I have recently added a bass guitar and an electric guitar to my home studio. Until now, most musical activities have been centered around one of the many keyboards I have, and the addition of the guitar opens the path for many new sonic experiments. The other night, I invited my two sons, aged 7 1/2 and 9, to join me for a session based on a simple setup I had prepared in Ableton Live. Would it be possible to utilise Ableton to mediate musical activities for kids?
My youngest son has for a month been practicing one of the most famous synth riffs of the eighties, and his brother, who has taken guitar lessons for 5 months, have almost on a daily basis practiced Ritchie Blackmore’s famous riff from Smoke on the water. I think most kids know the phrase, and almost everyone who play guitar know how to play it. It seems to have become part of the musical syllabus of children in Norway.
From a technical point of view, I used two inputs for the recording of the guitar and the bass, which were processed independently by the sound card effects on my Creamware DSP cards. The guitar were fed to a virtual gutar amp by Softube and the bass were patched through Vinco, a vintage compressor and a standard chorus fx.
The keyboard were MIDIed to a virtual hammond organ, the B2003, by Creamware / Soniccore. The distorted preset is supposed to be reminiscent Jon Lords original sound, but is here applied to the synth riff of the eighties.
The aim of my little experiment was to merge the two riffs in a simple arrangement suitable for live bass, played by me, and live guitar and live keyboard performed by the boys. The rhythm section was a simple drum clip I made in Ableton and a REX file from Reason which I imported the MIDI part of, into Ableton as a separate clip.
The harmonic foundation is simply 8 bars of Am, for the synth riff, followed by 8 bars of Gm for Smoke on the water. One riff were played at the time, and the players paused in turns. We played as long as we could bother, which was approx 15 minutes …
The result, available here: Kids jamming with Ableton, seemed to be a pleasant experience for the boys, both when playing and when listening to the result.
Obviously playing in time is a challenge for young learners, and the riffs are clearly hard to play technically for the young muisicians. Still, I could observe that they had a notion of the periods and when to start playing again. The idea was also to bring their own musical practice one step further and combine the two in one arrangement, so I had no chocie but to build on their existing repertoire.
I see a great potential in using Ableton Live as the platform on which to create simple arrangement aimed at live playing and recording of multi instrument setups for children. For a start I have been using bass, guitar and a MIDI keyboard, but more keyboards can be added for a quartet / quintet set up. The software creates a musical environment which, under the supervision of adults, provides musical experiences which they would not otherwise have gained.