Too good

26th March 2004 at 00:00
Terry Freedman recommends a software package for use up to key stage 2

Music Toolkit

Single pound;39, 2-10 users pound;149, site licence pound;249

It can't be done." "It's too advanced for them." If these are the kinds of comments you hear when you express a wish to introduce young people to sound, rhythm and composition, then Music Toolkit, winner of the ICTResource Award at this year's Education Show, should give the naysayers something to think about.

Developed with an eye on both music and ICT, it consists of six separate software programs that cover the foundation stage up to key stage 2.

The six sections are 2explore, 2beat, 2play, 2sequence, 2synthesise, and 2compose. 2explore has pictures of six instruments which can be clicked on to see what they sound like. Although the range of sounds is limited, you get a wider choice of sets of instruments by clicking on the "new" icon.

One set of "instruments" consists of sound effects, which pupils could use to illustrate a story. Even at this level, it's possible to record a short sequence and print and save it.

2beat introduces tempo and different types of percussion. Again, you can record your work and this time clicking on the "new" icon gives a greater choice of sequence length. The imaginative teacher will encourage pupils to explore other possibilities than music. For example, the drum makes a good heartbeat; this, combined with the fact that the sequence is repeated until you stop it and that you can vary the speed of playback, means it could be used to provide some suspenseful sound effects to a story is being read.

2play is an easy-to-use on-screen keyboard with 12 different sounds, which can be used to introduce pitch and melody. This is the first program of the six to use music in any formal sense: the notes of the keys can be shown on the screen keyboard.

2sequence makes it possible to build up sequences of sounds by dragging and dropping to make a tune, and to layer sounds. Some of the sample sounds - especially the violins (where there is a touch of Vivaldi) are very pleasant. This module gives the pupil the possibility of creating a far greater number of permutations. 2synthesise provides more than 50 instruments and performances can be recorded and played back for immediate gratification or exported to 2sequence.

Finally, 2compose is a simple introduction to composition and the results can be exported as midi files.

On the whole the programs work well, though they are somewhat difficult to memorise. Annoyingly, when you click on the "new" icon you are not prompted to save your work. Not only does this appear to be an oversight, it does nothing to encourage good practice in this respect.

However, the behind-the-scenes support is impressive. For example, the teacher has the option of disabling printing or, cleverly, to make the print button disappear for several minutes after it has been activated. In addition, a lot of work has gone into showing how the six programs could help the music and ICT programmes of study. And as if that weren't enough, several short video tutorials have been provided.

2Simple has developed a name for itself by producing high quality software, aligned to the national curriculum, at reasonable prices. This product can only enhance its reputation.

Terry Freedman is head of e-education at the London borough of Tower Hamlets

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