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The most significant trend in music technology this year has been the increasing use of software to create and achieve sound effects that were previously the exclusive domain of hardware. Sound editing and sampling software, for instance, can be used to explain many properties of sound, with effects such as repetition or inversion being applied directly from the menu bar. Adobe Audition (pound;169) or Wave Lab (pound;169) will "slice and dice" sound in any way imaginable, but if you want to turn those sounds into playable "samples", consider Tascam's powerful GigaStudio, which comes in three versions; GigaStudio 32, 96, and 128. At pound;60, the 32 is excellent value.

"Soft synths" and sequencers are popular in schools with favourites such as Magix, (prices start at pound;14), Dance EJay (from pound;7), and Fruity Loops (pound;62), being joined by the likes of Reason (pound;105), Making Waves (pound;50) and Ableton Live! (pound;199).

The most useful dedicated music software written for education has been Sibelius Education Suite, which includes: Starclass (pound;75), with more than 180 lesson plans, well suited for primaries; Auralia (pound;85) and Musition (pound;85) are, respectively, ear training and music theory programs; Sibelius Instruments (pound;99), an interactive encyclopedia of instruments and musical terms; Compass, an aid to composing; Sibelius Notes (pound;45), which can be used in tandem with the main Sibelius program as a wide-ranging classroom tool.

Sibelius3 (pound;339), Finale (pound;175) and Igor Engraver, (pound;135) are the main score-writing options. Sibelius 3 is particularly impressive and has some excellent new functions. Getting started is easier thanks to wizard-type technology. "Save as Audio" enables users to create a sound recording using hi-fidelity samples from an on-board Kontakt player. The colour of parts of the score can be changed, so teachers can emphasise key sections. Note spacing and grouping have been overhauled, making scores easier to read and giving phrasing a clearer definition. A plug-in allows teachers to devise fiendish sets of scales and arpeggios based on a huge variety of modes.

The three flagship sequencing programs, Cubase SX (pound;265), Logic Platinum (pound;356) and Sonar (pound;115), have all been revamped, but the great news for eMagic devotees is the return of Logic to the PC platform. The most well-featured applications, however, aren't necessarily the most appropriate.

For guitarists, the Boss BR532 multi-track unit is a real bargain at pound;279. It can run on mains or battery and has a built-in microphone, drum machine and multiple effects. Recordings are made to a smartmedia card, and there's even a balanced XLR microphone input.

One of the most interesting hardware developments of the past year has been the adoption of high-quality midi and audio interfaces for laptops.

Creative has added a high-spec external box to its range. The Audigy 2 NX (pound;85), with audio and optical inout connections, delivers high-quality listening and recording. Echo Audio produces three superbly engineered PCMCIA cards with the Indigo io (pound;120) offering stereo input recording facilities, while M-Audio's Sonica (pound;59) is an external USB audio card with digital and analogue connectors to boost sound quality.

The primary sector is well represented at this year's show. Visitors can find updated versions of Compose World Junior (pound;25) and Compose World 2 (pound;65) on the ESP stand, which will also be featuring two new products. The Dums (pound;50) uses the eponymous family of musicians to introduce musical instruments. Rhythm Maker (pound;25) is a rhythm editor and sequencer that provides "a supportive environment to explore and compose rhythms", as well as being a natural companion to Compose World 2 with which it can share files.

The Granada stand is home to BlackCat Composer (pound;49) a multi-layered musical composition program, which includes picture representation of musical phrases. Visitors will also find Musical Leaps and Bounds (pound;39) and First Class Music (pound;49).

Performance Assessment Software is set to play a central role in the evaluation process. eSAAMS, from Counterpoint MTC, is an electronic recording, management and assessment package that can be used to record achievement in any subject. It can be installed on tablet, laptop or desktop PC and can store audio and video clips for assessment, comparison or analysis.

And teachers, if all else fails, if the soft synths and multi-timbral gizmos don't tame those restless little bleeders on a wet Friday afternoon, go lo-tech. Just put on a sing-along or Karaoke disk and watch self consciousness and embarrassment dissolve into real enjoyment - Sunfly Karaoke DVDs (pound;12), Okey Cokey Karaoke (pound;10), The Walking Oliver Series (pound;12).

If you only look at three things...

Sibelius 3 contains more than 170 new features and plug-ins.

Sibelius Software Stand E116 Tel: 0207 561 7999

The eSAAMS package could have a major impact on the way teachers assess music performance.

Counterpoint MTC Z18 01903 539922

The Dums has been designed for primary and secondary music education and uses the eponymous family of musicians to introduce a selection of musical instruments.

ESP Music SW83 Tel: 0115 944 4140

Other contacts...

The Advisory Unit Computers in Education G35 Tel: 01707 266714 Arbiter Music 020 8970 1909

Dawsons Music Tel: 0870 44 24 610

Etcetera Tel: 0870 873 8731

Granada Learning E40F40 Tel: 0208 996 3632

Music Village Educational Supplies M25 Tel: 01708 771900 Total Audio Solutions W12 Tel: 01527 880051

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