Greetings from a BLM-inspired explorer

What a great find! I am Ken Tilton, and I have been inspired by recent events to look for ways I could contribute to keeping the BLM momentum going. So how did that bring me to Sonic Pi?

I got to thinking about creating an engaging, approachable, yet rigorous pathway to careers in software development for African-American students, especially those not thrilled with today’s schools and curricula.

Been there (not thrilled with school) myself, which is why I went into teaching out of college. Back then it was the Sixties, and we thought then too about BLM in spirit, so I worked in the East Orange, NJ schools. Three tough, exhilarating, wonderful years.

Well, thinks me, programming music must be fun, and though I know little myself (I am here to learn!) perhaps there is enough richness to music theory and composition that algorithmic generation of music could draw kids deeply enough into software development that some could make the leap to programming in general, especially since decent careers can be had in that realm.

With that thought in mind, I started googling algorithmic music generation, quickly found Clojure Overtone, Supercollider, Web Audio, and then in one list I saw “Sonic Pi” cited as especially suited to education. Bingo!

Next, as soon as I joined this forum I was thrilled to see Dave Briccetti is all over this subject, and through his links I have found Jared O’Leary. Bingo two!

My next steps are to download and install Sonic PI and try some existing lessons just so I know what I am talking about. I will also continue googling to see if others are already exploring this idea of music programming as a gateway to software careers for underserved populations. Any leads are welcome!

Cheers, kt


You might also want to check out a series of posts on these forums by @mrbombmusic, search for “My year teaching Sonic Pi”.


Hi @kennytilton (and thank you @emlyn for the tag and shout out)

I am a music teacher who has used Sonic Pi as a platform to explore musical expression through code. My main focus as a teacher is music oriented but I try to incorporate some programming knowledge within my curriculum. I’d be happy to offer some assistance or resources I have accumulated over the past few years. As Emlyn noted, I documented my first year teaching Sonic Pi here on this forum whic hare all posted in the Educators section. Ive made some significant adjustments to my curriculum since then, but I’d be happy to share those as well. I also have been making a lot of video tutorials and reference material recently since transitioning to remote learning. I am planning to upload all my videos to a youtube playlist once the school year is over so you can have access to those once they are ready. My personal musical aesthetic is very much geared towards Hip Hop and using samples which tends to work well as an entry point for my students.

Also, when not teaching Sonic Pi, I spend quite a bit of time in my curriculum exploring issues of systemic racial injustice and appropriation of black culture in music. This past year we spent a lot of time discussing the racial implications of Old Town Road being removed from the Country charts. Don’t know if that would be applicable in a programming class but I figured I’d mention it as it seems relevant to some of your underlying motivation.

Let me know what I can do to help.

Hey @kennytilton :slight_smile:

I don’t know whether it’s strictly relevant to your plans, but I noticed this post on twitter recently from a person who taught a course on computer science and marginalised groups - perhaps his blog might be of interest anyway? :man_shrugging:

Sounds like a great lead. Thanks, Emlyn!

Hey, Liam! Well, I can see I need to push away from my work a little more, I had to google up “Old Town Road”. What a story. Found a video with Billy Ray Cyrus. Loved the kids dancing on the horse. “Get your children off the animal, please.” (I like comedy, too.)

So this is perfect: “Don’t know if that would be applicable in a programming class but I figured I’d mention it as it seems relevant to some of your underlying motivation.” I will be writing up my overall vision for this programme this week, but one key element will be that, to best draw kids in, the cultural connection should be as strong a pull as much as will be the joys of first music and then, if all goes well, programming. That in turn means the lessons/activities should be generated by teachers of the students’ communities. All that said…

…I never would have come up with “Old Town Road” or its chart politics! I think I can contribute to building a more friendly and accessible programming environment, but I got nothing on music, and my cultural origins will not help with an African-American target audience. So…

Yes! I am going to need help with this! :slight_smile:

I will dig into your resources, write up my ideas on Medium, and continue my Sonic Pi explorations.

Thanks again for the help offer. -kt

Thanks, Ethan!

I dug in a little and found sth Dr. Kamara wrote on “Algorithmic Fairness”. As in, so we are going to have computers evaluate resumes? Are the algorithms gender or culture biased? Crazy idea until we see how the algorithms work, and who created them. That would be great fodder for coursework for a follow-on course for kids who get turned on to programming by this music-oriented initiative. It also seems like sth almost more important for entitled students to learn!

Good lead! -kt

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