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From One Keyboard to Another


So you want your child to learn a musical instrument. Most software producers are quick to point out that their music programs are meant to supplement and not be a substitute for lessons. But they might help get over that big stumbling block: practice.

While the computer can't force your child to practice, it can make sure he or she practices properly--if you can figure out how to set up the software.

It's simple in theory: Plug in the keyboard or hook up your guitar, and the program will stop at a wrong note, give examples of proper fingering and correct young musicians until they get it right.

But it's not as simple to hook up as the box would indicate. Not only are there a lot of system requirements to run the programs, but then there are moments when you think you've done everything right and "Silent Night" is still silent.

Still, if you can get it going, the rewards are tremendous. Midisoft's Play Piano ($79.95) has a terrific program for beginners age 10 and older. Midisoft doesn't offer exercises but teaches a variety of music, from folk to rock to classical, at increasing levels of difficulty. You can even click on a video of hands playing the song for inspiration.

The Midisoft Family Music Center includes the whole package of keyboard, cables, Midisoft Play Piano and Midisoft Studio (for kids ready to record their music) for $299.95. Call (800) 989-5118 for details. Or you can buy a Midi keyboard separately in a music department or store.

Jump!Music's Piano Discovery System for ages 6 to adult also packages a complete piano-learning system, including keyboard, for $219.99. If your kids need an extra spoonful of sugar to help the practicing go down, it's worth checking out the company's Piano Discovery for Kids ($49.99) for ages 6 to 12. It uses songs from the Animaniacs, prints out stickers, teaches using arcade games and takes age into consideration when giving certificates of achievement. Another plus for both programs: You can print the sheet music and download new songs monthly. Call (800) 289-5867 for more information.

G-Vox sells the hardware and software needed to get started or improve performance on the guitar. G-VOX Guitar ($99) allows the computer to "hear" an acoustic as well as electric guitar (provided they have steel rather than nylon strings), digitizes the notes played and includes software that allows the student to follow lessons, play interactive games and print out original sheet music. For more comprehensive instruction, add the company's Guitar 101: The Fender Method ($39.99), which teaches folk, rock, jazz and blues selections, including songs made famous by the Beatles. Reach G-VOX at

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