Sunday, May 12, 2013

Video Game Music Class: Contemplating Class Organization

The more I read and learn, the more I realize the importance of focusing in on exactly how I want to spend the 28 class sessions I have with the students.  28 hours.  Not much face to face time.  A lot of things I want to consider.  I'm thinking at some point, I'm just going to have to list everything I'd like to touch on and then prioritize, much in the same way game audio designers do with their limited resources.

One exciting piece of news is that I've reached out to a friend of mine who's working on an iOS game right now.  It'll be his first and his timeline is to have some portion of the game playable by the fall.  He's agreed to participate in an interview with the students and I'm thrilled.  He's the kind of insightful person who can be very theoretical if needed and very practical as well.  I think because he'll be learning the ropes of implementing audio into an iOS game for the first time, he'll be a perfect model for the students to see.  I'm also working to set up some interviews with experienced console composers as well.  What makes me excited about the one I've booked is that I think sometimes students learn the most from seeing someone who's not so far out of bounds from where they are-- someone they can identify with.  It's hard to imagine how to become Nobuo Uematsu, but manageable to think about creating audio for one game.  More will come on this...

Obviously, my class is an introductory one.  I remind myself of it this way: it's a general music course in that I want to consider historical information, build aural skills, and conceptualize about the theory of game music as well.  The creative aspect, using software to make game music, is definitely a huge plus not only because it's fun and easy to be creative, but also because it's practical for someone interested in studying this more seriously.  And frankly, there's nothing like actually doing something to teach you.  I'm feeling really excited about the creative aspect and the set up of the course.  I've already got that nailed down and it's going to be cutting edge Music Ed Technology for both my presentation as well as student interactions-- online forums and shared media (I do teach a course on Mus Ed Tech.....).  But as for the content: the long and short of it is that I've not eliminated any game audio consideration as a possible topic at this point, but I do want the focus to be on music.

The limiting factor is that the class focus is narrow on what music we examine: it's on game music.  Unlike classical music with hundreds of years of history, game music has a manageable fifty year or so history.  The aural skills I want to help the students develop aren't necessarily the same priorities that a classical musician should have.  For instance, identifying looping points in game music isn't even something that really exists in classical music, yet I'd contend that it's one of the most important first analytical skills for a game musician to develop and one of the most important theories for them to understand.  How and why do we move from loop to loop?  What's the function of music in a given situation?  Understanding differences in sampled sound versus MIDI is important to build as well.  And then what about phrase shape, musical structure, meter, rhythm, instrumentation, etc.  Surely these are some of the most critical areas where my classical background will make it easy for me to offer advise.

Mainly, I've been thinking about how to present the historical survey portion of the class as well.  Most music history classes (and probably most history classes altogether) are taught chronologically.  Music courses also tend to move from composer to composer.  However, one of my most vivid memories of a music history course was one that didn't move chronologically.  Instead, the teacher organized the composers by theme (nationalists, avant-garde, minimalists, etc).  Could a similar approach work in a game music class?  Perhaps here, though, the logical flow would be through game genres (RPGs, Platform, Sports, etc).  Is it also better with game music to create a flow from game to game instead of from composer to composer?  Or would be best organization be by console and the audio experience therein?  One benefit of game music is that it generally increases in aural complexity as one moves toward the present day.  That could be a strong argument in favor of a chronological presentation.

My main musical mentor used to tell me that he was just laying a foundation that he hoped would serve applicable to whatever music I encountered in my life-- including pieces that hadn't been written yet.  Interestingly for me, this genre of music is making me consider my own music education and what aspects of it are applicable as I consider teaching a class in a different music field.

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