In my classroom teaching career, one of the biggest challenges i felt was how we best introduced the learning of melody. recently i have been really impressed with the engagement touchscreen apps are empowering, but of course they are not a real keyboard. so i’ve been wondering is there a way to effectively transition app skills to a real instrument?
Could the Korg Volca’s be the answer I have been searching for? In preparation for my upcoming talk at the Music Education Expo at the Barbican in London on the 13th of March, I had the privilege of spending the day with Luke Edwards to explore the educational possibilities of these tactile little instruments.
The first thing that strikes you with these four different models is the build quality. They are extremely well built with a solid chassis and robust dials. Over the last five years my company has become renowned for recommending appropriate products to education and at first look these look like they fit the bill.
Four models are available, each filling a different section of your possible finished piece of music:
- Volca Beats : Is a drum machine which I found easy to engage with quickly, there are not too many options so it keeps your workflow understandable
- Volca Sample : This looks and feels similar to the Beats and is the newest of the bunch. Instead of using percussive sounds though it uses samples e.g. small audio files that you can upload easily with an accompanying free app
- Volca Bass : This pretty much does what it says in the tin, it supplies the bass notes and bass lines for your compositions.
- Volca Keys : This is effective a little keyboard. You don’t get physical keys but a touchpad similar to an iPad screen, laid out how you would expect with black and white keys
All units allow you to play live or to create simple recordings (loops). These can then be layered up to create a complete sound e.g. keys, bass, beats and samples. If you are working with all four units, they can all be connected with a supplied sync cable, to create a little band! This means all units will be working at the same tempo. Working in this way provides a very relevant setting for music making when you consider how much music our students, and all of us, listen to that is created in this way. But where could these instruments fit within education?
Whilst the Sample & the Bass are superb units, its the Beats and the Keys which it seems to me could provide something really exciting for the classroom. Most of our students, and many of us I’m sure, have now created music using applications like Garageband on iOS or Jam with Chrome on Google. The way you engage with the Volca’s is very similar, but particularly with the Keys, it provides a very ‘safe’ environment for you to begin making music.
The keyboard on the Keys is familiar and looks like a conventional keyboard. This means we’re starting our students off as the curriculum will dictate that they continue. Crucially though we are beginning their journey as they may well have already begun, using a touchscreen interface in effect.
The Beats provides a great way to begin exploring rhythm. Each note on the keypad corresponds to a percussive sound and this is clearly marked to avoid any confusion. You create your completed drum part by layering up each rhythm. So you could start with your Hi-Hats, then add your snare drum followed by the bass drum. The bar progresses in a very familiar fashion running through the semi quavers of each bar. This is a very effective tool for teaching students visually how time within music works.
As your students progress you ‘could’ add to your collection of Volca’s and introduce the Bass and the Sample. My feeling is the Sample would be the one that adds something extra and exciting to your work. If you have iPads in school you could have tremendous fun trying our different sounds in your compositions. The free app is so simple to use and the engagement I have seen first hand in young musicians when they have actually created the sound they then make music with is tangible. This workflow also demonstrates clearly to young musicians the link between iPads and technology with real life instruments.
I think its tremendously important we embrace the way young people engage with music through iOS apps, games like Guitar Hero and many other amazing and often free resources that are out there. I believe though that our job as music teachers is to use this engagement to open the doors to more in depth music learning whether it be instrumental, theory or production. That way we will fill our classrooms with students who are passionate about making music and want to learn more. The Korg Volca’s provide a tremendously exciting way to do exactly that. They can begin our students melodic or/and rhythmic journey in a vibrant, relevant and affordable fashion!
Prices currently stand at around £83.33 ex VAT for a single unit, similar to what you would pay for a good classroom djembe. Prices can be cheaper than this for multiple units.
Lets take a closer look and listen to the Volca’s with Korg Product Specialist and long term Mix Music collaborator, Luke Edwards:
We are so taken with the Volca’s, that we have created a new program which we believe will best suit and then support their application in the classroom. The JamPod™ Percussion program will launch on the 13th of March with a demonstration at the Music Education Expo at 12.50pm. It will feature a full class set up of equipment with accompanying lesson plans and video tutorials with prices starting at £1,650 ex VAT. We will follow up with a post here within 45 hours of that launch.
For more information about any of the above please do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org