Music CDs Coax Creativity in Kids

By Karen Campbell, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 22, 1998 | Go to article overview

Music CDs Coax Creativity in Kids


Karen Campbell, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Introducing children to the wonders of music and music composition via computer software is surely not the most efficient or rewarding pathway. Even in our age of advanced technology, you can't beat the sound and feel of an acoustic instrument working its magic through the pluck of a string, a burst of breath, or the striking of a key or mallet.

What computers can offer aspiring young musicians, however, is a chance for different arenas of creativity, with new sounds and varied methods of construction. Computers also offer a chance for creative play that is not based on the ability to read music or play an instrument.

Several music software programs are geared especially to children, and though each has its flaws, each also offers something unique. The most comprehensive is Juilliard Music Adventure by Theatrix. As the title implies, the program houses its information in an adventure game - inside a castle, where a villainous little gnome named Gnoise has created musical havoc. The object of each adventure is to solve a number of musical puzzles, collect a series of keys (with faithful helper Fiddler), and open the throne room door where the queen is locked up.

The puzzles and games, which are set on three levels of difficulty, are based on the traditions and standard compositional tools of the classical music world, centering on the fundamentals of rhythm and melody. They are not based on reading music (and one has to wonder why not, given the Juilliard connection) but on a more visual and intuitive system of notation. Players are asked to recognize, rearrange, and create phrases by moving around tiles with "notes" on a grid. They match configurations of up/down for melody, long/short for rhythm.

The whole game, however, assumes an interest and an ear for music (you won't get far otherwise), and these hard-to-read tiles can actually be quite confusing, even with aid from informative sidebar scrolls that help keep players on task.

Even the most intrepid adult may find the game complicated and tedious. It is a clever program, however, and there are a lot of engaging aspects. Younger kids may enjoy wandering around the castle, though they won't get much out of the actual games. More advanced musicians can skip the game entirely and go straight to the compositional tools to create their own pieces, which can by played by a variety of synthesized instruments.

(Disappointingly, the only acoustic music in the whole program seems to be the introduction, which features a snippet of Mahler's Symphony No. 5.)

In the end, the best advice is that given by the good queen herself - "practice, experiment, play."

From an entirely different angle, the nifty SimTunes (Maxis Kids) provides an audio/visual adventure with the aid of music "Bugz" that move about the screen and set off sound as they intersect with colors and patterns that the player creates. …

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