Designing the Drum Loop

A constructivist iOS rhythm tutorial system for beginners

Apache icon

See also the presentation version

Front matter

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract


The Drum Loop development process

  • The Max prototype
  • The iOS app

The Drum Loop’s approach

  • Methodology: design-based research
  • Software development as research
  • Evaluating meaningful engagement

The problem: Why are so many young people alienated by music class?

  • Classroom music is alien
  • Exercises are culturally inauthentic and musically unsatisfying
  • Beginners start at the wrong level of abstraction
  • Steep barriers to entry
  • Music technologies enable creativity
  • Expanding the idea of musicianship
  • Teaching cyclical music alongside linear music
  • Recognizing the aesthetic power of syncopated rhythms and breakbeats
  • Looping and feedback support traditional music pedagogy
  • A need for authentic music in the classroom
  • Eurocentric music education undervalues rhythm
  • Riffs and loops: the building blocks of dance music
  • Changing consumers into producers

Constructivist practice in music teaching

  • Music and flow
  • How popular musicians learn
  • Learner agency and motivation
  • Participatory music vs presentational music
  • Communities of practice
  • The zone of proximal development and legitimate peripheral participation
  • The virtues of tinkering
  • Fighting option paralysis

Visualizing rhythm

  • Bodily metaphors
  • Time-Unit Box Systems
  • Meter relates non-adjacent musical events
  • Representing cyclical music with a cyclical graph
  • Visualizing swing

Visual metaphors for music in software

  • Liberating ourselves from the tyranny of the keyboard metaphor
  • Intuitive notation systems

Notable circular rhythm interfaces

  • Propellerhead Figure
  • O-Music O-Generator
  • Casual Underground Loopseque

Inspiration from the digital studio

  • Studio as instrument, not documentation tool
  • The composer is the performer is the audience
  • Listening for loops
  • Informal education in the home studio
  • Software as an active participant in the creative process

Pedagogical goals of the Drum Loop

  • Target audience
  • Rhythm appreciation
  • The backbeat
  • Visualizing evenness and modularity
  • Teaching computational thinking
  • Creating a beginner-friendly environment
  • Avoiding skeuomorphism
  • Enforcing 4/4 time
  • Common time and cut time
  • Sounds and drum kits
  • Tone, velocity and effects
  • Color and typography

The major design challenge: maximizing the target area within the grid

  • The three-dimensional torus solution
  • The spiral ramp solution
  • Logarithmic radii
  • Radii at equal intervals
  • Variable radii

Drum patterns and exercises

  • Classic Breakbeats
    • The Funky Drummer
    • Take Me to the Mardi Gras (Agogô)
    • Impeach the President
    • Cold Sweat
    • When The Levee Breaks
  • Genre templates
    • Basic rock
    • Basic hip-hop
    • Four on the floor
  • Afro-Cuban exercises
  • Compositional challenges
    • Subtractive rhythm
    • The sound of silence (The Big Beat)
    • Monophonic rhythm
    • Random rhythm

Curriculum ideas

  • Music
  • Cultural/social studies
  • Mathematics

Future work and feature wishlist

  • The pattern sequencer
    • The Amen Break
    • Apache
  • Exclusive open/closed hi-hat
  • Durations greater than one rhythmic unit
  • Participatory discrepancies
  • Arbitrary time signatures
  • The Drum Loop in the browser



  • Audio recordings
  • Software applications

Appendix: matching the Drum Loop to New York State’s mathematics standards

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