reinforced when working with found sounds.

The Bottom Line of Working With Found Sounds

Creating music on digital composition platforms such as synthesizers is a lot like a hands-on workshop or music lab. Some children may decide that music production or record engineering is their calling in life, and this could be an excellent way to let them develop their passion. Not all children will grow up to be concert violin players, but this does not matter because the real goal should always be to let them fall in love in with music.

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