New Software Packages Bring Music to Students' Ears

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 non-linear 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. Students compose music in real time via a mouse or MIDI keyboard, or by drawing on the screen. Among the 16 available instruments are piano, flute, horn, timpani and drums. Composer Morton Subotnick, who developed the title for Voyager, says that just as kids begin visual expression through finger painting, Making Music allows them to experience composing music before undergoing formal training with a real instrument. Ars Nova's Practica Musica 3 lets students learn music at their own pace. It offers instant feedback and a constant association between how notes look and how they sound. Most exercises ask one to name, play or write a certain interval, chord, note or rhythm. The multiuser feature permits each student to carry around a personal floppy disk with progress records. Promoting Creative Learning As in other disciplines, among the trends in music instruction is a movement away from a traditional drill-and-practice approach toward creative learning. Designed for ages 8 and above, Harmonic Vision's Music Ace presents a series of 24 comprehensive lessons that develop and reinforce fundamental music skills and an understanding of music theory. With the program's Music Doodle Pad, even novices can compose and arrange their own music. Named one of this year's outstanding software packages by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), Music Ace requires no MIDI keyboard. Dr. Peter Webster, a professor of music education at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., has used Music Ace for about three years, and says he likes its "blend of both the creative and linear aspects." Webster, who is co-authoring a forthcoming book entitled Experiencing Music Technology (Macmillan Publishing), adds that he hopes to see more packages that incorporate excerpts from actual musical scores. Voyetra's Discovering Music, for example, includes musical examples from dozens of composers in four major musical periods. Students can also jam with a virtual band, create original sheet music and record from a MIDI keyboard. For increased realism, it is recommended that one's computer have at least 8MB of RAM as well as a sound card that offers wavetable synthesis. Sequencing & Notation The most popular types of music software remain sequencers, which let one save, edit and play back compositions, and notation programs, for printing sheet music. Version 2.0 of Midisoft's Music Mentor both teaches music fundamentals and history, as well as provides capabilities for recording and editing music. Its sequencing component, Mentor Personal Studio, instantly displays standard music notation upon recording and playback of music. Notes may be cut, copied, pasted or moved around with simple mouse commands. A MIDI sequencer for Windows that sells for under $100, Twelve Tone Systems' Cakewalk Express supports many of the high-level functions found in more expensive packages, such as track parameters with General MIDI patch names, an event edit list with color-coded event types, and a mixer window. Jump Software's ConcertWare prints professional quality sheet music, in a complete score or in individual parts. It ships with Making Music, a free CD-ROM tutorial on computer music. A higher-end notation program is Opcode's Overture, which has been upgraded to run in native mode on Power Macs. For a versatile solution, Sound Suite for Windows combines Voyetra's Multimedia Productivity Pack, MIDI Orchestrator Plus and Music Gallery, along with a comprehensive library of graphic and video files on a single CD-ROM. A MIDI Mixer screen adjusts instrument levels with volume sliders, just like a recording studio. Finally, some well-known piano/keyboard manufacturers have introduced computer-based music instruction programs in recent years. Yamaha Corp., for example, offers Visual Arranger, which boasts an icon-based interface for recording and arranging chord progressions, phrases and melodies. Eight accompaniment groups each contain 20 style icons of the particular music genre: ballad, dance, jazz, Latin, pop, R&B, rock and world. Forty additional styles can also be loaded, allowing for 200 available styles at one time. Customized Music Labs From Debut Music Systems, a division of Baldwin Piano and Organ Co., comes DebutLab, a turnkey solution for setting up a customized music instruction lab. Written by music teachers, the Lesson Planner software comprises a general music curriculum, for elementary and junior high, that uses keyboards as learning tools. Activities reinforce understanding of rhythm, melody, harmony, form and timbre. A Debut Music Systems consultant can meet with school personnel to discuss their needs and recommend a solution for their environment. The benefits of a customized music lab can extend beyond the students in class, as schools will be equipped to offer community services such as adult education classes and piano lessons. Similarly, the Piano Partners Music Learning System (PPMLS) contains 25 lessons grouped into four learning levels for grades K-12. Through single-key commands, one can repeat or skip a lesson, change the tempo or answer questions posed on the screen. Most PPMLS programs are designed as building blocks to be reused in a more sophisticated manner as the student advances. They range from information pieces to games, drills, improvisation, or a combination thereof. Supporting the software are a comprehensive curriculum guide and workbooks and playbooks for students. Various PPMLS Music Solution Packages are available, such as one for 28 students that includes 14 MIDI keyboards, 7 MIDI interface cards, 28 headphone sets, 28 MIDI cables and 14 Y adapters. The firm recommends a full day of inservice training at the time of installation. Many other products sport innovative tools for music instruction. A highlight of the Nightingale Music Publication Suite from Musicware/TAP is NoteScan, which scans any printed score into a Macintosh, where the music can be edited, transposed, played back, rearranged and printed again. Also included is NoteView music previewer, for distributing sheet music over the Internet or on diskette; anyone can download a free copy of NoteView from Musicware's Home Page ( musicware/). Meanwhile, Opcode's Claire, The Personal Music Coach, utilizes a proprietary pitch-recognition technology to "hear" what is played or sung into the computer, then immediately provides feedback. Midisoft has introduced what it calls the "first song-based piano teaching program." Midisoft Play Piano instructs students on what they need to know to play the song of their choice. The program constantly evaluates the user's progress and selects lessons appropriates for his or her skill levels and trouble areas. One may import any MIDI file for practice; built-in selections are from Billy J'el, Elton John, James Taylor, Paul McCartney and more. With Microworks' CAMPS (Computer Assisted Music Processing System), the computer actually helps users compose music by presenting a large number of "musically correct" melodic and chordal possibilities. Rather than generate notes at random, the software simulates the creative process of a human composer or arranger. Finally, while the aforementioned products mainly target music students, programs are available specifically for their instructors. Music Director's Assistant from MuDiSoft, for example, includes a rehearsal planner, seating chart maker and graphic database for repertoire, inventory and recordings. Turn On and Tune In Before investing in software, it is wise to consider what extra hardware, if any, may be neces-sary for the desired application. Readers should consult additional resources for detailed information on the various accessories-sound cards, speakers, microphones, MIDI interfaces, etc.-required for making music on a computer. A CD-ROM "digizine," Light Rail Communications' Control addresses issues pertinent to both the aspiring and professional musician; each issue includes in-depth articles, a reader input section and hands-on product demos. Educators who use DOS machines may also wish to check out a World Wide Web site devoted to shareware music software. The SimTel site (www.acs.oakland. edu/oak/SimTel/ SimTel-msdos.html) includes tutors for teaching guitar, ear training and notation, as well as shareware musical composition packages. In the end, the right music solution will not only educate students, but inspire and entertain them as well.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.