Hitting the right note

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
Pupils are tapping into their bass instincts as interest in music technology soars. Just make sure you're on friendly terms with the ICT technicians, says Hugh John

Inclusivity is the word and the musicICT industry now supports a huge range of styles at every level. And if attendance at the Music-Live Education day at Birmingham's NEC is a barometer, a lot of young people want to be involved in cutting-edge music technology.

The big event of the year in the world of sequencing software has been the purchase of Emagic by Apple and its consequent decision to withdraw support for PC users. And with Steinberg threatening to withdraw multi-user licenses for their Cubase range, schools may be forced to look at alternatives.

Duncan Mackrill, PGCE secondary music curriculum tutor at Sussex University and a consultant for Counterpoint MTC, predicts "there will be some changes, particularly for schools purchasing for the first time". Onenew alternative he suggests is Magix's Music Studio Deluxe (pound;49.99) as the software is built on MicroLogic's AV engine. David Bevin of Dawson's Music recommends Music Master Professional (pound;150) fom Datasonics. The new kid on the block is Sonar XL (pound;275) from Cakewalk, a high-end sequencing package that has many of the features of Cubase but is far cheaper.

Cubase SX (pound;300), Steinberg's new flagship sequencer, remains an exceptional program and boasts a faster audio engine, compatibility with programs such as Propellerheads' Reason and Ableton Live, new MIDI functions, offline audio processing and an improved audio editor.

"The PC is encouraging the exploration of raw sound as a medium for artistic exploration," says Rob Jones, AST teacher at St Mary's College, Hull. "Pupils love to sample sound and manipulate it digitally through the software." Popular editing programs are Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge (pound;379) and Syntrillium Software's CoolEdit (pound;200).

Looking for a software package that offers a wide range of popular music, is infinitely editable and allows students to play along at a tempo that suits them? PG Music's Band-In-A-Box (pound;90) may be the answer. This ingenious program allows users to enter chord sequences, rhythmic preferences and musical genres, which means teachers or students can put together song structures that can support class or individual playing.

As for sounds, rather than sequencing, if you have a discrete sound card in your computer the chances are it's a Sound Blaster from Creative. What makes its new Audigy Platinum 2 card (pound;150) so special are its sonic properties and its connectivity. The Audigy delivers stunning sound quality and supports a range of options, including 5:1 surround sound.

The primary sector also has a full repertoire of software. Granada has Musical Leaps and Bounds (pound;29) and First Class Music (pound;50), which is aimed at key stages 1 and 2 respectively. ESP's new product is Musical Time Machine, a musical processor with a variety of powerful and sophisticated functions. Also worth investigating is Rhythm Maker (pound;25), also from ESP.

If you fancy an old-fashioned knees-up in class, how about Okey Cokey Karaoke (pound;10) from Channel 4? Okey and her karaoke machine tell stories, sing and encourage children to join in. And for younger pupils there's D2 Digital's CD-Rom Mouse Music (pound;12.99), which uses a collection of furry rodents to introduce children to the basic concepts of music making.

The potential of music technology in special needs has long been recognised, but it's now becoming a potent force. Programs such as Music Factory (pound;39) from Widgit include a range of facilities and input devices such as large icons, switch access and the option to save settings for individual users.

Led by Chris Smith, a team from Becta is developing "practical guidance, activities and lesson plans to help those who have access to a Soundbeam (an innovative MIDI device which converts physical movement into sound) and want to make better use of the technology". Becta has also organised an Online Inset Day for music teachers and continues to maintain the Virtual Teacher Centre music pages.

But among all this talk of MIDI, latency and sound loops, the best advice for teachers may yet be this piece of blunt pragmatism from Andrew Jones, deputy head of music at Sankey High School, Warrington: "At all cost value ICT technicians - make them top of your Christmas card list."

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