By Richard McCready, TI:ME Teacher of the Year, 2013
The Launchpad, made by Focusrite’s Novation, is a grid controller that allows you to interact with music software on your computer. Each Launchpad has a grid of 8×8 square pads which light up when you connect them to appropriate software. The pads are then used to launch short loops or sound effects, and you can create a piece of music by chaining together these loops and effects.
Becuase of the straightforward layout, and also the fact that Launchpad triggers lights and sounds, students absolutely love using them. Set one up in your classroom and kids of all ages (Kindergarten right through to Graduate students) will be begging to get their turn to create music. Not only is engagement high with these devices, the musical feedback and creative response are things that get those endorphins rushing in the brain. You yourself can decide whether to use your Launchpad as a whole class project, in stations, as a reward activity, or however you like to add creative musical fun to your curriculum.
The easy way to start is with LAUNCHPAD INTRO (pictured above) at https://intro.novationmusic.com. Point your browser to that link, connect your Launchpad to your computer via the included USB cable and your Launchpad will light up. The Launchpad works with MIDI messages, so if your browser asks if you would like to allow the computer to control MIDI devices, then the answer is “yes”. On the Launchpad Intro, you will see that you can choose from eight or more “songs” that have been pre-programmed for the Launchpad. Use the pads on the Launchpad to launch the loops or effects by simply pushing down the pad corresponding to the boxes on the screen. The top six rows on your Launchpad trigger the sounds, and the bottom two rows are used to STOP or MUTE the sounds. You can have one sound from each column playing at the same time, for a total of eight consecutive loops/effects; thankfully they are preset to work at the same beat and in the same key, so you cannot go wrong. Loops are denoted with a circular arrow on the screen – they will repeat until you push the launch button again. Effects are denoted with a horizontal arrow – they will sound once, or as long as you hold that pad down. On LAUNCHPAD INTRO you will also see five or more Lightshow songs – these trigger fun lighting combinations when you launch the sounds, but are quite complicated for orchestrating a whole song. One of the songs (Kaskobi//Nytrix – Stay Here Forever) includes a tutorial video on how to play the whole song on the Launchpad, and it requires an enormous amount of learning and a lot of co-ordination; you may find that one or two of your students may really be up to that challenge.
Once you have had fun with LAUNCHPAD INTRO, you’re ready to try Novation’s AMPIFY software (pictured above). You can see a link for downloading AMPIFY from the LAUNCHPAD INTRO site, or you can go to https://ampifymusic.com/ampify-studio/ and download from there. AMPIFY comes in both free and subscription (premium) versions but the amount of material available in the free version makes it truly worth the download. With AMPIFY you will see that you can trigger the included sounds in each genre, or you can replace the cells in the song with different included loops and effects by simply dragging them from the sounds library on the left of the screen. You can edit the volume, pan, octave, speed, and even direction of each loop or effect by using the edit view at the bottom of the software. You can also use DJ effects such as Beat Repeat, Gating, and Filters. Ampify allows you to plan a song in sections from left to right across the Launchpad, so thay you can decide on the FLOW or FORM of the song by choosing loops from each column as you go across the software. It is good to use the different rows for similar sounds, for example, drums on the top row, bass sounds on the second row, vocals on the third row, etc. Once you have created a set in AMPIFY, you can even export it as an mp3 or WAV, or you can export it as an Ableton Live project.
If you have an iPhone or iPad, you can use a powered USB hub to connect your Launchpad to your tablet and use the free app called “Launchpad for iOS” (pictured above). Search for Launchpad in the App Store, or go to https://apps.apple.com/app/apple-store/id584362474. Just as with AMPIFY, Launchpad for iOS allows you to download different packs of music and create your own grids of loops and sound effects. You can control volumes of individual tracks or add DJ-style effects right from the software or the Launchpad, and just like LAUNCHPAD INTRO, you create music by triggering one sound from each column consecutively, for a total of eight sounds. Sounds are nicely color-coded by type.
Included with your Launchpad is a free copy of Ableton Live Lite (pictured above). Instructions for how to register your Launchpad and get a download code for Ableton Live Lite are included in the black booklet that came in the Launchpad box. You will need to go to https://www.novationmusic.com/register and enter both your serial number (from the back cover of your black booklet) and your unlock code (also on the back cover of your booklet). Ableton Live Lite is a professional Digital Audio Workstation, in which you can set up your own grid of loops and sound effects (called “clips” in Ableton Live) and then trigger from the Launchpad. Ableton Live is a very deep software package which has quite the learning curve if you’re not familiar with Digital Audio Workstations, but being able to compose, produce and record your own clips really opens up the world of music production for your students. This Youtube video from The Audio Journey does a great job of showing how to begin setting up a first Launchpad set in Ableton – https://youtu.be/j4FA6Y96RC0 Launchpads come in three basic sizes, Launchpad, Launchpad Mini, and Launchpad Pro, and if you’re considering which one to get, you can see a comparison at https://support.novationmusic.com/hc/en-gb/articles/360000777685-Launchpad-Comparison.
The Launchpad Mini is perfect for making music on the go, or for smaller hands – younger kids can certainly reach multiple pads at the same time on the Mini. Launchpad Pro includes a Note Mode for Ableton Live which allows you to play melodies, chords, drum patterns, and many other features for professional beatmaking and production in Ableton Live. For most classroom activities, you will find that the Launchpad or Launchpad Mini contain more than enough features for many hours of happy music making with your students. My best advice to you is to unpack your Launchpad and get it into your classroom as quickly as you can. Don’t worry about mastering everything listed in this article. Try one or two of the various software options listed above for a bit yourself, and then get your kids started on them. Don’t feel you have to conquer Ableton Live Lite before allowing your students to get going with LAUNCHPAD INTRO. Children (and Graduate students) are usually less intimidated by software than we adults, and they will really take very easily to making music this way. You will probably find that once you get them started, they’ll start teaching each other and also teaching you. Enjoy the ride.