Students study the science of sound at North Lake
New Music Tech class hopes to bridge gap between science and art
Seventh- and eighth-graders at North Lake School tap out an E-flat major scale on Monday afternoon, working on digital keyboards in the district's recently created STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) lab.
First-year teacher Kristi Neumann just started a new unit, "Keys and Melodies," in the school's Music Technology course. This is the first year the school has offered the class, which explores music production and sound engineering. Superintendent Pete Hirt said the idea for it came from Neumann when she was interviewing for a position as choir teacher.
"We were talking about different programs for students, and the STEM program, and she spoke of her experiences in college, about her computer programs and how that developed her interest in music," Hirt said.
Neumann, a Pewaukee native, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2011 with a bachelor's in music and a minor in music composition and sound design.
"I grew up in a house of music," Neumann explained. Her dad is a musician and her dad's cousin is Kurt Neumann, lead singer and guitarist for the BoDeans.
She said she did not expect to get into teaching (her dream was to write music for a video game company), but said she liked the idea of sharing her passion with children.
The curriculum for the Music Technology class is partly based on technology classes she took at UW-Whitewater, she explained.
"[Students] kind of get to pull apart the music, instead of having it thrown at them," she said.
Unlike band and choir, Music Technology is not a performance-driven class. Instead, students use digital keyboards and the software program Audacity to dissect music, learning about pitch, rhythm, harmony, keys and melody.
"The program is about showing kids that sound is waves," Neumann said. "In the beginning of class, they didn't really understand what sound was. At that age, it is kind of a crazy thing."
Neumann said that earlier in the school year, students created ringtones for their phones and have used sound clips to create "backgrounds" for different pictures.
Hirt said the program makes sense for the district, which, like many in the area, has worked toward introducing technology to every classroom.
"Technology integration. I have probably said it 50 times, but that is what gets kids interested," Hirt said.
Students are already experimenting at home with recording, Hirt said, and this class offers them the opportunity to learn more about the science of sound.
The school is still working out the kinks in the technology. Neumann said that the music software can be glitchy, and several students complained during class that the sound was not working properly or the program would not run.
"Talking to [students], when the program works, they are really thrilled with it, but that is life," Hirt said. "Part of life is dealing with some of those setbacks."
Jack Bohnsack, 13, said he has played trumpet for about three years, and the class has helped him in learning how to read music, which is difficult to do for a trumpeter focused intently on just breathing.
Neumann said that she would like to partner with Arrowhead High School in the future to develop a feeder music program, similar to efforts underway to create a K-12 STEM program. She said she also hopes to have students begin recording music.
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