Music Lessons Through the Computer

Mike Lawson • Archives • January 1, 2001

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It’s amazing how quickly and nearly effortlessly students take to computer software. Teachers are beginning to pick up on this trend and energize their music programs. For example, there are a number of guitar software programs that offer unique instruction, some including innovative video tutorials that also demonstrate proper performance techniques. There are also other guitar programs that offer specialized instruction with improvisation, with emphasis on solo transcriptions, performance practice techniques as well as repertory.

In this article you will discover software for all the band and string instruments plus jazz band instruments, such as guitar, jazz piano, electric bass and drum set. Some of the software products reviewed in this installment require that you record and/or practice with the CD-ROM. Other programs offer video tutorials that are particularly good for providing correct fingerings and handy hand positions. There is even software that covers alternative fingerings for band and string instruments, which is great for public school instrumental music programs, grades four through 12. If you haven’t explored the potential instructional benefits of software applications that enhance instrumental music performance techniques, I strongly recommend that you contact the manufacturers identified in this article for free demonstration copies and run them by your students. Many of these demos can be downloaded from the manufacturers’ Web sites.

For instrumental students, the benefits of playing along with a “correct” performance are well established. With the appropriate software, you get the immediate feedback you need to correct errors, not to mention that it can be just plain fun, which means that you are likely to practice more! The computer offers two impressive advantages over “playing along with the record.” First, it gives the user control over the tempo. You can slow it down or speed it up without changing the pitch. Second, you can specify any starting (and stopping) point by measure number, so you can go right to the section you want to practice. This feature is called segmented playback in which the user interface is so easy, you don’t have to know anything about MIDI or even anything about files. Literally, just click on an icon on the part (measures) you want the computer to play, then click the Play button. Virtual Virtuoso products are that simple to use with their segmented playback capabilities.

Fundamentally, you cannot learn to play an instrument without lessons from a good teacher, especially with strings. Therefore, instrumental music software should be considered primarily as a supplement to lessons. But individuals who use software applications usually find their lesson time much more productive. There is much less time wasted on correcting note problems.

Computer hardware can be minimum. The critical component is the sound card. Be sure that the card has a good wave table synthesizer. Alternatively, you can use an external MIDI instrument instead of the sound card’s synthesizer. In either case, the synthesizer should be “General MIDI” compatible. Some users find that they cannot get enough volume from the speakers attached to their computer. You might consider connecting the output of the sound card to the AUX input of any stereo receiver. For Macintosh users who have Virtual PC on their computers, you might consider running PC software products not available for the Mac platform. For details of how to do this, please visit:

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