Magazine article Technology & Learning

Pump Up the Volume: Four Digital Music Programs Let Students Practice the Art of Thinking in Sound. (Picks of the Month)

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Pump Up the Volume: Four Digital Music Programs Let Students Practice the Art of Thinking in Sound. (Picks of the Month)

Article excerpt

In this review of music tools, we examine several computerized music programs, beginning with introductory offerings for younger students with little or no musical training, such as Radio Disney's Music Mix Studio and Sonic Foundry's Super Duper Music Looper, and graduating to more advanced music creation, editing, and transcription software, such as PG Music's Band-in-a-Box and Cakewalk's Home Studio XL. All programs reviewed here serve as musical sketch pads, facilitating creativity by allowing students both to listen to and look at their graphically enhanced compositions or drag, drop, and rearrange sounds and elements knowing little if any music theory or notation. The more sophisticated offerings let young musicians transform their desktops into remixing studios or join an electronic orchestra. All address four of the nine voluntary national standards enumerated by the National Association for Music Education.

Super Duper Music Looper (Sonic Foundry)

With few commands to learn, still fewer words to read, and limited possibilities for failure, even very young children can compose music using this intuitively designed program. An upbeat tutorial introduces the graphical interface. Essentially, kids create songs from musical building blocks called loops (e.g., repetitive drum rolls and guitar strums) by stringing a series of loops end-to-end to produce a professional-sounding melody.

At startup, students view a Timeline with nine music tracks, one for each of the program's nine instrument types or loop style categories, including bass, drum, effects, orchestral, guitar, vocal, and percussion clips. To compose a song, simply rest the pointer on a track, dick a loop style, choose a loop from the loop library (you can sample the loop before selecting), and then use the paintbrush to paint your selected loop onto the Timeline and into its own track. A ruler shows the length of songs in measures and beats.

Young musicians have a variety of options for creating songs and melodies. They can add more loop tracks or loops, increase or decrease song tempo (song speed measured in beats per minute), change the key (pitch) in which the melody plays, and save their musical compositions either in native Sonic Foundry format or WAV format for use in other programs (e.g., PowerPoint will play compositions saved as WAV files) or for sending as an e-mail attachment.

While not originally designed for the education market, in the hands of an imaginative teacher, this kid-friendly application can introduce music theory to very young children and give older children a chance to show off their musical talent.

Radio Disney Music Mix Studio (Disney Interactive)

Like Super Duper Music Looper, Music Mix Studio puts ready-made music creation tools at point-and-click disposal, featuring a music player that will play back your compositions complete with "skins," or visual effects that display as the music plays. Overall, however, the product is more difficult to use and more limited than Sonic Foundry's more intuitive offering.

First-time users will find the unfamiliar graphical interface of Music Mix Studio a bit bewildering. Without standard drop-down menus or "click-me-first" buttons, you'll want to start with the help button to learn how to create a project and to explore program options. Fortunately, you don't have to be a music maven to compose a song with Music Mix Studio; there's no music theory to master or notation to read. You create music on the Mixing Board in the program's Music TrackBuilder. The program offers a choice of nine music styles, ranging from Pop Dance and Rap to World Music and Techno. After selecting a style, choose your instruments from within that style, arranging prerecorded clips that you like on the Mixing Board's timeline-like tracks. Each Instrument Track has its own controls (Volume, Solo, and Mute), enabling you to hear a track without having to listen to others. …

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