Buying music software for schools
Music software can transform a classroom into a recording studio. Jay Stansfield looks for the pitch-perfect package
Music-making packages have now become so accessible that including them in the curriculum is practically a no-brainer. Whether they're allowing students to express their inner virtuoso or just giving them the means to make exciting noise, they're both entertaining and educational. When it works, music software can help young people to think about music in terms of sound and structure, and maybe open up a world of creative expression that they might not have had before.
Within the category of "music software" you'll find a variety of applications, ranging from simple programs that enable novice users to string together pre-recorded loops, to complex compositional tools that could be used to create original pieces for the school orchestra. Whatever the students are up to, there's something to fit the bill. However, since there's such a gulf between those packages that use simplistic drag-and-drop interfaces and those that feature more in-depth musical notation, it's more important to know which features are suitable for your school and lessons before you buy.
Music software reviews
Finding the right level
In a normal classroom setting, the primary focus should always be on usability and simplicity. Professional mixing and mastering features may be something to aspire to, but there's nothing like jumping straight in and making a tune when it comes to getting young people involved.
That's why a simple loop-based package can be a great starting point. These provide a range of loops - fragments of beats, riffs, vocals or basslines - that can be joined together, piece by piece, to form a track. By layering together beats and samples, like a budding remixer, you can create new music from existing sounds.
Dragging a drum loop onto a timeline, adding some piano samples, plugging in a microphone and singing the vocal line can be tremendously rewarding. If students can drag songs into being from pre-recorded loops and virtual instruments, they get an instant reward. As Fatima, a Year 6 student, puts it: " I want to use music already made to make my own song. lt makes it fun."
When the focus is on exploring sounds rather than on the technicalities of playing and editing, making music becomes easier, and students will grow rapidly in confidence. The trick is to balance more advanced features with an easy-to-navigate interface that will help students get something working quickly, before they lose interest. Easily accessible help guides and tutorials are also always worth watching out for.