BY KEVIN HODGSON

I’m convinced there’s a songwriter in everyone, if only we could lower the hurdles for creating the music to go with our songs. Not everyone has the dedication to put in years of practice to learn an instrument well enough to write a song on it. But what if we could lower that hurdle a bit? JamStudio is one such site that makes the song composition easier by allowing users to choose an instrument loop, plug in basic chord changes, and listen to what they have created — all within seconds.

While a rudimentary knowledge of music theory is helpful, it is not necessary for making songs at Jamstudio, which has a free (with ads) version that doesn’t require any login information (which is ideal for students); a registered-user account that allows you to save music for later and gain access to more instruments; and also, a paid, premium version that gives users many more options, such as saving songs to a mixed-down mp3 audio format for download, and the use of a wider range of musical instruments.

The site works on the premise of choice — you choose instruments that you want to use in a song; you choose various “moods” of those instruments (one drum list runs from ‘bouncy ball” to “silk” to “trot”; you choose the key and either 3/4 or 4/4 time; and then layer in your virtual band to create a song. All of this is done rather intuitively by clicking on boxes. The sound quality is surprisingly good.

Use in the classroom

JamStudio recently announced it will provide a limited number of educational grants for classrooms, which would allow students an “All Access” premium pass to the site (worth about $10 per student, per month). This is a great deal, and JamStudio offers an interesting way to get students writing with a musical influence. I applied for the grant, and within minutes, I had an email confirmation, with a code to set up a classroom of up to 200 students on the site (which I will be doing).

If my past experience is any indication, the integration of music composition with writing can be a fun and engaging way to get students writing. A teacher could use Audacity or some recording platform to mix the audio files created on JamStudio with student voices to create a class CD of original songs. Even if you are not a music teacher, JamStudio makes it easy to teach the concepts of theme and variation, of verse-chorus-verse structure of most pop music, and encourage even non-musicians to take a chance and make a song.

JamStudio

Video tutorials on using JamStudio

Music in the Writing Classroom

In You” — a song I composed on JamStudio for my son

Related stuff:

Math and music collide

Karaoke to learn English? I thought it was Japanese?

Play it by ear: TrainEar.com

Learn Music Theory Solo or in an Ensemble at MusicTheory.net