Lesson One

Lesson One - Introducing Electronic Music

Strand: Listening and Responding
Strand Units: Exploring Sound, Listening and responding to music
Curriculum Objectives:

  • distinguish and describe tone colours heard in a piece of music
  • explore how the tone colours of instruments can suggest various sounds and sound pictures
  • examine the effects produced by different instruments
  • distinguish the main instrument heard in a piece of music

Linkage: Composing - Talking about compositions Concept Development: timbre, texture Additional Skills: Developing an awareness of modern Irish music and its composers; Developing an awareness of the use of technology in music; Distinguishing instruments from electronics

Whizz-Zoom-Boing: 10 min

This is a concentration game for the whole class, standing in a circle.
  • Each person in the circle says "whizz" one after another. Watch the sound go around the circle. Move your body with it each time it whizzes past you. How fast can you send it around?
  • Play again using the word "zoom" and send it in the opposite direction.
  • Play again but this time, if you hold up your hand and say "boing", the sound bounces off you and travels back around the circle in the opposite direction. Each person can only say "boing" once each time you play.
  • Leave out "boing" for a moment and try this: can you send a "whizz" in one direction and a "zoom" in the other at the same time? Watch out for where the sounds meet in the middle!
  • Okay, if everyone is still following the game, add the "boing" back in and see how long you last!

Think... 5 min

What does a "Com-Poser" do? Where do we get the phrase "electronic" music? Does anyone know the opposite of "electronic"? How is electronic music played? How is it listened to?

Talking and Listening 25 min

Now some listening; ask the students to describe each of the following clips in their own words. Let's look at some of the ways composers use electronics:

  1. To create music that might be extremely difficult for a human to perform.
    Listen to some of Conlon Nancarrow's 'Studies for Player Piano' here.
    Why do you think he used a mechanical piano instead of a real one?
  2. To create particular sounds that an instrument can't make on its own.Listen to an excerpt from Ed Bennett's 'Monster' below.

  3. To provide a background to a performer.
    Listen to an excerpt from Linda Buckley's 'Do You Remember the Planets?' below.

  4. Can you hear the viola part stick out from the electronic sounds around it? It might help to listen to the electronic sounds on their own below.

  5. To interact with the performer as an equal partner.
  6. Listen to an excerpt from Donnacha Dennehy's 'BrAt' below. Quick Game: Listen again. Half the class raise your hand whenever you hear the recorder playing and the other half raise your hand whenever you hear the tape part.

  7. To layer recordings of many human performers at once.
    Listen to an excerpt from Judith Ring's 'PanoVal' below. 
  8. How many instruments can you hear? What special effects are being used?
    Sometimes you can find such great sounds around you that you don't need to use any computer effects at all!

There is one more important way that musicians work with electronics which you'll discover later...

Lesson One: Supplementary Notes

Warm Up

Warm-ups can always help to make students more energetic and less self-conscious before doing other activities. Whizz-Zoom-Boing is a useful game to play at anytime. It helps to break the ice and create some laughter while also focussing the children's attention on a group challenge.


These questions should help to get the children talking and thinking about music. "Com-Position" is literally about "putting" sounds "together". This is what a composer does. The word "electronic" of course refers to the electricity used to make the music. The opposite of this is "acoustic" music, which is made using instruments and voices. Electronic music can be played on a computer, a CD player or any device that uses electricity. It is generally heard through speakers or headphones. It is often referred to as "tape music" because it was originally made in the 1950s using reels of tape, like you would find inside a cassette.

Talking and Listening

During this exercise you can use a blackboard, or a large sheet of paper, to keep a list of the students' descriptions of the music. This list will be useful later on the in the course. It will also help the students as they develop their own vocabulary for communicating their thoughts and ideas about the music.

  1. Conlon Nancarrow composed some fifty Studies for Player Piano, each one made up of many different lines of music all moving at different speeds! He programmed these 'Player Pianos' to play this music because no one human could ever play them!
  2. The bass clarinet is a large, deep instrument that reaches nearly all the way down to the ground when you stand up to play it. It can make a very mellow and smooth sound or it can shriek and growl, like a beast, which is why Ed Bennett chose to call this piece Monster. You can hear the tape part five times in this excerpt, usually when the clarinet is already playing. It sounds a bit like the clarinet being played backwards!
  3. 'Do You Remember the Planets?' is written for viola and tape. The viola player plays solo, but Linda Buckley has created such grand, full sounds in the tape part that it can seem like there are many musicians all playing together in some huge hall. One 5th class student thought this music sounded like one lone soldier returning home after a futuristic war had ended and all the landscape had been destroyed!
  4. In 'BrAt', you might notice how sometimes you hear one part, then the other, or both. Neither one is more important in the music than the other. The computer is just another instrument!
  5. There is only one instrument being used in this recording and there are no special effects. It is simply a violin that has been recorded several times, with the real violin playing along live!

Music Notes

Ed Bennett was born in Co. Down. His music is played all over the world and it has won numerous awards. Ed Bennett is represented by the CMC. You can listen to some more of Ed's music here.

Linda Buckley was born in Co. Cork. She writes a lot of music for acoustic instruments and electronics and it is played all over the world. She also teaches music in Trinity College Dublin. Linda Buckley is represented by the CMC. You can hear more of Linda's music here.

'BrAt' stands for "Bass Recorder and Tape". Donnacha Dennehy also has pieces for piano and tape ('pAt'), and flute and tape ('fAt')! Donnacha Dennehy was born in Dublin and he is one of Ireland's most famous modern composers, at home or abroad! Donnacha Dennehy is represented by the CMC. You can hear some more of his music here.

Judith Ring is an international award-winning electronic composer, but she almost never uses special effects in her music! All the sounds she uses in pieces like PanoVal are recorded straight from the instruments and then combined in different ways. Judith Ring is represented by the CMC. You can hear more of Judith's music here.