Pitched at a neglected market

Chris Drage

Music Box Floppy discs for Acorn Archimedes and A-series machines, Pounds 35 plus VAT, Pounds 60 plus VAT for primary site licence, Pounds 70 plus VAT for secondary site licence, Pounds 105 plus VAT for teacher training site licence Topologika Software, P O Box 39, Stilton, Cambridgeshire PE7 3RL.

Music Box addresses an area which must rate as one of the least exploited in schools: computer-generated music. And it does it so well that it won the Educational Technology gold award in the primary category at this year's BETT technology show.

There are few programs available which enable children to manipulate musical sounds and rhythms; to construct and edit simple compositions without demanding that they learn or read notation. With Music Box you get two discs, a handbook, a teacher's guide to classroom applications, helpsheets and worksheets.

It achieves its aims via four distinct sections, each addressing a different aspect of music: in the Sound Box children can try out different sounds, from a range of 36, at different pitches. By saving a small composition children can then change any of the the instruments to see how that affects the overall tune.

It is also a useful performance instrument in its own right because of its immediate response. From the configure screen it can be "tuned" to match other classroom instruments like the recorder. The way notes work in combination is a vital aspect of music and the Chord Box gives children the opportunity to experiment with chords.

In essence, this activity works in much the same way as the Sound Box: any one of seven chords can be created, and changing the position of certain notes can bring in variations like minor chords or sevenths.

These too can be recorded and replayed as accompaniments for other classroom instruments. Used in conjunction with the accompanying chord chart, guitar chord accompaniments in popular songbooks can form the basis of a multitude of variations.

The Beat Box is a sort of drum machine in which children set up visual patterns by placing percussion sounds on a beat line or by tapping the space bar. Once in place, these can be edited to develop different rhythmic patterns. Each beat is divided into 12 divisions. By slowing the speed, placing beats becomes easier and some quite complex patterns can be set to be played repeatedly, if required.

All the ideas explored in these three "boxes" come together in the Tune Box, where sounds are placed on a grid representing the stave and compositions can be built up. Using visual patterns enables investigations into two or three-part harmonies to be made. There are also opportunities here to investigate the relationships between mathematics and music. In each of these four activities, tunes can be saved and loaded, and speed (a metronome), pitch and key are all under the teacher's control.

All tools and functions can be configured to suit children's needs which opens up Music Box for many children with special needs as well as as younger pupils.

Music Box provides a medium in which all manner of musical investigations can take place. Its uses, as they say, are limited only by the imagination. It is great fun too. No school should be without this one.

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