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Kid Composers

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OPUS
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BY GARY STAGER

          id you ever wonder how            ers and generates a remarkable col-
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                                                                                        dcto fe ru h
                                                                                       investment in technology
                                                                                                  rm h rs hs
                                                                                       detracts f o t e a t . T i
                                                                                       de ntne t b tecs.
                                                                                        os o ed o e h ae
                                                                                       Icesnl pwru ades-
                                                                                        nraigy oefl n ay
                                                                                       to-use music hardware and
                                                                                       s f w r c n rejuvenate
                                                                                        otae a
                                                                                       any school music program
                                                                                       less than $500 any classroom can

D         Stevie Wonder can play just
          one keyboard and yet pro-
duce an orchestra of sounds? The
                                            lection of sounds.
                                                Now, why should K-12 schools
                                            care about any of this? Because the
                                                                                       be equipped with a composition/per-
                                                                                       formance/recording studio consisting
                                                                                       of a musical keyboard and powerful
easy answer is because of the Musical       same tools that allow Stevie Wonder        music software. This technology
Instrument Digital Interface. The           to impress his audience also can           offers an opportunity to reinvigorate
MIDI is essentially a networking pro-       make music composition, expression         arts education and help schools come
tocol that allows musical instruments,      and performance a part of the educa-       alive with the sound of music.
synthesizers, recorders and comput-         tional process. These tools provide            Unlike many high-tech standards,
ers to communicate. In the case of          the scaffolding required to allow even     MIDI has withstood the test of time.
Stevie Wonder, the one keyboard he          young children to realize the most         Since 1983 synthesizers, controllers
plays triggers a variety of synthesiz-      sophisticated of musical ideas. For        and computers have spoken the


                                                                 (www.gvox.com) Master Tracks Pro are excellent examples of
Kid Composers                                                    “super-sized” sequencing software.
Kids love music, but until now you needed the prodigious
talent of Mozart to compose music. A variety of software         NOTATION SOFTWARE
                                                                 Notation software provides the musician with a way to create
packages now provide children tools with which they can
                                                                 written scores and sheet music. The notes, rests and acciden-
express their original musical ideas. There are several dis-
                                                                 tals are entered with a mouse or keyboard. The software
tinct categories of music software, but many packages            offers many advantages over writing by hand, including the
contain features from other categories. For example,             ability to instantly turn scores into transposed parts, excellent
sequencing software may include features found in digital        print output and the ability to cut and paste.
recording software allowing you to add reverb or other
effects to your music.                                                                                     Finale Notepad,
                                                                                                           (www.finalenotepad.
SEQUENCING SOFTWARE                                                                                        com), by Coda Music,
Sequencers are hardware devices that store and playback                                                    is an easy-to-use
music. Sequencing software allows the player of a MIDI con-                                                notation package that
troller (typically a keyboard) to not only remember the notes    allows you to choose different instruments, create up to
played, but also to edit those notes. Most sequencing soft-      eight staves, enter lyrics, and publish music created on your
ware even lets you enter notes one at a time, regardless of      computer on the Web. Did I mention that it is also free for
tempo, and overcome a lack of piano technique by fixing          both the Mac and PC?
your flubs later. Unlike playing the piano, you do not need to       Fifth grade students at the Village School in Los Angeles
play more than one note at a time. You can layer parts like      use Finale Notepad to compose their own musical pieces by
tracks in a video. Most sequencing software uses some sort       developing a melody and harmony for three or more instru-
of non-musical graphical representation of the music for the     ments (See illustration). By limiting themselves to the penta-
purposes of editing. (All of the software mentioned is avail-    tonic scale, pesky dissonances are easily avoided. The music
able for Mac or PC except                                        is composed on the computer where it may be heard, modi-
where noted)                                                     fied and printed. After just two months kids are adding sec-
                                                                 ond and third themes to their compositions. Each completed
Mark of the Unicorn’s                                            opus will be about two minutes long. The school’s technology
(www.motu.com) Performer                                         director, Tara Higgins, will then open the Notepad files in one
and GVOX’s                                                       of Coda’s more powerful packages, like PrintMusic! or Finale


50 May 2002                                                                                                District Administration
                                      CHEAP, CHEAPER, CHEAPEST
     Most music software comes in three forms—free, mod-         ic pricing on their products. Be sure to ask for it or visit a
 erately priced and super-sized. Several publishers of music     site like www.schoolmusic.com that specializes in music
 software offer all three options. Free software may have lim-   software for schools. Site licenses and lab-packs may also
 itations on saving, printing or in complexity of music. For     be available.
 most school settings the moderately priced software will do         Just be sure that any software you use produces files
 the trick. Serious composers and performers may wish to         compatible with other hardware and software. Standard
 invest hundreds or thousands of dollars for software with       MIDI files are the way to go if you are exporting digital
 incredible power.                                               music to be manipulated or played by a variety of devices or
     Many music software publishers offer generous academ-       computer programs.



language of MIDI.                          manipulated. It is the potential for the    multiple instruments or even record
    MIDI is a bi-directional pipeline      manipulation of musical gestures that       a performance digitally. These
allowing connected devices to share        makes this technology so powerful in        devices are connected to each other
data. That data is a series of numbers     an educational setting.                     via MIDI cables and to computers
describing a musical note—its pitch,           Most people are familiar with the       via a MIDI interface.
volume, length (sustain) and instru-       popular electronic keyboards that              The cost of a MIDI interface starts
ment. Anytime you turn an event or         allow the player to change instrument       at about $50 and goes up depending
data into a code remembered by a           sounds or play-along with accompani-        on how many devices you wish to
computing device you are digitizing        ment. Some of these keyboards are           control. Older MIDI interfaces
that information. Striking the key on      MIDI controllers as well. That means        required a serial port, but most new
a MIDI keyboard turns that middle-C        that it can be played like a piano and      ones use USB. MIDI hardware and
into a set of bits capable of being        be used to control infinite sounds,         software is available for Macs and


Allegro and export MIDI files. Those MIDI files can easily be    arrangers, composers and school band leaders will find the
converted to .WAV files via QuickTIme Player Pro                 $300 a wise investment. Encore (www.gvox.com) is Finale’s
(quicktime.apple.com) and burned to a “Greatest Hits of Fifth    worthy competitor.
Grade CD.” This explosion of musical expression impresses
kids and parents alike.                                          Mosaic (Mac only) (www.motu.com) considers itself state-of-
                                                                 the-art desktop publishing for music. While it includes
HYBRID SEQUENCING/NOTATION SOFTWARE                              sequencing features, its strength is in paper output.
The best bet for schools may be software packages combin-
ing the features of sequencing and notation software. Bud-       Cubasis VST (www.steinberg.net) combines sequencing,
ding composers may play their composition, edit, print and       notation and digital recording studio functionality in one
perform their compositions in one package. Many of these         package for Mac or PC.
packages allow note entry via computer keyboard, mouse or
musical controller.                                              Most sequencing and notation programs have a proprietary
                                                                 file format. They usually include the ability to export or
PrintMusic! (www.codamusic.com) is an entry-level sequenc-       import a standard MIDI file. This is the way you will move
ing/notation package costing only $69. It allows for 24 staves   your music between applications.
of music and includes MIDI-Scan technology allowing you to
turn sheet music into editable music via a scanner.              COMPOSING WITHOUT NOTES
                                                                 Hip-hop music is often built upon digital samples of other
                      Mark of the Unicorn’s Freestyle            music woven together to create a new aural fabric. Mixman
                      (www.motu.com), Music Time Deluxe          (www.mixman.com) and Acid (www.sonicfoundry.com/
                      (www.gvox.com), Finale Allegro             products/) are programs that allow you to combine samples
                      (www.codamusic.com) and CakeWalk           of pre-recorded songs, known as loops, with MIDI files to
                      HomeStudio (PC only) (www.                 compose new royalty-free music. Tracks are visually layered
                      cakewalk.com) are powerful, moderate-      to create compositional sophistication to a funky beat. Both
                      ly priced sequencing/notation packages     products have large libraries of loops/samples available for
for serious music students and their teachers.                   use in new compositions. The user/DJ community trades
                                                                 free loops online.
Coda Music’s Finale 2002 (www.codamusic.com) enjoys a
50 percent academic price, and it is the most popular nota-      Superduper Music Looper (www.sonicfoundry.com/products)
tion/sequencing suite on the market. More advanced               lets kids, ages 6-10, compose music with just a mouse, on-


www.DistrictAdministration.com                                                                                     May 2002 51
Windows. Like many visual artists,                Most computer operating systems
Macs are popular among musicians.             possess the ability to play MIDI files.             A WEALTH OF
   If you are looking to purchase an          QuickTime uses General MIDI as its             INFORMATION ABOUT MIDI
electronic keyboard, be sure it has a         standard and will play most MIDI
                                                                                              MAY BE FOUND AT THE
                                                                                                FOLLOWING SITES:
GM logo on it indicating that the             files. The great thing about MIDI files
device is General MIDI compliant.             is that they are so compact you can           Exploring MIDI –
                                                                                            nuinfo.nwu.edu/musicschool/links/
General MIDI is a refinement of the           easily add complex music to a multi-
                                                                                            projects/midi/expmidiindex.html
MIDI standard ensuring that your              media project or Web page without
piccolo always sounds like a piccolo          using too much disk space or band-            CakeWalk Desktop Music Handbook –
                                                                                            www.cakewalk.com/Tips/Desktop.htm
and not a tuba, regardless of the             width. For example, a commercially
device generating the final sound.            produced MIDI arrangement of Ste-
You should also remember to invest            vie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour”
in headphones for each musician.              requires only 48K of disk space.             essential for the production of digital
   Other MIDI devices include                     Royalty-free and commercial MIDI         music. The music synthesizing abilities
drum machines, electronic wind-               files are easily found on the Web.           of most personal computers are primi-
instruments (imagine playing a trum-          Depending on the license granted by          tive when compared with dedicated
pet and hearing a violin), synthesizer        the copyright owner, you may use             musical synthesizers. It is for that rea-
modules and digital recording decks.          these files in your own projects.            son that you should connect a hard-
Not every synthesizer, the computer               The microcomputer is MIDI’s best         ware synthesizer to the computer and
producing digital sounds, needs to            friend. It may be used to compose            play the music through the device
have a keyboard, drum pad or wind             and playback music; edit and master          when performance is the goal. D
controller attached. Many synthesiz-          recorded music and store musical
ers are housed in small boxes often           ideas for future manipulation. The           Gary Stager, gary@stager.org, is edi-
mounted in racks off-stage and out            processing power and storage capabil-        tor-at-large and an adjunct professor
of view.                                      ities of the personal computer are           at Pepperdine University.


screen paintbrush, an erase tool                                     Autoscore Pro (PC only) from Wildcat Canyon Software
and their imaginations. A huge                                       (www.wildcat.com) promises musicians
library of professionally recorded                                   the ability to sing or play a non-MIDI
loops lets kids experiment with                                      instrument and have the software auto-
instrument sounds and compose                                        matically convert that music to editable
their own music.                                                     written music. It will even cope with your
                                                                     occasional intonation problems by
ACCOMPANIMENT SOFTWARE                                               restricting input to a particular key.
                            Band-in-a-Box is a perennial favorite
                            among performers of popular music.       SmartMusic Studio for Vocalists, SmartMusic Studio for
                            Its publisher (www.pgmusic.com)          Woodwinds and Brass and SmartMusic Studio for Vocalists,
                            calls Band-in-a-Box “intelligent music   Woodwinds and Brass are designed to make music practice
                            accompaniment.” Type a chord pro-        more efficient and pleasant. The player uses a microphone to
                            gression into the software, choose a     input her performance into the computer and then the com-
                            style of music from a huge selection     puter accompanies the musician. It not only accompanies, it
                            and Band-in-a-Box will produce a pro-    follows you with spontaneous tempo changes! SmartMusic
fessional-quality accompaniment of piano, bass, guitar, drums        Studio brings emotion to the too often-isolated mechanics of
and string section. It will even generate improvised solos and       practicing an instrument.
import/export MIDI files. This software could come in quite              Music teachers will be impressed by the 20,000 exercises
handy for school musicals. PGMusic sells libraries of songs          and 5,000 musical pieces in its library available for an annual
and sounds for Band-in-a-Box. Despite its novel (funky) inter-       subscription of between $20 and $90 per year. The online
face, Band-in-a-Box is loved by its users.                           library even features audition pieces organized by state.
                                                                     (www.smartmusic.com)
MAGIC SOFTWARE                                                           Musicians interested in rearranging a piece of sheet
There are a few pieces of music software                             music with the drudgery of hand-copying will love
that take your breath away. SmartMusic Stu-                          SmartScore. The moderately priced software scans sheet
dio (www.codamusic.com) and SmartScore                               music and turns it into fully editable notes on the screen. It
(www.musitek.com) are clear examples of                              may then be performed by the computer or attached MIDI
software alchemy. I have not personally                              synthesizer, rearranged, exported as a new MIDI file or print-
reviewed Autoscore Pro, (www.wildcat.com)                            ed. Three versions exist for full scores, lyrics with piano and
but it holds a great deal of promise.                                either piano or solo instrument.


52 May 2002                                                                                                   District Administration

				
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