Last spring, during the throes of COVID restrictions, Dr. Alex Smith, Assistant Professor of Percussion at the University of Central Missouri (UCM), set off to find a virtual solution to music rehearsal and composition. Since August, UCM Percussion has been experimenting with combining Soundtrap with Zoom to orchestrate marching percussion activities. It was developed for prospective students, some returning college entrants, and others from high school. In collaboration with his colleague Dr. Ian McClaflin, Assistant Marching Percussion Coordinator, Smith created a hybrid recording method through Soundtrap that used available breakout rooms provided by Zoom. Thanks to the advice of music education professor Dr. Isaac Bickmore, Smith was introduced to Soundtrap’s user-friendly interface and a new method of virtual recording he had never tried.
“We have been experimenting with Zoom rehearsals since May, but for our virtual marching percussion camp in August we added Soundtrap to the mix as a rehearsal tool as well.”
As a rehearsal tool, students used Soundtrap in a variety of ways. In Zoom, participants can only listen and play along with one person at a time using coordinated microphone muting. Soundtrap changes that dynamic by allowing users to hear everyone by recording individually into the session. “Often, we would rehearse with Zoom for a while, then go into Soundtrap to record and hear it all together,” said Smith. “It’s also possible for everyone to record at the same time in Soundtrap while monitoring the strongest central player over Zoom; this helps to make everyone play a little more together.” Marching percussion demands a high level of precision, so practicing in 8 bar phrases with 4-5 reps where everyone but the strongest player is muted allows for overall syncing and clarity.
Some students took an “independent study” approach with Soundtrap. They would be inside a Zoom breakout room, but they would all be in the Soundtrap session recording on their own with the internal metronome. Whenever the group completed a section, they would listen together through a Zoom screen/audio share to check and see where there were issues in performance execution.
Students did a creative composition project with two-hour evening team-building sessions working in small groups to write whatever came to mind. The creative exercise allowed the musicians to learn their way around the program. The result was a YouTube video highlighting five tunes the students wrote during the second block.
The success of virtual marching percussion camp exercises has led UCM to look into additional projects for the future with Soundtrap. The percussion studio is currently working on a collaboration with Dr. Jenny Molberg, Associate Professor of Creative Writing at UCM, and her advanced poetry class. The percussion and poetry students are working together to produce poetry-informed music/music-informed poems, and they are using Zoom and Soundtrap in similar ways to produce their work. Additionally, the UCM Marching Band as a whole is using Soundtrap to produce one of the tunes in their 2020 show. The production of this work will continue to involve the usage of Zoom and Soundtrap in similar ways.
About Dr. Alex Smith
Dr. Alex Smith is Assistant Professor of Percussion at UCM, where his responsibilities include teaching applied lessons, percussion ensemble, and percussion methods. He also directs and writes for the UCM Marching Band Percussion Section and instructs a graduate ethnomusicology course.