Using Toontrack EZkeys for music education in the words of John Gleadall

Using Toontrack EZkeys for music education in the words of John Gleadall

We know from customer feedback how useful Toontrack’s EZkeys software has been to many music producers of varying piano playing abilities for creating tracks and learning some of the fundamental elements of songwriting.  We’ve also been fully aware of how useful a tool it is for music lessons in schools and a few months ago, in an email conversation with my music teacher from many years ago, I was waxing lyrical about its features and capabilities.

Mr Gleadall, otherwise known as John, has since been using it extensively in his work with schools and contacted us to share the projects. He has very kindly written the following guest blog post explaining the work and how exactly EZkeys played a part in it. Over to John…

The Anti Bullying Song Project and EZkeys

During the Summer Term 2013, I worked with two junior schools and a first school on an anti bullying song competition initiated by Hampshire County Council, the idea being to raise awareness of bullying issues across all phases of education from first school to sixth form.

I started by encouraging discussion of the whole topic of bullying, identifying different types of bullying and trying to come up with a definition of what bullying is. We also used role play and ‘hot seating’ in order to get inside the topic.

Every time we came up with a good word or phrase we wrote it onto that particular group’s vocabulary and phrase ‘wall’ (a series of flip charts’, which I photographed on my phone so nothing was lost.

We also tried to find existing songs on the subject – hardly any commercial stuff, but a lot of material on YouTube, especially from the USA.

With all this discussion and experience, every single pupil was asked to write two lines of an anti-bullying song which was to deal with the aspect of bullying which they felt was of the most importance. Then, after sharing all the lines – again writing them onto a board or flip chart – we teased out the issues which we felt were most suitable for inclusion in a song.

During the course of this process, several phrases seemed to hang together and some words held more gravitas and power then others did in a given context – the children were really hot on picking up the power of the lyrics that worked.

When we had put together a verse or a chorus, I asked the children to spontaneously come up with a melody for two lines of the song which I recorded into my phone – I gave the pupils three minutes to come up with a tune to go with two lines of the lyrics. I then recorded all the children, either individually or in small groups, singing their two lines. Many children then wanted to refine or replace their original melodic fragments.

I spontaneously came up with some guitar accompaniment as the children were singing their tunes in order to try out different chord progressions and tonality.

We then discussed appropriate styles for the song – some wanted ‘poppy’ some wanted ‘ballad’ and we ended up with two of each.

I then took all the scraps of melody and lyrical ideas and glued them together with accompaniments. The children were very clear about accompaniments and they didn’t want acoustic guitar!

So for the ‘poppy’ songs I used Euberschall’s Chart Hits, but the two groups who had written ballad type songs wanted piano accompaniment – not my strong suit!

Luckily Melanie at Time & Space had extolled the virtues of EZkeys as an educational resource so I took the plunge.

Toontrack EZkeys


Having worked out my chord sequences on guitar, I then selected an appropriate style in EZkeys and dropped the midi sequences into the arranger window of EZkeys. Of course, the chord sequences in EZkeys didn’t fit the kids’ melodies but all I had to do was type in the correct chords – complete with modifiers such as descending bass notes, sustain chords etc., and hey presto! I had a pro-quality pianist playing the chart.

Toontrack EZkeysI also experimented with dragging and dropping the midi sequences straight into the arrange page of Logic which gave even finer control because I could delete or add individual notes in the score editor – just great. I also doubled part of the piano part with harp (again a suggestion from a six year old) in one of the songs ‘Why Does It Have To Be Me’. The other song featuring EZkeys is ‘Hurting Never Helps’.

The children were thrilled with the results, plus they all think I’m a genius pianist now – bonus!

The final stage was to set up a couple of microphones and do a recording session – easier said than done given attention spans and the amount of background noise in the average first school or junior school!! Go here to listen to the final results:

Toontrack EZkeys interfaceI have also used EZkeys with GCSE students who have written songs needing piano accompaniment. Being able to specify chord sequences in various styles and audition various levels of complexity as well as dial in appropriate keys for voice accompaniment is not only convenient (to say the least) in many cases it proved inspirational, opening new avenues of creative thought. In fact some students created chord sequences in EZkeys and then wrote the melody and lyrics to fit the ‘backing track’ – a common way of working these days – just like Stargate and Rihanna or Beyonce!

About Musicals4kidz

Musicals4kidzFollowing many years teaching music in schools, John Gleadall is now the Director of Music for his company Musicals4kidz. Working on the principle that music is a huge part of the lives of all children, John has created a series of musicals which contain elements of music which are designed to appeal to teenagers but which also introduce elements of techniques to extend and expand their musical repertoire and technique. You can find out more about John’s work here.