Using OrchLab Soundmakers: Activities to try

images representing each of the soundmakers: circles is represented by a circular record, squares is represented by a square with a beamed quaver on it, percussion is represented by a timpani

OrchLab Soundmakers include three online instruments – Circles, Squares and Percussion – which you can play with the bottom row of a computer keyboard or by using a touch screen device. 

Overview

OrchLab Soundmakers work on both computers and devices with touch screen (e.g. tablet, mobile phone). You can use either touchscreen or a QWERTY keyboard to play the instruments. If you are using a QWERTY keyboard, all the Soundmakers are operated by using the keys on the bottom row, marked in red:

It’s probably best to get to know what they do just by experimenting with them – there isn’t a right or wrong! But below is information about how they work should you need it.

Circles and Squares

  • With Circles and Squares you can play both one note at a time or chords – up to five notes can be played at the same time.
  • The sound produced for Circles is quite mellow (like a string instrument), while the sound for Squares is a little more strident – a bit like a brass instrument.
  • Both of these Soundmakers react sensitively to how they are played.  You can hold down notes for a long time, making a long smooth melody, or you can tap them quickly for shorter sounds.
  • At the top of the screen are three drop down menus.
    • Key allows you to choose the key the music is playing in.  If you are on your own, you probably won’t need to change this, but if more than one person wants to play the instruments together on different devices, make sure they’re all set to the same key (the default is C).
    • Scale allows you to choose a selection of notes which can give different characters:
      • Pentatonic is a scale which is often found in folk music and uses five different pitches rather than the common seven. This is the default setting for scale.
      • Major can create a happy feel, using seven notes.
      • Minor can create a sad or serious feel using seven notes.
      • Major Blues and Minor Blues are both jazz scales.
    • Octave is for making a big change to the pitch of the Soundmaker (this means how low or high the sound is). 0 is the lowest and 3 is the highest. The default is 2.

Percussion

The Percussion Soundmaker includes eight different percussion sounds, represented graphically. They are:

A pair of clash cymbals: use the Z key*
A roll on a suspended cymbal: use the X key*
A single hit on a snare drum: use the C key
A drum roll on a snare drum: use the V key*
A tam-tam hit: use the B key*
A tap on a wood block: use the N key
A triangle hit: use the M key
A single tap on a drum: use the , key [comma]

*These sounds are longer – pressing the key once starts the sound and if the key is pressed again while the sound is playing, the sound will stop.

Ideas for using Soundmakers

There’s no right or wrong way to use the Soundmakers – they are on the website as a resource to be explored. 

Individuals: play some tunes

Here are some tunes from other activities on the OrchLab website. The letters below refer to keys on the QWERTY keyboard, not musical note names:

Dvořák – Largo from the New World Symphony (set the Key to C and the Scale to Major)

CBB –––––– CXZ –––––– XCBCX

CBB –––––– C XZ –––––– XCXZZ

You can find out more about this piece of music in our Listening Guide.

Hello Song (Set the Key to D and the Scale to Minor)

ZCB B –––––– BVCZ –––––– ZCBV –––––– BVCZ

CZCZCX –––––– CZCZCZ

You can play along with this video of OrchLab Workshop Leader John Webb singing and playing this song. Make sure to open the video in a new tab (you might have to turn the volume of the video down to hear the Soundmaker).

Alternatively, you could play along with the Hello Song on the Percussion Soundmaker, and play to the beat or add some rhythms, rather than playing the melody.

Try playing these melodies on Circles or Squares. Do you recognise them?

Set the Key to C and the Scale to Major:

ZXCVBNV –––––– VCXZZ

This one is the EastEnders theme tune!

Again, set the Key to C and the Scale to Major:

MNMB –––––– MBNM –––––– M NMB –––––– BNB –––––– MN B

This is Here Comes the Sun. You can find a Play and Sing video of this one here, so you could try playing along.

Individuals: creative ideas

Individuals might like to create their own melodies and chords on Squares and Circles – seeing which combinations of pitches they enjoy playing.  Sometimes using an image could be a good starting point:

Gentle Waves – Use Circles with the scale set to Pentatonic, and any Key or Octave you like:

Play all the keys starting on Z (or the bottom right if using a touchscreen device), moving from left across to right and back again – you can use one hand or both hands and as many fingers as you like.  Try and make the music smooth by holding down the notes and letting them overlap.   Play slowly for calm waves and quickly for energetic waves.

Walking Along – Use Squares with the scale set to Major, and any Key or Octave you like:

Choose two notes which you like. Play them steadily, alternating them and tapping each key for a very short amount of time. Keep going until you feel the music should change, and move to two different notes. When that feels like it should finish, return to the two original notes.

Entrance of the King/Queen! – Use Squares with the scale set to either Major or Minor, and any Key or Octave you like:

Find a combination of two or three notes you like – there’s no right or wrong! Keep your fingers in that shape and move it to the left or right along the keys. For instance:

Then move to…

Then move to…

If you play this in a Major key it sounds triumphant, if you play it in a Minor key it sounds serious and austere.  Experiment with the other settings and combinations of notes and see what you like best.

Playing together

If there is more than one device to use, you could set up Soundmakers on each of them so that two or three individuals could play together. Here are some starting points based on the ideas above:

Gentle Waves: One person creates the wave patterns as described above on Circles, someone else creates a melody over this on Squares.  A third person could add some sea-like Percussion sounds occasionally.

Walking Along: One person plays the footsteps idea above, another person makes up a new melody which goes along with it.

Entrance of the King/Queen!: One person develops the chord idea above, another person improvises a melody over the top.  A third person could add some impressive, regal percussion on the Percussion Soundmaker!

Remember, there’s no right or wrong when you play a Soundmaker – explore it and see what sounds you like!

Explore more:

OrchLab Soundmakers

You can watch videos of all three Soundmakers being demonstrated here: Using OrchLab Soundmakers: 1

Making Melodies