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Going soft? Pick your programs here

Mick Thomas offers a selection of software for young musicians exploring ICT's potential

MP3 has replaced sex as the most popular three-letter search term on the Internet. A music revolution is happening, thanks to an explosion in digital technology based on the MP3 file format, which can be downloaded from the Internet and easily shared. Though these files are relatively small, they allow music to be replayed at CD quality.

At the launch of the National Foundation for Youth Music's Music Maker project, Chris Smith, the Minister for Culture, Media and Sports, said: "I am passionately committed to ensuring that children get access to music-making. Every child should have the chance to play an instrument, sing and find their own musical voice."

Now the charity is spending pound;30 million over three years, which will give a great boost to the web resources and materials available to education. ( As a national agency promoting technology in education, the British Educational Communications and Technology agency (BECTa) has tracked some of the more significant developments in this volatile area of the curriculum. Any teacher needing a quick update should start with the music hub on the Virtual Teacher Centre (VTC) website, ( Becta produced the popular Music IT pack which was sent to every school in Britain. There is also a Music in Technology pack with a CD and video, for teachers who want to develop their skills in music technology. On the software front, there are two new primary products based on Compose and Midi Grid from Express Software Projects (ESP).

These were old favourites in the era of BBC computers, but now they come with theme packs and web-based materials to help teachers get started. Compose offers a range of music from waltzs and folk tunes to calypso. There is a composition tool which lets pupils choose instruments and build melodies. To widen pupils' musical appreciation, go on to the ESP site ( and find out about Chinese opera or Indian folk music. There is also a very imaginative pack based on the Titanic.

Charanga has just released an electric guitar tutor ( Beginners work through a guide and get going on easy solos and famous tracks, while more advanced players can perfect their technique. With the new version of Band in a Box from Prestige Music services ( you can create your own karaoke with MIDI accompaniment and then turn it into an audio wavefile.

At key stage 4, the software is often a cut-down version of professional packages. This may pose problems for teachers, but is highly motivating for pupils. One such package is Sibelius, ( which is good for notation and an ideal tool for able performers who know exactly what they want to do. However, most young people need to experiment, so Sibelius has its limitations for them and a package such as the new version of Cubase ( could be more suitable.

The enthusiasm for music technology has permeated all sectors of the educational market including special needs. Coming this summer from Widgit ( is The Music Factory, where learners explore sounds and build compositions. They start by choosing a genre such as Blues, Techno or Salsa. They can explore the sounds or build and play back a sequence. The program can be operated by mouse, touch screen or switch.

Mick Thomas is music curriculum support project manager at Becta.Tel: 01203 416994. Fax: 01203 411418. Website:

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