Create Now: Music-Making with Found Sounds by Michael Fitzsimmons

Found Sound Instruments You Can Play

video script

Hi everybody, I’m Michael Fitzsimmons.

A few years ago, I led a found sounds music workshop for children and their families at the University of Nebraska Med Center. I asked the participants to explore the room for sounds that were interesting to them. We used these found sounds to play together as a group and, later, to create sound stories to share with the group. We had so much fun!

A few days later the nurse who hired me said a seven-year-old boy who had attended the workshop marched out of his hospital room playing found sounds he had collected and taped around his waist. Think about that as we move through these lessons.

In this video, I will walk you through finding interesting instruments in your own environment, exploring sound, foundational music composition elements, and improvisational playing. I have been doing this for years with various groups, and it’s always a favorite with all ages.

What you bring is enough, so if you have never done anything like this before, it doesn’t matter, you will still be able to have fun with this.

Here’s what we are going to do:

  1. I am going to show you a variety of instruments I have found and give you a sample of the sounds that can be made.
  2. I am going to show you how to play in the moment (improvisational style) with a found sound instrument.
  3. I will show you how this would sound if you were playing with friends while social distancing, playing with family or recording your own sounds and replaying them to play at the same time.
  4. I will send you on a hunt to find your own instruments. You will pause the video at that time, so you can spend as much time as you want finding your sounds.
  5. We will play together.
  6. I will show you how to compose your own song.
  7. I will demonstrate a few songs of my found sound compositions.
  8. I will share some ideas and other ways to use what you have just learned.

So let’s get started making music!

Over here I have a number of instruments I found yesterday. You might look at this and wonder ‘what is he doing with all that junk?’, but I will show you how to find beautiful sounds out of these things. Listen to a short ‘song’ made with some of these instruments:

After you listen I will ask:
How many instruments did you hear?
What instruments were used to create the sounds?

Play 30 seconds of a looped mini-song with at least 6 found instruments.

How many instruments did you hear?
What instruments were used to create the sounds?

Here are the instruments I used, and the sounds I created with them:
Demo each instrument used to create the song.

Let’s listen to the song again:
Play 30 second looped mini-song

I bet about now you are thinking about what instruments you can find. Be patient. We’ll go find the instruments in just a minute. First, let’s explore playing.

This is a basic rhythm. I have recorded it now so that I can play along with it. When we play together, I will play a basic rhythm and you will play your found sound.

I want to choose an instrument that can be used to create a number of sounds so my song will have interest and variety. Right now I am going to choose _____________.

Listen to the different sounds I can make with this:

Now I will play along with the basic rhythm: Play with base rhythm
If I was playing with someone else, it would sound like this: Play with second sound of same instrument.

Now I’ll add in a different instrument: Play with another demo’ed instrument.
Here is what it sounds like if there were others playing with me, or if I recorded as I played back what I had played before, which is called a loop.

OK. Now you have an idea of what we are going to do, pause the video now and go find your instruments! Remember to look outside in nature as well as inside.

Welcome back. I hope you had as much fun as I do finding instruments.

I will remind you later as well, but on my web site you will find 6 base rhythms to play along with. For now, we are working with the 4/4 rhythm.

Now, here is our base rhythm:
(play –and record)

When you are ready, play along with me and explore the sounds of your instrument.
(play for 2 minutes). Stop the loop.

If you want to repeat this, rewind the video to (video time stamp) and continue playing.

You can repeat this as often as you want, or you can go to: On the home page toward the top (get placed on web site and describe) you will find “Basic rhythms to Play Along With”. Follow that link and you will have access to three 2-minute rhythms, and three 4 minute rhythms. When you are ready you can record your own basic rhythms on which to build a composition.

(Consider second recording)

Let’s take a look at composing our own songs now. I will use a loop station to demonstrate how it sounds with multiple layers or multiple people playing. You can play solo, play and record with others, or you can use your own recording devices to create the multiple layers.

What makes a good song?

A song has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Listen to this short song and see if you can hear the

beginning, the middle and the end.

Play 1-minute song.

Listen to it again until you can hear a distinct beginning, middle and end.

What happened to make a beginning, a middle and an end?

What happened to make it interesting?

Was there variety? Were there active places and quiet places, allowing the ears to rest while listening.

Were there little surprises, either a sound or a change in rhythm, that accentuated the song?

These are some things that make up a good composition. In music terms we call it:

Sound (overtone, timbre, pitch, amplitude, duration), Melody, Rhythm, Texture, Structure/form and Expression (dynamics, tempo, articulation)

When I think of instrumental compositions, I think of sound stories. A collection of sounds that tell a story. For simplicity think of a beginning, a middle and an end. Give your sounds a title (what do my sounds remind me of? A sound found in nature, a machine, sports, etc.).

Need to write out the sound story exercise.

Pause the video and take a few minutes to think of a story you want to tell. Plan on your sound story being about a minute long. As you get comfortable making sound stories you can make them longer. An opera is a sound story that can take 2 hours!

Think of three possible stories and choose one to work with.

Pause now.

Now that you know what you want your sound story to be about, what sounds do you need to tell the story?

For example, if I have a story about an approaching storm, (riff on this) I would want

Here is what I would use for wind:
Here is what I would use for thunder:
Here is what I would use for soft rain:
Here is what I would use for hard rain:
Here is what I would use to show the end of the storm:

When I put these together, in the order of an approaching storm, it sounds like this:

Demo all the sounds and make the storm.

So, what is your story about? Is it about a walk in the jungle, through a cornfield, or a walk on a busy street? A ride in a boat or a car? A sports activity? The sounds of going home, dog barking, car passing, lawn mower, etc.? Whatever your story is about, start to explore with your story and your sounds until you have a sound story. See if others can guess what your story is about.

Have fun making your sound stories. Get family or friends (social distancing as appropriate) together and share your stories. Play along with others and their stories, and have fun!


Artist Q&A

Michael Fitzsimmons Question and Answer

1. Briefly describe your normal studio practice and work as a teaching artist.

My studio practice includes playing songs from my latest album, Islands in Paradise. This helps me stay in touch with my instruments and my music. I also spend time simply playing the hang instruments. This helps by using my improvisational skills and enjoying the act of playing. I really miss my work as a teaching artist (see below).

2. How has sharing your work with students, teachers, and other artists shifted?

My work has been dramatically affected by the Covid 19 outbreak. Many performances, summer camps and conferences have been either cancelled or postponed. But I am currently working on requests for virtual performances and workshops. I am very grateful for these but I really miss the audience participation aspect of my work.

3. If your activities incorporate educational learning standards, whether formal or informal, please discuss them.

Students will compose, arrange, improvise and perform music with technical accuracy and expression. This is implemented through the sound stories that participants will create.

4. Are there follow-up activities beyond the one you are presenting?

Yes, participants are encouraged to create sound stories using found sounds and share with family and friends (with appropriate social distancing).

5. What is your favorite non-art activity that inspires you?

I love to walk regularly in the woods and appreciate the birdsongs, new plants springing up this time of year, fresh air and exercise.

6. List an artist(s) that you look to for inspiration and explain why.

My friend Ron Cooley has been regularly creating video clips of him playing a wide variety of instrumental songs on his guitar and posting them on Facebook. It is a joy and an inspiration to see these.

Artist Website