Where will the next Susan Boyle or Leona Lewis come from? Well, with another great application developed by Microsoft Research (the other being AutoCollage – available for free onthumbnail the Innovative Teachers Network) it could be from any one of your future lessons! As a primary school teacher, I had to teach all national curriculum subjects, and that included music. Now, you may be surprised to learn that although coming from the ‘land of song’, I have not been blessed with the Welsh innate ability to sing (only good looks and a passion for rugby). I'm afraid this did not make planning a simple task for me. I solved this by using a variety of strategies, including commercial schemes, pupils supporting pupils and a number of ICT tools. This approach was good enough, and one of my classes even produced their own CD of tunes.

I think it would have been a lot easier if I had Songmith, an inexpensive piece of software from Microsoft Research that automatically generates musical accompaniment to match a singer’s voice. If I were still teaching, I would use this in a music lesson, allowing pupils to write their own lyrics to a well-known tune and then record themselves singing the lyrics into Songsmith. Songsmith will add the percussion and melody, allowing pupils to very quickly produce their own songs, which can then be used as an MP3 file or as soundtrack to videos, for example.

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The interface is really simple, you are able to chose from a variety of choices including music style. The only setting that needs to be decided before recording is the tempo. Recording only requires a microphone and is started by clicking the red button. The application counts you in, and chords and percussion are added as you sing. Pressing the stop button completes the recording. Every aspect of the song can be changed and adjusted apart from the tempo. When the song is finished it can be saved as an MP3 file.

I think Songsmith, whilst it should never replace the use of real instruments, certainly has a place in the music curriculum of primary and secondary schools, although music ‘purists’ may disagree, but I would welcome your thoughts and comments.

I think Songsmith provides an ideal opportunity to utilise the learning power of music and support auditory and kinaesthetic learners in all areas of the curriculum. It could be used in a ‘John Davitt style event - Do the properties of a triangle as a blues song’ . Used, for example, at the end of a lesson, it would be a great way to get pupils to recall the main learning objectives of a lesson. Having the class sing the lesson outcomes to a song of their choice and recording it in Songsmith. This is a real fun way to recap a lesson. The finished song could even be made available for students to download.

Kristen and I have been experimenting with Songsmith and have shared number of ideas with teachers and the  response has been very positive. You can download a trial version of Songsmith, available here. This has six hours total use, which is more than enough to develop some ideas and record songs for the rest of the term.