Making Music

dash-robot-xylophone-accessory-1-large.jpgFor his seventh birthday, Little Fox received a programmable robot. He changed its name from Dash to something rather unique, and had fun learning to program it using his dad’s iPad. Then my partner showed us attachments and upgrades, including a xylophone the robot plays.

Little Fox played around on the robot a while, teaching it to say silly things, to launch ping pong balls, and to dash about. He also played around with the music programmer, which while restricted to a single octave, still allows a good introduction to music making.

After writing his first song from scratch, and not merely editing existing songs, I showed him how to write the music in proper notation on a staff with a treble clef and quarter notes, transcribing it from the dots and colored lines on the screen of the iPad. We simply called this “[Name]’s 1st Song,” and left it at that.


He hadn’t been interested in writing more music on his robot the last couple of months, but then he started playing Super Mario World on the Switch with his dad, and he told me before bed one night that he wanted to write an ode to the level known as Butter Bridge 1.

The next day, I jotted down all of his lyric ideas, and as we went along, he started to solidify a pattern to the lyrics. The day after, I helped him restructure what he’d written into a poem format and made a few minor suggestions about repetition, but left the majority of the lyric writing to him. I typed up what he wrote.

On the third day, we sat at the piano together, recording what we played and said on the phone, and over about fifteen minutes, started to hammer out a basic tune. I let him guide what he thought did and didn’t work, and once he liked the sound of everything together, I quickly plotted the notes sans beats, bars, or other measures.


Today, I downloaded MuseScore, an open source sheet music writing software with high ratings. It looked easy enough to use for our current purposes, so we started playing around to see how it would sound. MuseScore has a playback feature, so we can hear how it would sound if played on a midi keyboard, which really helped him figure out whether he wanted quarter notes, half notes, eighth rests, et al. Then came adding the lyrics into the program.

It took almost two hours to figure out the software and the music, but he’s quite pleased with the result. I also plotted out his “1st Song” using the software, as well, so he’d have a clean sheet music version and not my messy scribbles.

Because there are certain portions I can’t figure out how to change within the MuseScore files yet (especially the copyright), I blacked out his name. Little Fox said I could black out all but “Cal,” but we have both a public version, shared here, and a saved version with the complete text. If you want to play them yourself, I’m including them here:

Butter Bridge” and “Little Fox’s 1st Song

Coloring At Any Age

Coloring Book & Coffee...

Image by Richard_Miles via Flickr

Maybe I am one of the weird ones (that’s not me in the photo; it’s stock, but it’s a good sign that I’m not alone), but even at 32, I enjoy coloring books.  Just like my purchases of manga, graphic novels, and  illustrated books, I buy many of my coloring books as a form of poor-man’s art collecting.  But not just because I want to own the beautiful work, but because with a coloring book, I get to add my own touches, my own interpretation, and sometimes, given enough white space, my own designs within the images.

While on rare occasion I will buy a cheap (and cheaply made) coloring/activity book just for the fun of being a kid and coloring, most of the ones in my collection are of exquisite images: mandalas, renaissance fashion, detailed First Nations animal art, fairies, vampires, et al.  Squirelflight and I will mark pages with our initials in faint pencil if we really want to be the one to color a certain image, and if there’s contention, I bless the gods and my partner that we have a scanner, because I can scan the image and print it several times over for us to color.  Some images are so beautiful, we don’t touch the original, but scan and print for the fun of it.

But there are ways of getting coloring pages, whether for fun or for the meditative, soul-trance quality of taking your time to bring vibrant life to an elegant set of black lines and white spaces.  When I wrote this eHow article on creating printable coloring books, I had gone through site after site looking up places that provided printable pages for free, not having realized how many there were to choose from!

While they may not compare to the level of quality of my books, they can provide hours of free (mostly, if one does not consider paper, toner, and art supplies into the cost) entertainment for you, your children, or anyone.

Moms Who Think Coloring Pages

The Coloring Spot

Educational Coloring Pages (mostly not educational, but a lot of variety along the left side bar)

Lara Craig’s Free Pagan Coloring Pages

Sacred Spiral Kids Witchy Coloring Pages

Karen’s Whimsy: Dragon Images and Beyond (some of the fantasy art is incredible, check the left sidebar)

One thing I like most about going to my friends’ family’s 4th of July celebrations each year, is that they have a table always set up with coloring books, crayons, markers, and pencils, and we get to pick a page, sit with it a while, and put our names on it.  I’ve done it at other parties (it’s where I discovered the “Vulva”–Warning: adult term used in real title–Coloring Book, and first realized I could “paint” my coloring books with nail polish for added shine and glitter.)

And for people who really want to let their imaginations fly, you can try the Anti-coloring Book, which is more a book of drawing prompts (one step toward getting a sketch book), rather than the traditional image-you-color-in books.

Projects: December Reading Selections

We met yesterday to discuss November’s reading selections.  Both kids chose Bradbury’s Pedestrian for their projects, although Squirelflight drew an illustration to accompany the short tale, and A chose to write a 300-word epilogue exploring the institution to which the main character was taken.  I read all of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to them, complete with dramatic flair and pausing between major stanzas and parts in order to discuss what’s happening within the tale.  I left my friend’s house with a raw throat, but two kids who were very happy with the selections they’d read, and looking forward to the coming month.

December’s List:

I have to say, it’s fun not only to re-read these stories I enjoyed as a child, but to find new ones from favorite authors, and to discuss them with my group, especially since these two have radically different views from most adults in reading groups.  They also present their projects in ways I haven’t expected, although Squirelflight is definitely in the “art” category of preference, A. is taking some risks by going outside his normal field of approach, and it’s improving his writing in the process.

Quick Links: Art, Cooking, Music, Environment, and Literacy

Just posting some quick links related to schooling.  Some are resources, others are resources or commentary.  Follow and enjoy.  🙂

Kids Draw & Cook is a blog that displays recipes by kids along with their artwork to represent or present the meal. Its the youthful version of They Draw & Cook, which features recipes as presented by artists.  Children’s submissions always welcome.

Many researchers and educators have touted the link between music and mathematics and sciences, as well as they ways musical training influences developing minds.  Here is yet another well-written argument in support of music education and its funding.

The Story of Stuff is a project that shows videos that are engaging, easy to understand, and yet not condescending to viewers of all ages.  Presented by a non-threatening middle class “soccer mom” archetype along with simplistic black and white animation, they touch on topics related to capitalist/materialist culture, the broken systems that create environmental toxins and waste, and what we can do to change the ways in which we interact with our world and its resources.  Highly recommended; I suggest starting with the eWaste/Electronics piece.  It’ll make you wonder about the computer you’re using to watch the video.

An encounter with the college aged functionally illiterate, and the problems such youth represent for the state of our nation and its future.