Music and ICT can be profligate shopping companions. You could spend a small fortune equipping music rooms with state-of-the-art software; but you don't have to.
The requirements in primary and secondary are significantly different with the emphasis in the former being more on "play" activities that draw children into music and, hopefully, stimulate a lifelong interest. Software at primary level tends towards structures that approximate, in greatly simplified form, the notation system that pupils will encounter later in their school life if they continue with music.
Although most music software now seems to be written for the Windows platform, Acorn users will be heartened to note that the following three programs are also available on RISC. Topologika's Music Box 2 is an updated version of the program that won the BETT Gold Award for Primary Educational Software in 1995 and represents sounds and pitch on a vertical and horizontal grid system. In similar fashion, ESP's Compose World Junior encourages users to depict sound and rhythm as pictures or words. Rhythm Maker, from the same company allows children to create rhythm patterns that can be sequenced together. Junior Sibelius - the baby of that particular family - is likely to be younger children's first encounter with score writing. The program can also write back children's compositions as they play and can print out the completed scores.
Sequencing and score writing software are a significant part of the music budget in secondary education. Steinberg and eMagic, two of the best known developers, produce extremely complex, packages - Logic Gold and Cubase VST - costing in excess of pound;200. Schools are often persuaded to buy these programs when, according to Rob Jones, an advanced skills teacher at St Mary's College, Hull and author of the Daily Telegraph virtual school's music pages, "they could manage just as well with a cut-down sequencer such as Micrologic or Cubasis".
Sibelius, the most comprehensive score writing program, also comes in different versions, the cheapest being Junior Sibelius at pound;50. Sibelius 7 Student version is significantly less expensive than the flagship edition. Note also that the complete Sibelius range is still available on the Acorn platform.
It's possible to buy a perfectly adequate score writingsequencing package for little more than pound;100. At that price, David Bevin, education advisor at Dawsons Music education division suggests Micrologic AV or Cubasis VST with Print Music from Coda.
"Mix'n'Match" sample sequencing programs are proving very popular in the classroom. Dance E-Jay, Top of the Pops Mix Factory and Mixman Studio allow children to arrange harmonically compatible sound samples on screen and create music. Mixman Studio is particularly attractive with its large library of digitally recorded sound that included samples of sitar, tabla and drones.
There's cheap and there's free. Music software is often bundled with either hardware or computer magazines. Programs by Logic, Evolution Audio and Cakewalk have all been given away recenty, for example one issue of Personal Computer World magazine came with a full working copy of Music Maker 2, a sequencing program from Magix.
Jane Mitra of PIN (Parents Information Network) suggests that sound editing software, often provided free, is an under explored technology in many schools: "You can change a child's voice, timbre or pitch using sound editing tools." While it's great fun, says Rob Jones, it is also educational since "pupils are learning to be creative with sound".
A huge amount of musical resources already exists in many schools, though not necessarily in the music department. CD-Rom encyclopedias, for example, have banks of sound files ranging through the bad (national anthems synthetically reconstituted) and the good (Encarta has some superb world music and jazz clips) to the extremely useful (Encyclopedia Britannica displays all the orchestral instruments, accompanied by sound clips). There are also dedicated music resources on CD such as Hutchinson's Encyclopedia of Music.
Europress produces one of the few music programs that claim to be tied in to the national curriculum. Music Key Stages 1 and 2 explains rudimentary theory, pitch, rhythm and notation in cartoon form and with an impressive level of interactivity.
The Internet, invariably, is a rich wellspring of source material. RM's Living Library has a large collection of materials for music teachers and there are websites dedicated to virtually every musical style and genre; from jazz to Janacek, from Bluegrass to Bach.
Non Davies, head of music at the Gryphon School, Dorset, has used Logic to create Gamelan music with her pupils. Appropriate sounds have been downloaded and shaped into music. Using sequencers, she believes, enables children to "really understand the idea of rhythm, timbre and texture because it is visually obvious on the monitor".
Unfortunately, the single dedicated source of online help for music teachers, the Virtual Teachers Centre music pages, is - if the virtual discussion room is anything to go by - sadly underused. At the last count there were only eight questions posted up on the music site. Hopefully, the planned revamp of the VTC will encourage more teachers to use this resource.
Hugh John is a freelance writer
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