Category Archives: Intermediate Tech Skills

Creating Silent Movies with iMovie

Background Information – Silent Movies

From “Silent Film” in Wikipedia:  A silent film is a film with no synchronized recorded sound, especially with no spoken dialogue. In silent films for entertainment the dialogue is transmitted through muted gestures, pantomime, and title cards. The idea of combining motion pictures with recorded sound is nearly as old as film itself, but because of the technical challenges involved, synchronized dialogue was only made practical in the late 1920s with the perfection of the Audion amplifier tube and the introduction of the Vitaphonesystem. After the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927, “talkies” became more and more commonplace. Within a decade, popular widespread production of silent films had ceased.

Online examples of Silent Movies:

Generally, Silent Movies share the following characteristics:

  • The only sound is music – you cannot hear what the actors are saying or doing.
  • The acting is very over-the-top to convey the story without dialogue.
  • The story is simple and straightforward.
  • Dialogue may appear as “title cards.”

In traditional silent movies, the score was created after the movie was filmed and edited – often performed live in the movie theater by a local piano or organ player.  In this project, we’re going to flip that process on its head, starting with a particular piece of music and creating a silent movie around it.  Think of it as the traditional “draw a picture of what this music makes you feel/think” project on steroids.

Before You Begin

Because movie creation is a rather complex task, there are lots of possible ways to go about this project, and it can be adapted for all levels, abilities, and time constraints.  Answer the following questions before you begin to help you determine the best options for you:

  • What is the age/ability level of your students?
  • What are your main educational goals for this project?
  • How much time can you devote to this project, both in class and outside of class?
  • How much of this project do you want students to complete on their own versus how much are you willing to do yourself (or with an older student assistant)?
  • How much computer editing do you want to incorporate in this project?  Will this editing be done by the instructor or the students?
  • What technological resources do you have available, both for filming, editing, and sharing your films?
  • Do you have a larger class that you want to break up into groups?  Will the entire group be working on the project together or will you have students divide tasks amongst their group members?
  • What is the final format for this silent movie and where will it be presented?  Do you want it to be performed live?  Will it be posted to YouTube (you will need students’/parents’ permission to do so)?

Keep your answers to these questions in mind as you go through the following steps:

 1.  Select music. 

You can provide music for your students or give them a few options to choose from.

Ideally, the music you select will be:

  • short (1-2 minutes–use GarageBand to trim down music to excerpts if necessary)
  • instrumental
  • unfamiliar (so students do not already have a story in mind beforehand)
  • programmatic (not in verse/chorus format)
  • evocative

Possible sources for this music include:

  • movie scores
  • orchestral ballet music
  • traditional silent movie music (Look for the album “Play Me a Movie” in iTunes)
  • music created by students

2.  Concoct the plot of your movie. 

Story lines should be very simple, but have a definite beginning, middle, and end.  Keep in mind the actors you have available as you create your characters and plot.  A sample story for a melodramatic short silent movie might be:

  • Beginning:  Hero and Heroine are in love.  Villain kidnaps Hero and ties him to the railroad track.
  • Middle:  Heroine has to find hero, which she does with the help of some friendly Woodland Creatures.  But the knots are tight and the train is coming.
  • End:  Heroine frees hero from the train tracks just before the train zooms past.  Hero, Heroine, and Woodland Creatures celebrate.  Villain cries and pouts.

3.  Write the “script.” 

This will not look like a traditional script since there are few to no spoken lines.  Instead it should read more like a story or extended stage direction.  If you want to include title cards, determine what they will say and where in the story they will go.

Optional:  Create a story board for your movie.  Story boards look like comic books and contain a picture for every shot of the movie.  Every event in your plot should have one or more story board pictures.  Here is a GREAT video from Pixar that explains how story boards are created and turned into “real movies”:   NOTE: If you would like to avoid having to video record or do your movies “live” you can create an entire silent movie by using storyboarded images and music only.

4.  Plan and rehearse your movie.

If you plan to do little to no video editing–or want to perform your movies live for an audience–this step will be very important.  (If you are creating your movie from story board only, you can skip to step 6.)  Ideally, students will be able to “perform” their movies to the music, like a dance piece from start to finish.  If you want to include title cards, plan “freezes” into the movie action where the titles can be added.   During this step, you will also figure out costumes and set, which can be anything from drawing-on-a-marker-board simple to rented-or-custom-made-costumes elaborate.

Variation:  if you are planning on doing extensive video editing, with multiple locations and points of view, it may not be possible to perform it “live,” in which case this step becomes more about planning the video shoot and editing process than rehearsing, though you will still need to figure out set and costumes.

5.  Film movie.

You can film your movie with anything – laptop, ipad, digital video camera, digital camera, flip camera – as long as you have a reliable way to transfer the movie files to your editing computer.  Hint:  test your camera and computer beforehand!  If you want to avoid doing much computer editing, set the camera on a tripod and record the movie performance in one or two takes in a single shot.  If you want to do more extensive editing later on, you can shoot individual scenes from various angles and in multiple takes.

6.  Edit movie (and add title cards).

HINT:  If you have never used iMovie before, begin by watching this excellent introduction:  (It is based on iMovie 09, which is the version I have as well.)  The iMovie interface is intuitive and user-friendly, even for beginners, but you may want to practice a bit beforehand if you plan on doing or coaching students to do extensive computer editing.  Also, there is an even more basic iMovie app that can be used on an iPad.

  1. Import video clips/images.  This process will be different depending on what you use to record your video.  You can also choose to record video right into iMovie by clicking on the camera icon.
  1. Choose one of the “Import” options from the file menu to add video clips into iMovie

    Click the “camera” to record video directly into iMovie.


  2. Add video clips and images to the Project Area and put them in the proper order for your movie.  (If you are doing extensive computer editing, this will be your most time-consuming step.)  As you are adding video clips to the Project Area, err on the side of too long, rather than too short, as it is easier to trim clips in the project area than it is to lengthen them again.
  3. Edit video file(s) to remove sound (and color!)  Click on a clip in the Project area to highlight it, then expand the snowflake-shaped button to see your editing options.

    • Select “Audio Adjustments” and turn the volume from your film clip to 0.

      Change Volume to 0 to remove sound from the movie.


    • Select “Video Adjustments” and move the “saturation” slider to 0 to change the video to black and white.

      Change saturation to “0” to make clip black and white.


    • (Optional) Select “Clip Adjustments” and select the “Aged Film” from the Video Affects menu for an old-fashioned look – you can also experiment with other effects if you wish.
  4. Add title cards (if necessary) to your movie.   This can be done in several ways:  You can use the “Titles” feature in iMovie to create your titles there, or you can create title card images (either by photographing hand-made cards, or using some sort of software) and import them into iMovie, either via iPhoto and the “add photo” box or by dragging the image files into your Project area from another application, and then selecting “Insert.”

    One way to add “title cards” is with the Titles tool.

    Or, you can create title cards in some other way, import them to iPhoto and add them from here, or just drag them into the Project from another application.


  5. Add your music and adjust video clip duration if necessary.  If your piece of music is in iTunes, you can add it directly from the “Music and Sound Effects” menu.  Otherwise just drag the audio file into the project.  Either way, make sure you have turned the entire project area green before you “drop” the audio file into the project. You may find once you have added the music, that you need to shorten or lengthen some of the clips to make the music line up exactly.

    Drag the audio file (either from the Music menu or from your Desktop) into the Project Area in such a place that the entire Project turns green. This will overlay the audio onto your entire movie.

  6. (Optional)  Add an opening title and closing/credits screen to your movie using the “Title” menu.

7.  Share your movie. 

You have many options for how your movie can be shared.  If you are only showing them only within your class or only from the computer that created created them, you can play the movies from iMovie by clicking the “Play Project Full Screen” button.

Click this to view your movie full screen.

If the movies need to be accessed elsewhere or sent home with students, you can use the “Share” menu to send the movies to iDVD (which burns DVDs), iTunes, or YouTube.  (Note:  check with your school/organization before posting student work to YouTube!)

8.  Enjoy your Silent Movies!

Software used:  iMovie ’09, Version 8.0.6

Possible Cross-Subject Correlations:  History (create silent movies that tell the story of a historical figure or event, Literature (create silent movies that tell all or part of a famous fictional story), Music History (use the silent movie to tell a story about the of the music’s composer)

Amanda Louise Miller is pursuing an MM in Music Composition at Oklahoma City University.
She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education and extensive experience working in online learning and faculty development.

Contact her at 

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Rhythm Raps in GarageBand

Raps are fun ways to work on musical concepts such as song form, rhythm notation, and lyric writing.  They are also a good way to begin working with GarageBand, because you are not dealing with the additional concept of melody or melodic instrumentation and notation.

Part One:  Write the Rap Lyrics

  • Generate a simple rap.  An easy way to do this is by compiling a list of words or phrases on a specific topic (for example:  favorite foods, emotions, summer activities, sports in the Olympics, what does “back to school” mean to you?, etc.).

    The start of an “Emotions” rap — the brainstormed list is divided into “happy” and “sad” emotions and rhythmic values are added.

  • Then make your list “rhythmic,” so that you can read it in rhythm.  You may need to rearrange words on the list to make it fit into a 4/4 rhythm.
    • Optional:  make the rap rhyme by ending each line with a rhyming word.
    • Optional:  write out the rhythm for the rap in music notation, either by hand or using notation software.

      The actual “script” for our rap.

  • If you want to use this rap to teach song structure, you can create segments for verses, choruses, bridges, etc.  A lot of contemporary rap music has a sung chorus – this could be something you have prepared ahead of time, an applicable folk song or nursery rhyme, or it could be something students create as well.

Here are some examples:

    • Practice and edit your rap acapella until you are satisfied with the results.    Here is an example of a very simple rap, based on the “Emotions” pictures above.

Part Two:  Create Your Audio Track

Now it is time to create a backing track for your rap using GarageBand.  Before you begin working in the software, though, you need to make some decisions about what your final project will sound like.  (GarageBand has SO many options for accompaniment and instrumentation; it will speed up your process immensely if you have a clear vision of what you want before you begin on the computer.)

  • Decide on an overall mood or theme for your rap before you begin.  Do you want your rap to be happy?  Sad?  Playful?  Angry?  You will be choosing loops and backing instrumentation that match this criteria.
  • Determine an approximate tempo for your rap.  By default, GarageBand sets tempos at 120, but you can change this easily.  (see image in the next section)
  • Determine what instrumentation you want to use with your rap – drums only?  Drums and bass?  Drums and Keyboard loop?  (Hint:  instructors can have pre-made these decisions or can let students make them.  Much of this decision will be determined by how much time is available for the project.  It is wise to familiarize yourself with the loop and instrumentation content within GarageBand ahead of time, particularly if you are going to be letting students decide on the fly what they want for accompaniments.)

Now, you can create your rap accompaniment track in GarageBand.

  1. Make sure the tempo of your track is the same tempo you decided on in the previous section.

    Switch playback window to “Project;” then click on the tempo to change it.

  2. Make sure the metronome is turned on.

    When “Metronome” is checked, the metronome will sound when recording only.

  3. Record a “starter” audio file of one or more students performing the rap in tempo with the metronome.  This may or may not be the audio track you use for your final product, but it will help keep the accompaniment creation process focused.
  4. Add desired accompaniment tracks one-by-one to compliment the recorded vocal track, beginning with the percussion/rhythm track.  Use the description words you came up with the previous section to guide your choice of accompaniment loops and instruments.  (Hints:  select “All Drums” as a search filter in the loops area.  “Club Dance Beats” are good choices for raps, but there are many percussion loops to choose from.)
    • If you have different “sections” in your rap, you may want to use different accompaniment loops for each section.
    • The “Electronic” filter includes many loops that could be added to your rap.
    • Accompaniments can also be recorded live using GarageBand’s recording capabilities, either via midi or “real audio” microphone tools.  (Hint:  you may want to use headphones if you are recording audio accompaniment snippets live, as metronome or vocal sound will bleed onto the accompaniment track when you record.)
    • You can create an intro or outro with extra loops before and after the vocals.
  1. Optional:  rerecord the vocal track after the accompaniment is created.
  2. Optional:  use the track editors to manipulate the sounds in your rap.  Editing the vocal tracks can be very effective.  Some of my favorite settings are “Live Performance” under the “Vocals” section (for a very clean, prominent, resonant sound), and “Telephone Lines” under the “Effects” section (for a fun, filtered sound).  GarageBand has advanced sound editing capabilities that can be utilized if you are comfortable with them.

Here is an example of a finished product – both what it looks like in GarageBand and what it sounds like:

Finally, you need to export your rap to iTunes so it can be shared and performed.

  • Hint:  If you want to export a “karaoke” track, click the “mute” button on the track(s) with the vocals before Sharing.

    Mute or unmute tracks by clicking the “sound” icon.

  • Select “Send Song to iTunes” from the Sharing menu and follow the onscreen prompts to export and share your audio file.
  • Optional:  use a website like to upload the audio file into a format that can be shared with a simple email link (or embed it in a blog like I did in this post!)

Software Used:  GarageBand ’09, Version 5.1

Cross-Subject Correlation:  ANYTHING!  Pick a subject-specific topic for your rap (such as a historical event, a mathematical concept, or a piece of literature) and create your rap about it.

Amanda Louise Miller is pursuing an MM in Music Composition at Oklahoma City University.  She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education and extensive experience working in online learning and faculty development.
Contact her at 

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