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My Journey at The Big Gig KL Workshop: Navigating the Waves of Music Technology




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Introduction


Since I've started working at my current school in Shanghai (2020), I have not had a chance to attend any in-person PD events. Ever since the borders of China opened, I've been looking for the right opportunity. It came with The Big Gig KL in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

This event was held at the Garden International School (GIS) in Kuala Lumpur and organised by Musical Futures and MTIIS (check out their podcast; it's quality).

The main sponsors of the event were RSL and Roland, who provided some amazing gadgets for us to play around with. More details on Roland Music Technology will be presented later on.

The Big Gig KL Event Flyer

In this article, I aim to present my key takeaways from The Big Gig KL 2-day workshop. I will share the content with my personal impressions and insights.

Prior to the event, the organisers shared a handy package of information in order to help us have the best possible experience. Event schedule, useful apps, and even sightseeing recommendations, which was really nice.

There was an optional early Saturday morning hike and a chance to see some of the monkeys, turtles, and scorpions (the friendly ones) hanging out in the forest nearby. Interesting touch from the organisers and something you would not expect from the Music Teachers Workshop. I liked it. 🌳

One of the biggest values of the event was getting access to an incredible Musical Futures resource pack ready to be implemented right away. This resource contains interactive content with a lot of play-along songs, chair drumming, ukulele, guitar performance resources, and more. Truly great content!

Travelling to Kuala Lumpur from Shanghai takes around four and a half hours, with no difference in time zone or climate. Basically, it's humid and hot, with high chances of tropical rains. Fun!

The closeness of the location made it possible for me to get a couple of days off and head for Kuala Lumpur for a few days. I've successfully arrived at the location and was 'ready to rock' at The Big Gig KL!



 

The Big Gig KL - DAY 1 -

Music Technology Explorations


peopel sitting in chairs with their hands up high
The Big Gig KL - Opening session


The first day of The Big Gig KL started with registration, where we had a chance to meet with fellow colleagues and organisers (Chris Koelma and Anna Gower). I've already had a chance to speak with Chris before and share some of my own music-tech-flavored ideas, and I was looking forward to expanding them further.

Both days of the workshop were split into different types of sessions. Sometimes there are two sessions happening at the same time, so you have to choose to attend one according to your preference. I've mostly attended the music-tech-oriented ones.

Some sessions were meant for everyone to attend, so there was only one at the time. Like the BigSing, sponsor presentations, Gamelan workshop, Unconference, and closing session, where we had a nice 'battle of the bands' going on.

The unconference session was an interesting one where I had a chance to present. More about that on Day 2.


Session 1: The Big Sing (James Gower)

A upper body shot of a person standing
James during the Big Sing Session


The opening session was delivered by James Gower, an experienced opera singer and music educator. We had a really nice vocal/physical warm-up with a chance to recreate Taylor Swift's "I can buy myself flowers" song in a cappella style.

Since I am coming from an instrumental side of music, James's vocal approach to analysing and recreating music was quite a refreshment. I got some great ideas there to share with my colleagues in order to improve our lesson procedures.



Session 2: Pathways to Music Tech - a new approach to music technology (Chris Koelma)

A man standing and presenting in front of a projected screen
Chris presenting the Music Tech Pathways

From this session on, it was all about music technology for me until the end of the day. One of the main reasons I signed up for the conference was to expand my ideas and views on how to implement music technology in my curriculum.

In this session, we had a chance to discover ten different pathways one can follow on the path of exploring music. Both for personal exploration and teaching implementation.

The Music Tech Pathways Concept was developed by Samuel Wright and you can find out more about his work here.


Here are the ten pathways: sampling, looping, triggering, sound design, synthesis, scoring, orchestration, layering, mixing, and documenting.

One can definitely spend a lifetime following just one of these pathways. The key message considering the exploration was to start small and learn fast, make something, and combine pathways.

All of these pathways were thoroughly explained with some specific examples to follow each one in order for us to understand everything better. I will address these pathways in more depth in my upcoming articles since it is a very interesting topic for me.

The fun starts when you combine some of these pathways and upgrade your musical knowledge, but at the same time, ideas for educational practice are constantly emerging.


Session 3: Hands on with hardware (Chris Koelma & Anna Gower)

Three persons with headphones on sitting and using the Roland music gadgets
Exploring the (amazing) possibilities of Roland Aira T-8 and J-6


After exploring the music tech pathways and more theoretical side of things, it was time to get ourselves busy playing around with these amazing little machines — the Roland Aira Compact.

If you follow the link above, you can find out more about this four-part modular set-up, which can also work independently. These are the four modules of the Roland Aira Compact:

  • S-1 Tweak Synth

  • T-8 Beat Machine

  • J-6 Chord Synth

  • E-4 Voice Tweaker

Some time ago, I bought and started playing with T-8. It is a really engaging handling these gadgets and creating some cool beats along the way.

During this session, I had a chance to try T-8 with S-1, which is a levelled-up experience, and I am definitely getting one of those soon for my own collection.

Anna spoke about how implementing these devices into teaching can boost engagement and simply bring joy to our students. Isn't that what we all want? She did that on a primary level, and the videos she showed us presented the kids booming with excitement and positive energy.

This session made me inspired to implement this music technology into my own curriculum. After presenting the idea to my principal, he approved it right away since we share the same contemporary music technology approach to music education. Fun for our students is guaranteed!

In some of my future writings, I will present the Roland Aira Compact in its full glory. ✨


Session 4: Start your own music tech elective (Sam Pitchfork)

A person sitting next to a computer, talking with hands spread wide open
Sam in the GIS Music Studio

This session was led by Sam Pitchfork (Head of Whole Music in GIS). Another music-tech-oriented talk, which I've enjoyed pretty much, and it gave me new inspiration on how to improve my own student experience.

Sam spoke about the GIS music elective for students to choose and discover the steps of music studio production. From setting up hardware and software to getting the instruments and recording.

It was quite refreshing to hear his experience from this elective, along with some good recommendations for handling and choosing the right hardware.

He also showed us the recording room and explained the procedure of construction, which triggered my thought, and I've started thinking, Can I do something similar back in my classroom since in my school we do not have a music recording studio?

The first day I returned to my classroom, I began the process of constructing a mini music studio. I informed my principal of the idea, who again agreed, and soon our students will have the chance to have this kind of music experience. More music fun for our students on the way!

That was the second big idea, and I thank Sam for that and for giving me some really good advice on how to approach this project according to my situation.



Session 5: BandLab - sampling and splitter (Chris Koelma)

Preview of BandLab AI Splitter on the mobile screen with a persons finger using it
New BandLab Feature - AI Song Splitter

The last session of the day was all about BandLab and some of the latest AI-powered features.

We played around with sampling with this app, where we had a chance to recreate some popular songs by sampling sounds from the environment. Another idea for a super engaging music-tech-flavored project for your students. 💡

Chris introduced the latest AI-powered feature of BandLab, which allows you to split any track into four different layers and manipulate them independently. You can solo any layer and change the key or tempo.

The practical use of this in the classroom is immense. Here are some ideas:

  • Isolate the leading melody part of the song and create your own beats or harmony.

  • Isolate the drum and bass parts of the song and practice the performance on top (playing and singing).

  • Mix different song layers and create a new song.


 

The Big Gig KL - DAY 2 -

Music Technology Explorations (continued)


Here is the list of the sessions I've attended during the second day of the conference:

  1. Malaysian Gamelan Workshop (Andrew Gui)

  2. Young producers: Hands on hardware; secondary (Chris Koelma)

  3. Express Yourself: Rap, Hip-Hop, and More! (Chris Koelma)

  4. Soundtrap Introduction (Boat)

  5. Unconference

  6. Musical Futures: Secondary (Chris Koelma)

  7. Just Play Jam: Closing Session

The second day started in a bit more analogue style, which was also kind of refreshing.

The room was filled with various instruments of the Malaysian Gamelan orchestra, and we had the chance and pleasure to experience a group Gamelan performance and session led by Andrew Gui.

I've played the instrument on the photo below, which can really tickle your brain when you try to play both hands and follow the notation. It was a good way to start the day.

A view of the eight part Gamelan instrument Bonang
Gamelan orchestra instrument - Bonang


The next three sessions were all about music technology with Chris and Boat, where we explored further the possibilities of using hardware (Aira Compact) and software (Soundtrap) to enhance our music technology skills and implement them into our teaching.

Express Yourself session was particularly engaging for me when we had a chance to use a Roland Aira Compact T - 8 beat machine to support our rapping. We had a task to create some rhymes relevant to the workshop and drop them together with the beat produced with T - 8.

For the rhyme creation, I've used my best friend ChatGPT, and below you can check them out.



Tech-Tuned Education: A Musical Revolution 🎵 - by ChatGPT 🤖


In the realm of education, let the music play,

With tech in our hands, we'll find a brighter way.

Music lessons enriched, with tools that inspire,

From keyboards to software, the learning won't tire.


Notes and rhythms, they come to life on the screen,

A digital orchestra, like nothing we've seen.

From theory to practice, students can explore,

In the world of music, they'll learn even more.


With music tech in schools, we'll unlock the door,

To a world of creativity, forever to explore.

So let's sing its praises, let the melody soar,

In music education, it's what we adore!



close shot on T-8 drum machine with two hands of person using it
Roland Aira Compact - T-8 Drum Machine

That was super fun, and another idea on how to implement this technology into our teaching. If we had such a good time, our students would love it too.

Uncoference session was a time when we, the attendees, had a chance to share some of our ideas with everyone. I've used this opportunity to introduce myself, speak about the unique curriculum I've designed in my school, and present my website and blog, which you are reading right now.

I've invited everyone, as I also invite you, to subscribe and join my journey of discovering music technology and its various applications in our teaching practice.

You will get access to a folder with resources I've created so far, and the library is constantly growing.

After the conference, we had two sessions, which led to a conference closure. Chris presented some of the core ideas behind Musical Futures, such as the informal learning approach. We got familiar with the principal and immediately put it into practice.

I have been thinking about this approach for some time now, and I am always looking to implement it in my music department's educational psychology. It is definitely the right way to engage students and lead them to desired outcomes.

The final act of the conference was a battle of bands kind of session where we split into bands and performed some of the songs inside the Musical Futures resources.

There is no better way to finish this great gathering than with some great songs and performances.


 

around thirty people on a group photo
The Big Gig KL Family


Conclusion



The Big Gig KL workshop in Kuala Lumpur, organised by Musical Futures and MTIIS, was a great experience filled with profound insights, exploration of new music technology, and valuable opportunities for networking.


Being presented with a diverse palette of tools and methodologies, especially in music technology, the event was a true source of knowledge.


Roland, as one of the main sponsors, provided great tools that not only intrigued the attendees but showcased the potential of music technology in education.

One of the standout elements was the revelation of multiple pathways to approach music, from sampling to triggering. Such comprehensive guidance is invaluable in updating and enhancing current curricula.


The hands-on sessions, particularly with Roland's gadgets, proved that these tech advancements are not just fun additions but crucial tools in creating engaging learning environments.

Furthermore, the opportunity to present oneself, as I did during the Unconference session, underlined the importance of community in the field of music education. Sharing insights, tools, and resources, such as the expansive Musical Futures resource pack, benefits the wider community of educators, facilitating the collective evolution of teaching methodologies.

Moreover, the diverse sessions, from traditional music approaches like the Malaysian Gamelan workshop to modern music technology explorations, highlighted the versatility and comprehensive nature of the field today.


Lastly, connecting with fellow educators, sharing ideas, exploring innovative music tech tools, and presenting oneself in such a fertile environment is a testament to the boundless opportunities for growth in the world of music education.


For me, The Big Gig KL was not just an event but a journey into the future of music education, teeming with inspiration, innovation, and collaboration.

Thank you for taking the time to read my reflections on The Big Gig KL workshop. I'm excited about the potential of combining music and technology, and I hope you are too. If you're curious about my journey, please subscribe and join me.


Together, we can discover new ways to experience and teach music. 🎵




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