Musical youth

10th September 2004 at 01:00
Hugh John looks at a website that is encouraging children to get creative with their own music

Having successfully auditioned at schools in the Leeds area over the summer, dbass, the online music station will be launched later this month at the Scottish Education and Teaching Technology (SETT) show in Glasgow.

The online station is the digital brainchild of Synergy.TV, whose Radiowaves project is the current holder of the BETT Innovation award.

Essentially, dbass allows students and teachers to collaborate and communicate online in making music.

The site is a repository of high-quality audio files which are arranged in a number of popular music genres, including drum and bass, funk, rock, techno and urban. Pre-recorded instrumental samples - drums, bass, keyboards and so on - are provided on the site and registered members can download these files to mix and match their own compositions.

More proactively, students can also upload their compositions, which are then accessible to the dbass community. These can be in virtually any format - WAV, MP3 or native or proprietary files from popular music sequencing programs such as Ableton Live, Reason or Cubase.

Mark and Tim Riches, the pair who developed dbass, hope that this sort of inclusivity will give students a real platform for creative work.

Mark says: "One of the things that we hope will come out of this will be bands formed from people who've never met - real people in different places getting to know each other and producing something."

But there's an added incentive to contribute to the dbass website - the charts. It's the sort of simple, but inspirational idea that invariably works. Each upload to the website is ranked by genre and by popularity - hence the chart position. The samples with the most hits on the website go to the top of the charts. It used to be called competition and already, says Tim, "The kids love it. They're already looking to see where they are in the charts."

A national chart is published on the website and there are local charts for each of the participating school. But the charts aren't just about competition - they're also about motivation and improvement. Darren Ibbetson, music teacher at Intake High School arts college, one of the schools which trialled dbass, believes the chart system will help kids to "raise their game".

"They'll listen to the next one up on the site and think, 'I'm going to have to produce something better if I want to get on in the charts,'" he says.

Sensibly, Synergy.TV has built in some security factors for dbass. For instance, students are unable to "go live" with their samples on the website. All work must first be submitted to a publisher. This mediating role, expected to be assumed by either music teachers or ICTmusic technicians, ensures that dubious lyrics, blatant plagiarism or inappropriate images don't make it on to the web pages. Importantly, too, it gives publishers the opportunity to annotate their students' work and to make positive suggestions.

The entry-level price for dbass is around pound;350 a year.

The Times Educational Supplement and Synergy.TV are running a dbass competition. All entrants get a free subscription for this term and there are high-value prizes. Details can be found in this week's edition of TES Teacher magazine (pages 14 and 29) or visit

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