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Turning a minor into a maestro

If music be the food of love and technology the stuff of dreams, how good does tomorrow sound? Since multimedia exploded into personal computing, music and information technology have sunk their differences, and soundcards for PCs have made music part of IT furniture in ways that range from the subliminal to the sublime.

Like a hi-tech Hi-De-Hi, PC functions are announced by dongs, bongs and other musical nuisances, but listening to my own choice of music while using computers is great: Chris Rea breezes through a CD-drive and speakers with awesome power.

The National Council for Educational Technology (NCET), in partnership with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Office for Standards in Education and others, has developed excellent guidance under the title Music IT activities to support pupil entitlement. The accompanying booklet for key stages 1 and 2 (free on receipt of an A4 SAE) highlights the potential diversity. For key stages 3 and 4, the NCET has mailed all mainstream schools with guidance on Choosing and Using ITMusic Media. And on the way is a NCETSonic Arts project to develop teacher support and training materials. Watch this space.

The best CD-Roms call classical composers back to life in interactive anthologies, such as Microsoft's Composer and Composer Collection series. These complement orchestral performances with commentary or study notes, and the biographies blend information, visual context and musical illustration with symphonic power.

Microsoft's Musical Instruments lets pupils discover more than 200 instruments, offering instant access to photographs and live sounds. If you want to know what a zuma sounds like, this is for you.

Last year's TES Resources Award winner - Channel 4's Music Show CD-Rom - weaves together video clips, performance and workshop material. The impact is immediate: children want to know how music works, to try making music themselves and to debate musical qualities. The package comes with video and songbook.

Composing and performing have also been revolutionised by cuts in the price of software and hardware. Products such as UBISoft's excellent Guitar Hits can help pupils tune, strum and refine technique. The blend of close-up video, sound and score makes for a patient and effective tutorial format which should be extended to other instruments.

For three-chord trick songwriters, composing packages such as Emagic's Micrologic system are a godsend. The combination of midi-compatible recording studios with automatic notation turns cheap keyboards into complete orchestras. The Micrologic 12-track studio offers dozens of sounds, infinite tempos and some exquisite effects. Auto-scoring while you play is another breakthrough. Younger children can compose with packages which include a mini-keyboard, four-track studio and accessible theory.

The relationship between music and film can make for an interesting study. The Maestro program lets you explore how a variety of musical forms work in combination with a range of celebrated film-clips. The effect is entertaining and educational.

The Internet represents another revolution and the range of information is mind-boggling - a search on "Music Education" elicits more than 46,000 responses. Much is utter clutter and some just for fun. Sites with future potential include education forums at CompuServe and The TES.

The future will bring musical theory, debate, composition, audience and performance together. And I've had a glimpse. It's called generative music, as developed by SSEYO Koan software. Favoured by David Bowie's producer, the legendary Brian Eno, this quietly disturbing program brings new modes of composition straight from the Web to the computer, melding patterns, soundbites, samples and tones into a sound mix of infinite possibilities.

Jon O'Connor

National Council for Educational Technology: contact Sarah Pinks, 01203 416994, Web site: http:www. ncet. Composer and Composer Collection series and Musical Instruments from Microsoft dealers. Music Show: Channel 4 Schools, 01926 436444. Guitar Hits: UBIsoft, 0181 944 9000, Web site: Micrologic systems from Sound Technology, 01462 480000. Maestro software: 0151 291 7200. The TES Web site: SSEYO Koan: 01625 29828, Web site: http:www.sseyo. com

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