Perfect circle

5th May 2006 at 01:00
Hugh John uncovers an original and engaging piece of software for teaching music that tears up the rule book

Why did that apple fall on my head? Why is the bath water all over the floor? Why a circle? Why not a straight line?

Mark Welland may not be up there with Newton and Archimedes yet, but his inspired question shaped the development of one of the most innovative music software programs.

The O-Generator Learning to Compose program, to give it its full title, is a music program aimed at the primary sector. Co-created by Mark and colleague Marcel Pusey (composer, band leader, bass player and education workshop veteran), O-Gen sets out to explain the basic concepts of music simply and thoroughly by using "tools and language that students understand".

And the circle? With a background in graphics design and a love of music but no formal music training, Mark was struggling to find ways to represent some of the musical concepts that Marcel wanted to incorporate. Notation was a particular problem; why a straight line, why not a circle?

Which goes some way to explaining O-Gen's intuitive and engaging interface.

Think Connect 4 or those radar and sonar devices that always appear in Second World War films, and you're some way towards visualising the home screen of the program. A large circle represents a single bar of music.

This is divided into 16 segments, with crotchet beats on 1, 5, 9 and 13.

Quaver and semiquaver (16th) beats fill in the sub-divisions. Within the outer circle is a selection of coloured concentric circles, each one corresponding to a musical instrument; bass, guitar, drum kit, piano and so on. When O-Gen is in operation, a bar - like the sweeping second hand on a watch - runs through the 360 degrees, illuminating the circles as it passes through them.

So, if the guitar is symbolised by a blue circle, and has been activated, when it's lit up on 1, 5, 9, 13 then it's playing on every crotchet beat in a bar of 44. It's a stunning conceptualisation that works well in the classroom.

This multi-sensory presentation of music makes O-Gen particularly suitable for non-specialist music teachers. Provided that you're not colour blind and can count to 16, you'll know where any instrument is in the bar! Teachers are further supported by O-Instructor, an onboard "virtual assistant" and a ring-bound lesson guide.

O-Generator is a totally original and engaging piece of educational software that needs to be seen and heard to be fully appreciated.

O-Generator Unique music teaching software, focused on learning to compose.

Prices: from pound;69 single user; pound;299 unlimited site licence (primary)

O-Generator web site

Marcel Pusey's education workshop site

Sibelius Music Worldwide distributors

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