Coding in Music: Elise Witt Teaches How Codes Can Help Make Music

Elise and student singing

by Erikah Swift | January 27, 2022

“It’s important to know that it is not necessary for a musician to be able to read music to make  music,” says Ms. Elise, Artist-in-Residence. “Many musicians learn and create music by ear. Written music is just a code, a language for musicians to communicate with each other.” 

The Integrated Unit of Study this quarter is on coding. Students will spend eight weeks exploring codes in modern and ancient languages and creating their own codes in various settings. As students harmonize through songs, this learning unit about codes highlights a special intersection. 

“Codes are languages created to communicate about specialized subjects,” says Ms. Elise. “In music classes, we are learning about time (the length of a sound) and pitch (how high or low a sound is).”

Music class starts with everyone sitting in a circle. The class leader for the day holds a Tibetan singing bowl. She stirs it around and taps it once. A long music note vibrates throughout the classroom. For a few seconds, there is stillness and peace. And a few giggles.

She taps the bowl again. After the relaxing vibrations, the students recite together, “head up, back straight, feet flat and that’s that!” Now, it’s time to sing. Ms. Elise springs up and separates the class into two groups. Everyone counts up and down from five with their hands. 

“We can divide into groups and create harmony by singing different pitches together. We are learning numbers in sign language, to help us physically relate to pitches. You probably remember the do-re-mi scale. Well, we can sing and sign the scale with numbers.” 

Elise Conducting 1

By the end of this learning unit, students will understand how codes can help them write music. 

According to Ms. Elise, “The objective is to really understand the language of music and how music is related to all the other subjects that they’re studying.”

For the next hour, students’ voices melt into a seamless blend of melodies. Ms. Elise directs everyone back to their seats for a final restorative practice. It’s time to close the circle through words of affirmation. 

“I am powerful. I am gentle. I am a student. I am a teacher. I am beautiful. I am kind,” the students chant. Then, they end with GVP’s core values. “I am appreciative. I am respectful. I am responsible. I am a lifelong learner.”

The school bell rings for students to transition to the next class, until next Tuesday, when the harmonies will start again. 

Ms. Elise’s current project, “Ready or Not,” is a community artwork project that features artists from around the world. Two students from our Form 3 class are also featured in the project. “Ready or Not” imagines our human journeys, through the image of packing a magic suitcase. You can check out our students’ work now in this YouTube video