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Music Program Reviews

 

The Importance of Music Training

An increasing number of homeschooling parents are recognizing the value that music training and music appreciation have for their children. A great deal of recent research and findings relating to the beneficial effects that early music-learning has on the young, developing brain has been well-publicized and is well-established. Exposure to music and music training aid the youthful mind in later success with math, for instance. Listening to music can increase concentration and promote relaxation in certain kinds of learners. Music training also aids one in developing critical thinking by learning a sense of musical aesthetics, studying what is accepted as "good" and "not so good" in music. While such standards are not universal, and are not to be followed slavishly, developing the critical faculty makes for a more well-rounded person, able to support and contribute to a civilized world.

Music education in public school systems around the country may be nearly extinct, but in the homeschooling world music is thriving! In this Music section, can be found an article about childrensí choirs by Gaby Pryor, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Childrensí Choir; another about a homeschool band by Ofra Obejas, and in this review portion we hope to focus on just a few of the incredible products available to teach your child music or supplement his/her musical education. Our list of review products is tiny compared to what is out there and we do not wish to give the impression that in our estimation, these are the only great ones available. In order to consider and write about all of the wonderful musical products there are would take six months of concentrated effort -- by then that many more would be on the market! We are therefore faced with the situation of the dog chasing his tail. Some of these products are ones we have been using lately and we think they are good for anyone who needs what they can do. Others, we have just discovered recently and want to recommend them for your consideration. We have confined ourselves to software products because we feel they provide general music educational opportunities for children without requiring musical ability from parents. If you are a musician, so much the better. You will find these products handy tools to supplement your music work with your child. If you have tin ears and ten thumbs, the program can do most of the music work for you, with very little supervision. We hope you benefit from our reviews and find these products as worthwhile as we have.

All of the following products are being reviewed by Michael and Lennon Leppert as a team. All of them are suitable for Mac or PC use unless otherwise noted. Likewise, all can be used with Windows 3.1 or Windows 95, DOS 6.0 or higher, unless otherwise noted. All require a minimum of a 486 processor

Music AceÔ and Music AceÔ 2 by Harmonic VisionÔ

68 East Wacker Place, Ste. 700, Chicago, IL 60601 Each program lists for $49.95. Call 847/467-2395 to order or obtain the name of a dealer near you.

These two excellent software programs, Music AceÔ and Music AceÔ 2, are perfect products for teaching your child the elementary, foundation music theory skills and their mastery. In other words, your child can learn the basic elements of music -- pitch, duration, rhythm, simple notation, terminology and also play hands-on examples of songs using those elements.

For a child who demonstrates little or no musical aptitude, this level of exposure to music can prove satisfying and enlightening. When the occasion arises to see a concert, whether live or televised, or listen to recorded music, this basic knowledge will enrich his/her understanding and enjoyment of listening. On the other hand, if your child demonstrates average or above average musical skill, these two programs will prove exciting, fun and very beneficial to his/her early musical study and development.

Music Ace (ages 5 to 14) is the beginning program and consists of 24 lessons, each followed by a game to reinforce the skills previously covered in the lesson and help the user track his/her progress. Your student can isolate topics that require more or less attention and then follow up accordingly. The program begins with elementary note identification in treble and bass clefs and ends with studying and working with the major scales. It allows the user to work with treble clef only, bass clef only or both. Therefore, no matter what instrument your student may wish to study outside of the Music Ace work, the program is adaptable. (For instance, piano players use treble and bass clefs, guitarists, violinists and flutists use the treble only, bass players use only the bass clef.) For the enjoyment of the young student, the program features a little animated conductor named "Maestro Max" who prompts the user throughout the program. The graphics of both programs are appealing and bright, clear and easy on the eyes.

A feature of Music Ace called Doodle PadÔ contains a repertoire of samples of known pieces or allows the user to make up his/her own simple tunes. The user can click and drag individual notes to anywhere on the grand staff (treble and bass clefs combined). Music Ace plays the pitch as you place the note, aiding in constant ear recognition. The four-octave onscreen graphic keyboard allows the user to hear the pitch of any of the 52 piano keys shown -- from the E below the bass clef to the C above the treble clef. We think that a five-year-old, with help from a parent who possesses rudimentary music knowledge, would benefit from Music Ace. (A nine-year-old and older could navigate the program without a parentís aid.) Even a child who had no instrument available could use the programís keyboard to experiment with. [Note: A high-school age student with no note-reading knowledge at all could learn and practice much music theory from this program, but he/she might feel a bit uncomfortable with the childish format.]

Music AceÔ 2 (Ages 7 to 12) also contains 24 lessons, ending with a lesson on an introduction to harmony. It provides advancements in material covered, such as the addition of the alto clef (used by cellists) to the treble and bass choices noted above and covers such advanced musical applications as syncopation, minor scales, and introduction to intervals. Music Ace 2 features the Doodle PadÔ and includes MIDI hookups for use with a synthesizer and/or digital piano. (MIDI adaptor not included.) Both of these Harmonic VisionÔ programs are attractive and fun to use. They provide an economical way to teach your child a great deal of important musical information and make practicing it fun as well.

Julliard Music Adventure (May not be suitable for all points of view.) Ages 10 to 12.

This is a sophisticated program, although no note-reading is necessary. JMA is entirely a game utilizing various musical skills. The basis is that a queen has been captured by an "evil gnome" called Noise who has imprisoned her in an amulet. In order to free her, the player must enter various rooms of her castle to solve musical problems and receive a key that represents a musical instrument. Once you receive a key, you can take it to the Throne Room to listen to the melody of enchantment that controls the lock(s) on the Throne Room door. (There are three different towers of the castle, each with a Throne Room and different numbers of locks.) Once inside a Throne Room you are allowed to experiment with different sound patches, rhythms and pitches to make music. This makes entering a Throne Room a desirable goal. This program is not designed to teach music theory or notation as the Music Ace programs are, for there isnít the same degree of musical skill required. Since all of the examples are in a non-musical notation format, the skills necessary are the identifying of repeated visual patterns.

Voyetra Technologies, Inc. 5 Odell Plaza, Yonkers, NY 10701-1406; Phone: 914/966-0600; Internet: http://www.voyetra.com (Voyetra manufactures many, many great affordable products for music learning and/or musical applications. Please see their website for a description of titles and prices.)

Voyetra manufactures some very useful programs for the student musician that we will discuss here. These are not for the pure beginner, as the basic Music Ace program is, but are more suited for the intermediate or advanced music student/musician -- one for whom music plays a central role in life. However, a student does not have to intend to be a professional musician to utilize these products. There are many serious musicians who do not make a living from music and are dedicated in their desire to develop and perfect their musical ideas -- "polishing the diamond" so to speak. The programs mentioned can be perfect for such a person, too. In varying degrees, with these softwares one can use the PC to record music just as tape recorders once did. The overall sound quality is much better because the sound generation is contained within electronic devices -- no air noise exists and there is no variation in pitch! The amount of skill necessary to perform this recording function is not very high, either. Of course, to obtain professional quality, the user must be capable of working at that level of skill and patience, but even the weekend or casual user can obtain a great deal of fun and important musical satisfaction from use of these programs.

Note: MIDI (pronounced mid-ee)is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. In the 1980s a group of five manufacturers of electronic equipment agreed to standardize certain conventions in their products to make them somewhat interchangeable and MIDI was born. It is sort of like standardizing the gauge of tracks in railroading. MIDI instruments have special cords and plugs by which they can be connected to other MIDI equipment, including your PC when you purchase a MIDI adaptor, as mentioned below. Digital instruments include synthesizers, digital pianos, synthesized drum sets, and other peripheral equipment. MIDI adapters, designed to plug into the joystick port of your computer, are reasonably priced at under $30 and can be purchased from retailers such as FRYS Electronics or similar stores. Voyetra also sells a MIDI Cable Pack for just $24.95. Please see their website for ordering.

Music Write Plus $34.95 - Basic Musical Notation Program with MIDI (MIDI adapter not supplied) This is the most basic of Voyetraís notation programs. With it your young composer/ arranger/performer can write musical notation using the computer mouse or record from a MIDI keyboard such as a synthesizer or digital piano and then have the program convert the piece into musical notation, thereby allowing him/her to print it out. He/she can also play back the recorded music on the MIDI instrument. The playback feature also allows the user to playback music without a MIDI instrument, in which case, the soundcard of your computer will replace the instrument.

Music Write 2000 Standard $59.95 - Basic Musical Notation, Orchestration and MIDI Recording Software Program. This is a more advanced version of Music Write Plus. It allows more flexibility in notation and MIDI recording for a slightly higher price.

Music Write 2000 Professional Edition price: $119.95 - Advanced Musical Notation Program With MIDI (MIDI adaptor not supplied) This is a much more advanced version of Music Write 2000 Standard. The Pro has more flexibility, many more features and a semi-professional level of performance, although still very reasonably priced, especially considering the many years of use such a program provides. Among the advanced features of MW 2000 Pro is video synchronization, which allows the user to write a score for a video if he/she possesses the proper video equipment.

Digital Orchestrator Pro $99.95 (DOP) - Advanced MIDI Sequencer (adapter not supplied)

This is a very advanced program and considering the price, a bargain. If you do not know what a sequencer is, please allow us to explain. Basically, it is a computerized version of a multi-track tape recorder. Instead of recording onto tape, however, it records on your computerís hard drive . . . a vastly superior medium, by the way, in terms of sound quality, savings in tape costs and in storage quality. Recording tape deteriorates, hard drives and floppy disks donít. Using a sequencer you can record, playing live in "real time" from a MIDI instrument (synthesizer or digital piano) or you can enter each note (and rest) one at a time with the mouse and then play back the results as if you had recorded it in real time. Therefore, a person who can make up music but cannot play a particular instrument well enough to perform what he/she has written, can use this note-by-note process (called "Step" recording) to compose and finally hear the piece in its entirety -- then print it out using DOPís high quality music print feature and hand the printed piece to a real, live player for rehearsal! You can use Music Write 2000 Pro to print professional quality sheet music for more high-brow uses. [Many years ago I, Michael, used a sequencer to step record a string quartet I had composed originally as a solo guitar piece. Doing so allowed me the only possible way to hear how the parts would blend together accurately, since I did not possess the keyboard facility to play them all at once.] Once you have recorded a final version on your hard drive, you can burn a CD of the piece (if you have the hardware) or make a tape copy on audio cassette.

The sequencer also allows the composer to use other important editing functions such as cut-and-paste (whereby you can move a phrase or a few notes around just as a word processor allows movement of words); transposition to different keys; increase or decrease tempo and double tracking (copying a track and then placing it on another track, so you have two identical tracks, which provides a fuller sound) without having to play the part over in real time. Now we can move on to a more specific discussion of Digital Orchestrator Pro.

DOP contains five different music entering and editing sections which allow the user to view the piece of music, as it is being recorded or played back, in different forms. The Score Editor displays the notes in standard notation. This is useful for certain types of recording of regular instruments (string quartet, for instance). The Track Sheet allows more of an overview and shows what recording tracks have instruments assigned to them and allows you to choose the available patches contained with the program for assignment to other tracks. ("Patch" is synthesizer lingo for an instrument sound which the synthesizer duplicates more or less, such as "Clarinet" or "Guitar"). Using the Track Sheet allows the recordist to control the entire piece as a unit more easily. The Piano Roll shows the piece in an onscreen view reminiscent of an old piano roll with the parts being played showing as dark spaces, silence as white space. This can be useful for certain recording applications, such as inserting sound samples into a piece, etc. There is also a WAV screen that shows sound effects (included in the program) as sound waves. You can insert one of these effects into a piece of music for realism or for artistic effect. If you were writing an arrangement of the 1812 Overture, you could insert the sounds of cannon fire at the appropriate location. The fifth screen is for Comments -- composerís notes to himself, etc. DOP also allows the user to record vocals and there are various drum sounds included in the programís factory patches. Using DOP with just a few pieces of external equipment, a musician could have a very useful home studio at a reasonable price and produce some very sophisticated digital recordings. (Industry-standard sequencing programs are nearly four times the price of Digital Orchestrator Pro!)

Digital Orchestrator $49.95 - This is a much simpler version of the Digital Orchestrator Pro MIDI Sequencer combined with a simple notation program. This product would provide an inexpensive introduction to the wonders of MIDI sequencing and the digital manipulation of sound. Once your student becomes adept at MIDI, you can safely shell out the higher price for the Pro edition. (The MIDI adaptor is not supplied.)

Math & MusicÔ by Lawrence B. Bangs (Ages 11 to 17) (Windows only)

published by Wildridge Software, 245 Wildridge Farm Road, Newark, VT 05871; toll free: 888/244-4379; online at www.wildridge.com

Complete package: CD-ROM, 153-page textbook, 52-page math workbook, 44-page student guide and 44-page teacher guide - $140.75. [Each component may be purchased separately as well. Please inquire for prices.]

This program is incredible! But, it is not merely a music program and it is not a music instruction program per se, although it deals with musical properties and intellectually enhances the knowledge a musician develops through practice on his/her instrument. Lawrence Bangs is a genius of a teacher and he homeschooled his five grown children a number of years ago. He has abundant skill for imparting dense information intelligently and clearly. Mr. Bangs has brought his dual knowledge to bear in the other Wildridge program he has developed, Stars N Stories. The Stars N Stories astronomy CD package is beautifully conceived and executed and Mr. Bangsí latest offering, Math & Music, is right up there with it! This is primarily a great math program, as it provides an interesting setting for the study of numbers, but it is actually a great thinking program because underlying Lawrence Bangsí approach tying math and music together is a deeper sense that everything can be tied together, from the atoms to the stars. Maybe not tied together, but understood together. For homeschoolers, this is the perfect viewpoint! Anyway, ancient numbering systems are covered as well as advanced concepts, such as trigonometry, geometry, leading right up to a combination study of math and its applications to music. For instance, the properties of sound waves (and subesquently light waves) and the principles of sound generation are discussed and explained. Not only is the physics of sound extensively covered, but even how we hear -- a delving into the workings of the human ear and a frequency generator with which you can test your hearing! The program also includes interactive exercises and informative tests at the end of each section.

Math and music work together because once a musician has evolved well on the way to mastery of his/her instrument, or becomes interested in arranging and composing, the physics of music continually pops up in his awareness, and curiosity leads him/her into some study of it. Things like the overtone series and the acoustical properties of sound and music become more important as a player delves into the writing of music and the phenomena associated with it. Also, the invention of the synthesizer would not have been possible without the merging of physics and music. Robert Moog and other early synthesizer designers had to be able to analyze the properties of a given instrumentís voice in order to synthetically re-create it. Of course, their truly great advances came not in copying already-existing instruments, but in developing the synthesizer as an instrument all its own. Lawrence Bangsí CD gives you the background information to be able to think of music in the realm of physics and physics in the world of music! Both reviewers agree that this program is suitable for a student of 11 or 12 -- certainly not younger unless a math prodigy -- right up to late high school. It is pretty dense, heady stuff but because of Mr. Bangsí skill, it is enjoyable and worth the effort -- especially for one who wishes to be: A complete musician, a well-rounded mathematician or develop the unified theory!

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