Magazine article Technology & Learning

Skills for a Song: Three Noteworthy Music Education Programs Will Strike a Chord with Elementary-Age (and Older) Kids

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Skills for a Song: Three Noteworthy Music Education Programs Will Strike a Chord with Elementary-Age (and Older) Kids

Article excerpt

With renewed focus on core subject areas and preparation for standardized tests, time-pressed schools may be tempted to give their music programs short shrift. Yet research indicates that music listening and performance enhance brain development and general academic achievement. The three programs reviewed here help schools keep music on the program by promoting music education and appreciation through humorous, interactive songs and games, with emphasis on the development of aural discrimination skills. In addition, they challenge students to improve critical thinking skills, recognition of patterns, and aural and visual memory.

While there are plenty of software products that teach how to play specific instruments, for this review we chose to focus on programs that emphasize music fundamentals while enhancing core skills. Marketed as supplements for

traditional music education programs, MusiCan's first CD and Harmonic Vision's Music Ace/Music Ace 2 both offer progress tracking systems, teacher's guides, and printed exercises for students. Meanwhile, Music Games International's Mozart's Magic Flute: The Music Game is intended to be a fun introduction to classical music; though less overtly classroom oriented, it stimulates improved aural discrimination, memory, and critical thinking skills.

MusiCan 1 (MusiCan)

In MusiCan's first CD, kindergarten students complete 15 activities that encourage the development of such basic music skills as active listening, rhythmic awareness, and pitch recognition. The program also introduces the first five notes of the diatonic scale using their solfege names (you can earmark MusiCan as the only program here to teach solfege, an invaluable technique for music reading). In all lessons, the user hears a song, story, or explanation of concepts, then is encouraged to click on icons to complete phrases or tap out rhythms with the keyboard.

MusiCan's greatest strengths are its lovely songs and cheerful animation. Easily sung and beautifully written, the songs relate to everyday experiences: "Hear the Whistle of the Wind," "John Is Five Today," and my favorite, "Tidy Up the Kitchen." The linear format is appropriate for the age group targeted, lending to easy navigation. And the use of the keyboard for selected exercises nicely facilitates internalization of rhythm and promotes coordination.

Despite its strengths, the program has some flaws that might inhibit large-classroom use. Compared to other products for this audience, spoken prompts are minimal and sometimes vague. For example, in some song completion exercises students are cued with "I'm going to sing the song again, just click on the picture"; the additions of "correct picture to complete each phrase" would be less confusing. Similarly, instructions and test cues are given only once, which becomes a problem when students are distracted or simultaneously click on objects to produce other sounds (which is possible and tempting; however, users should learn to compensate for this weakness after several episodes).

Given these drawbacks, MusiCan is best for individuals and small classrooms--anywhere students ostensibly have less distraction and more assistance from adults. In that environment, this engaging first module should build students' appreciation for and internal connection with music. And the inclusion of a songbook and audio CD is a real plus for teachers wishing to build on the strength of MusiCan's melodies away from the computer.

Music Ace/Music Ace 2 (Harmonic Vision)

The Music Ace series nicely complements traditional music education by providing paired lessons and games that improve music reading and ear training skills. Using a grand staff and piano keyboard, Maestro Max and his Singing Notes encourage Music Ace users to master basic principles of music notation (the staves, key signatures and accidentals, pitch and interval recognition, and the relationship between written pitch and the keyboard). …

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