New Software Packages Bring Music to Students' Ears

Article excerpt

It used to be that most students never learned about music unless they volunteered for a band or choral program. The face of music education has changed dramatically in the past decade, however, fueled in large part by advances in digital technology.

Today, music instruction is available to anyone with a personal computer. MIDI, an industry standard for communication between computers and electronic keyboards, allows for hardware and software that are easier to use and less expensive.

In addition, newly released software packages take full advantage of multimedia by combining animation, video, audio and more. Several existing products, meanwhile, have been enhanced to appeal to a broader audience.

In fact, convinced that music education builds students, concentration and confidence, some K-12 schools have integrated music programs into the mainstream curricula. In a recent poll commissioned by the National Association of Music Merchants, 92% of those surveyed agreed that music is part of a well-rounded education.

Plus, 85% of the respondents who are current or former music makers said they learned to play between the ages of 5 and 14, with 63% first learning to play in school. Clearly, modern technology has the potential to influence a new generation of music enthusiasts.

This article focuses on music packages for all grade levels, ranging from introductory tutorials to sophisticated notation and sequencing programs.

* Beethoven and Beyond

Given the obvious limitations of textbooks in this field, it's only natural to expect that software would emerge to teach music history. Microsoft's Composer Collection for Windows, for example, features musical pieces by three legendary composers--Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert--as well as information about their life and times, sources of inspiration and theories about music.

Each CD-ROM is authored by a musical scholar with expertise in that composer's work and era. A Close Reading function provides a continuous commentary on compositions, synchronized to the music it describes. Quiz games challenge students, musical knowledge.

Another title, Microsoft Musical Instruments lets one "play" more than 200 musical instruments from around the world. Over 1,500 sound samples and 500 detailed photos bring the music alive.

For those interested in digital music, Digital Studios, Computer Music: An Interactive Documentary investigates how computers are used to create, edit and perform music. Advanced students can learn about such topics as additive, subtractive and nonlinear synthesis.

After viewing the documentary, one may synthesize and manipulate sounds as well as experiment with digital audio editing and special effects using Computer Music Lab Annex software, designed for grades seven and above.

Several packages concentrate on a specific instrument, such as Cambrix Publishing's Learn to Play Guitar CD-ROM. Accomplished composer and production artist Christof Flanders instructs each lesson in full-motion video, beginning with how to tune the guitar and progressing through scale patterns, transposing notes, reading tablature and more.

Electronic Courseware Systems offers dozens of specialized music instruction programs for Apple, Macintosh, Atari ST, Commodore 64/128, DOS and Windows platforms. Based on characters from Alice in Wonderland, Adventures in Musicland includes four different activities for understanding sounds, musical tones, composers and music symbols.

Also from ECS, Time Sketch: Composer Series comprises four professionally analyzed sketches of major works by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart.

Other packages go beyond these tutorials by allowing students to create and edit musical compositions. Even kids as young as five can experiment with music thanks to a new CD-ROM from Voyager.

Making Music presents the components of music visually and aurally in a completely intuitive environment. …