Microsoft Musical Instruments

By Blount, Gilbert L. | Notes, March 1994 | Go to article overview

Microsoft Musical Instruments


Blount, Gilbert L., Notes


The opening title screen of this "interactive journey into the world of musical instruments" is followed by a "Contents" window that groups information in four partitions: 1. Families of Instruments, 2. Musical Ensembles, 3. Instruments of the World, consisting of maps showing simplistically where various instruments can be found, and 4. A-Z of Instruments, which provides for either straight alphabetical or random access traversal of the individual instruments on the CD. The Families of Instruments section is oddly divided into Brass, Strings, Woodwinds, Keyboards, and Percussion, and the concept of instrument families is expanded here to refer to any cluster or grouping of instruments that has a similar appearance or similar mechanical or acoustical design. This is an unusual premise for musicians, but it could be potentially useful to the casual observer. A tighter linkage between this family concept and the more traditional Sachs/Hornbostel classification system would improve the package.

The Musical Ensembles section is divided into Orchestras, Wind Bands, Jazz Bands, Steel Bands, Gamelans, Chamber Groups, and Rock Bands. Some of the information in the "Orchestras" subsection is problematic. The diagram for the baroque orchestra matches few contemporaneous seating diagrams found in the treatises and didactic manuals, and no mention is made of the great diversity of seating configurations utilized during the period. The "Chamber Groups" include: 1) Baroque trio sonata, 2) Piano trio, 3) Wind octet, and 4) String quartet, and the editors should probably have surveyed more carefully the available literature before considering the wind octet to be such a significant Western chamber ensemble.

The A-Z of Musical Instruments section utilizes most of the space on the disk. In this section, each instrument is pictured in large format in a window that has short descriptions with line pointers to some of the more important parts of the instrument. At the bottom of the window is a brief description of the instrument, the basic material(s) from which it is constructed, and its most common performance contexts. The user has the option of clicking on a speaker icon in this window to hear a more extensive sound file than is available from the "Families" windows, where it was apparently decided that quick comparisons between instrument sounds within a "family" would probably be the user's first priority. In addition to the speaker icon, there is sometimes a "Views" miniwindow on screen that will reveal added angles from which the instrument's picture has been taken, together with additional information about the instrument's construction. At the bottom of the instrument window are "Types" and "Facts" icons. The "Types" icon takes the user to a window of related instruments (some more clearly related than others), and the "Facts" icon produces a "Facts Box" that contains the Name, Family, Pitch Range, Material, Size (in inches and millimeters), Origins (there is no instrument etymology here), Classification (a meek attempt at Sachs/Hornbostel), and finally a "Did You Know?" section that provides an additional curiosity or two about the instrument or its players. Above the instrument at the top of the window is another speaker icon, and a click on it produces a non-idiomatic pronunciation of the name of the instrument.

Some of the musical instruments in this product receive considerably more coverage than others, and one wishes for greater internal consistency in this area. The cello, for example, is covered extensively, even including a "Sound Box" icon. Clicking on this brings up a complex window containing a staff from c' to g" with the letter-names of the notes in separate small shadow-squares under the notes on the staff. These pitches may be played in any order by the user. To the right of the staff is a treble clef icon labeled "Play Complete Range," which it automatically does when called, although in some cases the "complete range" is not really complete. …

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