Need advice: Teaching electronic music / Renoise to elementary school kids

Hi everyone,

My child’s elementary school was looking for some adults to volunteer to teach classes on specialized topics after school. I don’t know too many skills that would interest young kids, but my wife convinced me that they might be interested in learning how to make music on a computer. So, I signed up, and will likely be teaching a class on this in March.

It will be a single class, running for just an hour. The kids will probably be around ages 9-12.

Does it matter if I’m not really familiar with the more popular DAWs? I’ve only ever used tracker-style interfaces and never felt much of a desire to move beyond those, so I’m unfamiliar with piano-roll style interfaces and such. I also have limited experience with synthesizers - I understand how they work at a basic level, but I mostly use sample-based instruments.

Here’s the rundown of what I’m thinking the structure of the lesson will be:

  1. The basics of how computers make music (the basic waveforms, ADSR envelopes, etc, differences between synths, samples, and directly recording instruments/vocals)
  2. How to write the music itself (difference between a musical staff and a track in Renoise, how to enter notes with a keyboard)
  3. Compose a very basic song (establish a beat, have the kids come up and help create patterns)

Since trackers aren’t as popular as piano roll DAWs, would it be worth it talk about them? Are there any free music programs that kids of that age might enjoy?


I think kids in that age should first learn about rythm/note/chords and scales and how they connect on a piano/keyboard and then start learning a daw of any kind.


some questions:
Are they familiar with the music theory? are we talking about ordinary ‘elementary’ or music school?
Are you familiar with working with kids? do you have teaching experience?
What are your goals of this class?
How much time do you have (for example: per-week)?
Are they familiar with computers in-general?

9-12 age for my understandings is a bit too much for these topics, i see them as very complex. Kids don’t even learn music theory at that age, expecting from them to figure out tracker-style sequencing, with music theory, envelopes etc would be too much from my point of view (music pedagogy) + add tracker realm

maybe try simple concepts, include some ready-sounds so they can get either get familiar with the method of making music in general, or just some parts of it… i think this is too much of a topic for them to comprehend.

Please note that it is my personal opinion, do not take it for granted

scenario of mine:
(teacher:) And this is how we enter notes
(kid): what are notes?
(teacher): explain that in 5-10 minutes
(teacher):…well, you could just enter chords as well
(kid): what are chords?
(teacher): few minutes for that?
(kid): neeeeext question
#the class is over, what we achieved? elaborating 09XX command? :stuck_out_tongue: (just a joke)

~ you get my point?
you have to set-up base regarding music fundamentals for dealing with digital audio editing/sequencing in general, and before any kid should do that, he/she should be familiar with music in general (basic stuff like scales for example, tetrachords…)

  • or there is a possibility just to go with trial-and-error with kids, and see who follows up the most (whose imagination/joy sparks the most), and dedicate them more time (i know, it’s not fair but what is it in our lives?)…
    again - it depends really of your specific goals…
    working with kids (the right way) is a rocket science (for us musicians :stuck_out_tongue: )

you will hard time just by explaining them terms you just wrote.
without ever touching renoise.

  • it’s challenging, i know… and if i can help anyhow, please just let me know :slight_smile:

LMMS is a kid’s DAW. It’s simple and easy to learn.

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Take it easy. It is kids, you know… not all of them will be interested at all, and if you get too complicated, you’ll loose most of them.

Try something simple if you wish to interact with them. Maybe offer them somthing that they can bang to make some noise. Then you record it and show them how it can be arranged into music. Let them use a midi knob or pedal to manipulate the recorded with a filter, then record that automation for them. Some might like to sing, and you could record it and somehow add to the arrangement. That might be fun for some of them. You should take care not to let them bang things that break too easily though…

Take it easy. It is kids, you know… not all of them will be interested at all, and if you get too complicated, you’ll loose most of them.

I do plan to make it as uncomplicated as possible, though it’s worth noting that these after-school classes are optional and presumably any kids who sign up will be interested.

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One hour? Minus time for kids settling down, basic hellos.

Be really clear on what you want to accomplish in 50 minutes. There’s not enough time learn Renoise, and electronic music, and music theory, etc.

If it were me, I’d start with the goal of wanting to leave these kids with the desire and skills to go get the demo version of Renoise and keep exploring.

You need to teach them enough that they a) care to continue learning, and b) are able to carry on by themselves.

E.g. Where to get the demo version, the general interface, selecting some default instruments, placing notes, and then tweaking around to get interesting sounds (fx chains, or modifying the instruments themselves), how to save a song.

Try to generate a few “oh wow!” moments to give a feel for what can be done so they want to do it themselves. Make some suitable example xrns and xrni files available for them to download afterwards. Make or get a Renoise cheat sheet.

If the main topic is really to be “electronic music” then maybe just use Renoise to load and play sine wave instruments and show how one can mod these to get more robust sounds. Still need to teach enough Renoise basics so they can explore after class is over.

In any event, best of luck and please let us know how it goes.

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In such a short amount of time just give them a sense of what can be accomplished, I don’t think you should get technical just the very basics and give them that satisfying “oh wow!” moment as James said, then those who are intrigued will start dig in as most of us did and hopefully you’re left with a few questions from the kids.

Also show them what kind of instruments you can have, like strings, acoustic and synthetic drums and EDM sounds.

Maybe print out some basic info with link to the Quickstart guide.

Good luck with the mission, and let us know how you decided to go about it.

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I’ve taught a short lesson on Renoise to a mixed audience of kids and adults, and I felt like I needed to protect them from the complexity and open-ended nature of Renoise.
If I was going to introduce young kids to electronic music, I’d teach them Caustic studio because

  • it’s on Android and iOS, so probably more accessible
  • it costs 4 bucks
  • it features discrete synths modeled after real world instruments (FM, modular, Moog-like, etc.)
  • UI is very touch-friendly - feels like real instruments
    -like a mini Reason rack where they can switch from instruments to the mixer to the piano roll to the song composer view easily.
  • their documentation is excellent. They have a series of YouTube videos that give a broad overview of synthesis and beat making.

I agree with previous commenters that you really want to give them a successful experience fast, and inspire them to go further on their own. I think the simplicity and accessibility of Caustic might be a better starting place for kids.

My $0.02, FWIW.

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This looks interesting! Thank you.

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I have some experience of teaching kids music tech. I would advise you don’t bother with teaching the technical side of things in a first session, most of Renoise will be simply too complex for the age range you are teaching, if you must use Renoise I would just stay on the sample editor side to start with so they get to record a sound and start to see what a waveform looks like.

Your main priority should be making it INTERACTIVE, FUN and ENGAGING, especially if this is your first session with them and you only have 1 hour. Don’t try to cram too much in, you want to interest them enough so they want to learn more in a follow up session

As an introduction think of things that will impress them, make them laugh or make them go wow. In my experience recording their voices and playing them back at different pitches works well and can be really inclusive as they can all have a go with their own voice.

Then you can start applying effects to their voice recordings, introduce them to different effects, reverbs delay’s, filters etc… Comb filters are good as you can make them sound robotic and they tend to love that.

Honestly, you could easily pad an hour out with that depending on the size of your group.

After that if you have a controller Keyboard you could let them come up individually and lay down a layer on a track and then build up a few loops where each kid has put something down… again you are trying to be inclusive here and give them hands on experience.

Another approach I found worked well was to take a commercial track that they were all familiar with and chop bits out of it to remix, you can do it with them, take them through listening and picking out sections to chop out and re-sequence.

Looper pedal or software is also a really good and immediate way to engage (on iOS Loopy HD is good, I would also look at using which is a really quick and easy looper) Again each participant can add a layer and build up musical ideas.

Really the skillset required here is more about teaching than it is about music tech. Speak to the school teachers on how to structure a lesson into 10 minute chunks, overall pacing and creating group activities etc. Overall don’t rush through your lesson plan, judge the mood if the kids want to take more time playing around with the mic then let them, your goal should be about having fun with sound rather than pushing through a lesson plan schedule… More structured lessons can happen much later once you have them hooked…

Hope that helps and good luck!

I completely agree with this.Give them something they are really interesting in, remix or show them how to rebuilt it.If its not fun children will pass on it so whatever you do make sure its fun

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Agreed. Here in Oakland, a friend runs a nonprofit called Today’s Future Sound where he uses hardware controllers extensively. This hides some of the fiddlyness of Renoise away in favor of the more immediate physical control interface, like an AKAI MPC style surface.

You could create a template XRNS project with a nice usable drum kit instrument all MIDI-mapped to a control surface so kids can just press the pads and see what happens. Maybe a handful of interesting one-shot samples as another instrument. Then drop in a commercial track and let them chop it up…