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Some Sound Advice

Quality software can help parents round out their children's general music appreciation.


Listening to Mozart before an exam can raise a student's test scores, researchers say. Music lessons can dramatically improve even a preschooler's school performance, according to a 1997 study by those same people at Neurological Research. And you don't need a scientist to tell you that learning to love music will enhance the quality of a child's life.

Shari Lewis took note of those notes. Lamb Chop's friend has launched a new daily series, "The Charlie Horse Music Pizza" (KCET-TV, 8 a.m.), that puts music education center stage.

But schools tend to classify music as an expendable dessert in a lean and increasingly mean meat-and-potatoes budget. Private lessons have always been the refuge of those who can afford them. But even if you make the sacrifice, how can you help your child get the most out of an hour of instruction a week? And learning an instrument, invaluable as that might be, cannot take the place of general music appreciation.

Music education software can fill the gap--if you can find quality titles in a volatile $100-million market. Most big companies that count on large volumes of sales are quick to discontinue these specialized programs, while small companies can suddenly fold. And you'll be hard pressed to find a computer store with a music section. Titles tend to be scattered, and few are geared to children.

Here's the best of what's currently out there:

* To introduce children ages 3 and older to the joys of music, you can't do much better than Learn Technologies Interactive/Voyager's Children's Songbook ($19.95), featuring sing-alongs from around the world. This captivating program displays a world map focusing on 11 countries, including the United States, Mexico, Russia, Japan, Italy and Israel.

Click on a country to follow the bouncing ball for a song in that country's language. Choose a puzzle piece under the song and play a musical game. Pick a book icon to read about something mentioned in the song. Select the film strip for a video. Information: (888) 292-5584.

* Music rates high as a thinking skill in Edmark's classic Thinking Things 1 and 2, sold separately for $29.95; Thinking Things 1, 2 and 3 in the Gold Collection boxed set is sold for $44.95. Two games in the first collection test a child's ability to repeat music, with or without visual cues, and gives the child a chance to play a tune that will be played back. A hip orangutan, Oranga Banga, plays notes from a series of instruments, and a friendly bird, Toony Loon, chooses notes on a xylophone.

In Thinking Things 2, Toony's Tunes teaches kids to play a variety of songs, and Oranga Banga's Band helps them identify and create one-, two- and three-part rhythms.

* For older children, the music game that sets the standard is Juilliard Music Adventure ($29.99) by Theatrix, (800) 795-8749. While geared for ages 9 and older, this game would be fun for precocious first-graders with adult guidance.

Developed in cooperation with the Juilliard School in New York, the program ushers kids into a mysterious castle where they match rhythms, re-create missing music and compose and solve musical puzzles to free the queen from a mischievous gnome. There are three levels of increasingly challenging play.

* Guitar George, Ms. Florida Keys and a dog named Mr. Drumstix teach children fairly sophisticated musical ideas while they have fun with Mr. Drumstix Music Studio ($19.99), created by Howling Dog systems and published by Microstar, (800) 777-4228. It can be difficult to navigate, but with help, young children can play songs and musical games. Older kids can play notes on an on-screen keyboard, pick chords on a guitar or create songs and arrangements.

* For all-around thoroughness, you can't beat Electronic Courseware Systems Inc., which puts out an extensive music software catalog for kindergarten through college. Call (800) 832-4965, Ext. 17, for a free copy. Though not flashy, the games teach basic musical concepts.

Among the selections is a good starter program, Adventures in Musicland ($49.95), which uses Alice in Wonderland characters to play four games. One asks kids to identify different instruments with a little piece of the picture at a time (difficult for children new to music). Another asks them to play back notes they hear. Then there are two memory games: one in which kids match musical symbols and another in which kids match sounds. Other programs help children to read musical notes faster (Note Speller, $39.95), learn meter (Musicus, $29.95) and identify musical symbols (Symbol Simon, $39.95).

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