So, you’ve learned about Google’s new Blob Opera. It’s fun, right? This online machine-learning app is more than just a fun time filler. It has the potential to enable creativity, and can give learners the opportunity to play with the concepts of not only composition, but also arranging, blend and vowel formation, ear training, voice types and ranges, computer programming, and even theory! Here are some ideas for including Blob Opera into your lesson plans.
This seems like the most obvious one. It gives the user the ability to record a composition. We often think that a composition has to be written out, but it just needs to be recorded in some form, and that can be an audio recording. This app defaults to an A major tonality and lets the user play with a melody within the parameters of those pitches. Learners could plan out a melody and find those pitches in Blob Opera and compose a short piece of music with them.
Plug in a MIDI controller and things get different. Once the MIDI controller is in, all the chromatic notes become available. The user will have to be comfortable with ranges because each blob will take over if the user is in their range and if there is overlap, there will be a bit of a fight for which blob sings. An incredible learning opportunity for a young choir. Turn on the arpeggiator on your MIDI device and watch what happens! By the way: the blobs are touch sensitive, so the softest touch on your MIDI device will be ‘oooo,’ and the heaviest will be ‘AH.’
Blend and Vowel Formation
The blob opera makes it pretty obvious when one of the blobs is not on the same vowel as the others. You can achieve all different vowel sounds with a MIDI device using different velocities. This can be a great way to introduce blending in a choir by illustrating the idea clearly.
Use Blob Opera to help find inner harmonies. The user has the ability to isolate parts within a chord and within the pre-set songs too by turning off particular parts or ‘soloing’ out others. Use a MIDI controller to help regulate how loud a particular harmony is. Ear training and learning by ear are much more effective on one’s own instrument.
Choirs new to four-part harmony or voice types might find it useful to play with some of the ranges on this to explore the tendencies of each basic voice type.
Using their ears or a written melody part, users can input the melody by dragging the mouse (to get the harmonies) and record it when they feel ready. To create the effect of a repeated note, change the vowel sound. Or using a click track and a MIDI controller they could play each part separately (more advanced) and record each part into Audacity with the Loopback feature or a tab recorder like Chrome Audio Capture and arrange their work into a DAW. There is a bit of a delay from when the controller is pressed to when the blob makes the sound but it is pretty consistent and something they could get used to using.
Learn about machine learning and how to program their own musical experiments using Scratch or start a crash course in Google Machine Learning and guide learners through the machine learning process. Another popular machine learning music app by Google is the Bach Google Doodle.
Common Practice Period Voice Leading
I’m not an expert in common-practice period theory but this app definitely sounds like it attempts to follow those rules. Figure out what chords the blobs are singing and analyze what they are doing. Try not to use “right” and “wrong,” instead talk about why something sounded the way it did, because if it sounds good, it is probably fine. Use the arrangements provided with the app or use your own.
Use it to introduce or advance part singing. Input the part into Blob Opera with a MIDI device and record it. After you record the parts together on Blob Opera, you can take out parts and add them back in when needed.
Either by using a pre-set piece or by composing one, have learners transcribe the parts into a standard notation of their choice.
I hope this helps spring some ideas for you and I have a feeling Blob Opera isn’t done adding songs or features, so stay tuned on the new ways you and your learners will be able to interact with this web app.
A version of this blog post is being republished in the forthcoming book, Technology for Unleashing Creativity, set for release in 2022.