(NOTE: this is a shortened version of my Personal Project Report, if you would like to read it in its entirety, please leave a comment)
To finish the MYP in tenth grade (2015), the goal of my project was to write and record three a cappella songs that expressed different ideas that the audience could understand and relate to. After creating all of the songs, I titled my EP Unguarded Heart, which is from a lyric from one of my songs and reflects the openness expressed through the music. One of the reasons I really wanted to use this topic was because I had so much to learn about it and decided to take the personal project as an opportunity to pursue this passion.
I decided early on that before writing my songs, I would ask people about their life experiences and use this as inspiration for my songs. This way, I could write songs that brought a wide audience together and make the content and themes of the songs feel somewhat personal for everyone listening. Essentially, I wanted to take little pieces from everyone and put them together to create a bigger story.
My initial action plan:
- June 15th: plan important research decisions
- August 24th: complete the majority of research
- September 21st: survey and collect ideas for song inspiration
- October 12th: write first versions of songs
- November 9th: finalize arrangements of songs
- December 7th: record songs
During the summer I completed the majority of my research. I attended A Cappella Academy (ACA), a summer camp where I had the opportunity to learn from several experts in the field. One of my resources was the feedback I received by email from Johanna Vinson, a cappella singer, coach and arranger, and my director at ACA. In June I sent her one of my first cover arrangements and intentionally sought out criticism and feedback in order to get advice on how to improve and develop my arranging.
Toward the end of the summer, I also enrolled in an online songwriting course from Berklee College of Music that was recommended to me by a director at ACA and by my supervisor for the project, Ms. McDiarmid. I collected information from a variety of sources in order to make connections between them and determine the most useful information for my project and came out of the research stage with a clearer image of what my final product would include.
Throughout the personal project, my action plan changed a few times. On a few occasions, I realized that I could not get a certain task done in time, and I would have to push that deadline back. The more significant changes to my action plan occurred during the creation stage, as this was when I had difficulty meeting some of my deadlines.
In order to find inspiration for my songs, I needed to collect information about people’s feelings and experiences. To do this I created a Google survey, which I sent the to a variety of people, including some classmates of mine, teachers at my school, and family members and friends. I received several responses that I then sorted into five major categories: sadness, happiness, fear, love and home. By processing the data and analyzing the results, I realized that there were quite a few responses that showed unexpected connections to the others. This was a step towards achieving my goal of creating songs for the audience to understand.
I split the steps toward completing my product into four tasks: songwriting, arranging, recording and editing. My writing process was slightly different for each song, but what I did each time was start by writing at the piano. I created the melodies and basic chord progressions and recorded this all in a notebook with the lyrics written down as well. In my goal I aimed to write three songs, but just before the deadline I had set for myself, I ended up writing another song, which gave me a boost of confidence going into my next task.
each song I arranged six parts: the solo line, soprano 1 and 2, alto 1 and 2, and the bass line. This number allowed me to explore my options throughout the parts without having too many counter parts to create. The arranging process forced me to make many difficult decisions for my songs, and with practice I believe I got better at finding what choices matched my songs.
To record and edit my EP, I used Garageband and a simple recording microphone I had bought. I recorded in my room and did each part separately, listening to the track in my headphones while recording the next part over it. To edit my songs I used the tools in Garageband. I mainly adjusted the volume, reverb and ambiance of each track until I was happy with the result. After I had finished editing, I had to sort out my EP’s last details before publishing it. My last task was creating the cover artwork for my EP. I had a general idea for it: a picture with a silhouette of me, representing the fact that the message of my songs came from a collection of anonymous sources but was delivered through me. Finally, I uploaded the EP to SoundCloud as a playlist, making it accessible to the public.
Overall, I was pleased with my product, although at times I found it difficult to build up each song musically, lyrically and in terms of the arrangement. It’s very easy to build up musically with a large group of instruments, but this was more difficult with the songs using only my voice. There are strengths and weaknesses to my vocal range which I had to use to my advantage. Lyrically, it required quite a bit of thinking and carefully choosing where each lyric fit in order to create the theme. To build up the background voice parts without just adjusting the volume, I used the fact that I had four voice parts and bass to bring the power necessary for the peak of the song, while toning it down in the beginning. I think that with some more time and research concerning the audio editing, I would have been able to explore and use my strengths a bit more.
The personal project gave me the opportunity to learn about the topic of songwriting and a cappella. When thinking about my work on this project, the trait that stands out to me the most is being a risk-taker, as I took on the challenge of a project that required a lot of work and left my comfort zone in order to approach people for important feedback and information. I also showed evidence of being an inquirer by choosing a project I wanted to learn more about and seeking out that information myself. I displayed my research skills by collecting information from a variety of primary and secondary sources and synthesizing it to come to new conclusions. I think I really developed my self-management skills because of the way the project was self-directed and how I was responsible for organizing and completing my tasks. I also developed my thinking skills through the creative process of songwriting. Finally, I used my communication and social skills to contact experts, audience members and my supervisor for information and feedback.
All of these skills have contributed to my development as a learner and have taught me things about myself. Now that I have completed the personal project, I can take everything I have learned and apply it to my other subjects and my personal work. While it took a lot of effort and was stressful at times, I am happy with everything I achieved through my personal project. I hope that my songs also make a lasting impression with the audience who helped to create them.