Loop-based Composing based on Visual Stimuli

Loop-based Composing based on Visual Stimuli

Jay Dorfman
[email protected]
Northwestern University

TI:ME Technology Areas Addressed:

Music Production






Macintosh computers with GarageBand software installed, or Windows computers with another loop-based composing package (such as Acid) installed. Software packages other than GarageBand may increase the time required for this project significantly, as they tend to take more time to learn. Computers will need to have CD-buring capability.


90 Minutes

Prior Knowledge and Skills:

Students should have some proficiency with web searching and should be familiar with the general timbre and characteristics of electronically sampled instruments.

NAfME standard of 1994 Addressed:

NAfME standard of 1994: Composing and Arranging Music within specified guidelines.

NAfME 2014: Creating 

NAfME standard of 1994: Listening to, analyzing and describing music.

NAfME 2014: Responding 

NAfME standard of 1994: Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts.

NAfME 2014: Connections


Students should have access to their own computer workstation, but partnering would be acceptable. It would be helpful to have a data projector to display the images on which the students’ compositions are based. Each student (or cooperative group) needs a blank recordable CD to archive their project when completed, unless networked storage/access is available.


Students will be able to:
1) Search the World Wide Web to locate an artistic image that inspires an aural composition.
2) Compose a musical piece using loop-based composition software.
3) Use file management and storage techniques to archive project work.
4) Explain their interpretation of an image and how that image inspires a musical composition.


1) Teacher will demonstrate the use of loop-based composition software. The basics of GarageBand can be demonstrated in fewer than 20 minutes. More complex software such as Acid may take a longer time to deomnstrate, and will require that the teacher prepares audio loops in advance. Older students may use this opportunity to learn to create audio loops using an editing package.

2) Students will search the World Wide Web to find an image of a painting or other visual art on which they will base their composition. Teacher will provide (by displaying over the data projector) links to several sites that may provide students with appropriate material. These may include sites for libraries, galleries, or museums. This step should take about 15 minutes.

3) Students will save the images they find to a local storage medium.

4) Students will build their loop-based composition based on the visual stimulus of the art work they found on-line. The composition should meet with parameters that are appropriate for the age group. For example, high school students may create a composition that has at least five instrument sounds, and is at least two minutes long. These requirements can be adjusted for the class level. This step should take about 30 minutes.

5) Compositions will be saved in the native format of the program used for their creation. Loop-based composition software also offers the ability to export projects in a more common format such as MP3, WAV, or AAC. Students will create this exported file format.

6) Both the exported file and the visual image on which the composition is based will be burned to the recordable CD.

7) Students will present the completed projects to the class, and display the visual image on which their projects are based. They will give a brief explanation of their interpretation of the image and how it led to the musical elements they decided to use in their composition.


These projects can be evaluated according to the criteria the teacher decides are appropriate for the class and level. Teachers should also factor creativity into their evaluation. A positive aspect of loop-based software is that it creates an environment for the user that is near fail-safe.

Follow Up:


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