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Sibelius Educational Suite.

Sibelius Educational Suite, Sibelius USA, Inc. (1407 Oakland Blvd., Ste. 103, Walnut Creek, CA 94596), 2004. Starclass, $89; Notes, $69.95; Instruments, $119; Musition, $119; Aurelia, $119; Compass, $119. Elementary to advanced.

Sibelius Educational Suite is a bundle of six different titles conceived for a wide range of music education activities, from kindergarten to college level. All six titles work in both PC and Macintosh computers. The Educational Suite does not include the outstanding music notation program Sibelius. What it does include, however, is equally outstanding: two sets of resources for teachers (Notes and Starclass), an encyclopedia of instruments (Instruments) and three interactive programs for students to drill their theory skills (Musition), train their ears (Auralia) and learn the basics of music while composing (Compass).

Starclass is a teacher's resource kit containing step-by-step lesson plans for children ages 5 to 11. It covers all the basic areas of general music, including rhythm, pitch, dynamics, tempo, texture, form and tone color. The graphics in the program can be printed easily in full size for classroom use, and the music examples can be played by clicking on them or from the included audio CD.

Notes contains twenty-five worksheets with music notation, rhythm, harmony and composition exercises, available both in the teacher's manual and on the CD-ROM. The students can solve most of the exercises either with paper and pencil or by using the Sibelius notation program; however, the teacher then must check and grade each worksheet the old-fashioned way. According to the publisher the exercises are intended for students as early as third grade, but its content and presentation suggest high school and collegiate students.

Instruments is an interactive encyclopedia that can be used to introduce musical instruments and ensembles, or as a useful instrumentation reference tool for collegiate students. It includes complete information for each instrument, as well as recorded music examples and listening assignments. It also features facts about different ensembles from the baroque orchestra to the jazz band, and a series of listening and multiple-choice quizzes.

Musition and Auralia, suitable for students ages 12 and up, provide numerous theory and ear-training drills and exercises. Although they do contain concise theory information in the form of help screens, the programs are not intended to be used as step-by-step courses, but rather as a toolbox of exercises in different areas. Musition features theory drills in the areas of intervals, chords, scales, harmony, rhythm, instruments and jazz chords, terms and symbols. The drills take many shapes: multiple choice, "written" (such as building chords or scales) and rhythmic tapping. The program provides instant feedback and--in the case of the written music exercises--allows the student to see and listen to the incorrect and correct answers. Auralia provides ear training in intervals, chords, scales, harmony, rhythm, jazz chords and tuning, and includes the same type of drills as Musition. One of the most intriguing features of Auralia is its ability to recognize the student's singing pitch through a microphone connected to the computer (not included) in exercises such as counterpoint singing. Auralia and Musition are able to share student information and reports. They allow teachers to customize their content for each class, create tests, manage classes and track the student's progress. Both are easy to use.

Undoubtedly, the star of the bundle is Compass, an innovative program that guides students (ages 12 through college) through the basics of composition. Compass is the perfect example of how the intelligent use of technology can open endless creative and fun possibilities. It does not require previous knowledge of music, but a student with this knowledge--especially students who already are experimenting with composition--will be able to take fuller advantage of the program. Compass is in fact two programs: Compass itself, which introduces and tests fundamental concepts such as scales, pitch shapes, chords, timbre and form, and Tracker, a unique program that lets students carry out the actual composition projects, including the creation of canons and palindromes, pentatonic pieces or pieces in binary, ternary and rondo form, among others. The projects are flexible enough to allow for lots of creative freedom. Using Tracker, the student creates pieces in multiple layers (tracks) by recording notes from a connected digital piano, by drawing notes on a graphic notation screen or by dragging and dropping any one of hundreds of preset types of scales, chord progressions, motifs or rhythm parts onto each track. The program features a plethora of music manipulation tools, such as transposition, augmentation, diminution, "snapping" the notes to a specific scale, randomizing and shuffling pitches and so on. The pieces created in Tracker can be saved as MIDI files or exported to Sibelius. Tracker is a complex program that may take some time to learn but assures hours of creativity and fun. The teacher should become familiar with its tools and functions before introducing it to students and should plan a few simple preliminary projects to train them. Sibelius Educational Suite offers high-quality tools for a large array of activities and student ages. Many private music teachers may not need to use all the titles included in the Suite. If this is the case, each title also is available separately from Sibelius.

Reviewed by Alejandro Cremaschi, Athens, Ohio.
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Author:Gremaschi, Alejandro
Publication:American Music Teacher
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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