MidiSaurus: Music Fun for Kids! is a series of edutainment software titles designed to introduce music theory, with an emphasis on piano. This set of the first four CD-ROMs in the series begins with the basics.
Each of the four volumes is arranged similarly. Volume 1 presents an introduction to some of the most basic music concepts. Subsequent volumes review and develop these concepts, and introduce more music lessons.
Each title incorporates a fun and educational mix of lessons, activities, and songs:
Lessons: Most lessons are short and to the point--rarely are they overwhelming. They introduce new concepts, such as time signatures, in simple and effective ways.
Activities: A nice variety of activities help kids apply what they have learned in the program's lessons. These games use fun characters and settings that appeal to young children. At the same time, they are educationally valuable and help to reinforce new concepts learned.
Songs: Most songs feature "Sing to Me" (in which kids watch and listen) and "Sing by Myself" (in which kids can sing along karaoke-style) options. Some also can be played along with, and videos show live-action demonstrations of the keys played on a keyboard.
Three units are featured in this introductory CD-ROM. These units divide the learning into groups, and feature child-friendly themes--the farm, circus, and supermarket. In addition, truly appealing characters and games help get early music fundamentals across to young users.
Unit 1 starts kids off at the very beginning by introducing the concepts of left and right hands and finger numbering. A series of songs, lessons, and activities reinforce these all-important fundamentals. One early activity involves placing animal faces on particular fingers (for example, a cat is placed on finger #2), and animal sounds are the reward.
Kids then learn to identify tunes that are played on the high, middle, and low portions of the keyboard. They are cleverly introduced to the 2-black and 3-black keys as well as the general layout of the keyboard before learning the letter notes. Plenty of activities and lessons help kids recognize the rhythms and appearance of quarter and half notes and rests.
In Unit 2, animal acrobats perform tricks when kids choose the correct high, medium, or low platform to represent a melody. Students make a fireman go up or down the fire pole depending on whether the melody they hear ascends or descends. Kids discern whether 2 melodies are the same or different, and then practice naming keys. Whole notes and rests are introduced. Once the unit begins teaching ascending and descending keys, little ones will likely need some help and support from adults.
Unit 3 begins with a demonstration of the Middle C close position, and then moves on to dynamics (forte and piano), more reinforcement of the musical alphabet, and some music appreciation. Activities include matching melody patterns with the correct musical notation, identifying missing notes, determining whether musical instruments are played loudly or softly, and listening to rhythm patterns.
Once students have completed all three units, they earn a diploma and a wonderful Musical Dictionary. This dictionary not only explains note values, musical terms, symbols, and signatures--it demonstrates them in creative ways!
In Unit 1, kids learn the C 5-Finger position and do finger drill exercises, learn about accents, and are introduced to the dotted half note. One activity requires kids to determine whether a melody is a "step" or a "skip", going up or down. Another involves freeing creatures from the clutches of an octopus by matching melodies with the correct musical notation.
The woods is the setting for Unit 2, in which kids learn F and G 5-Finger Positions through a series of finger drill exercises, get acquainted with more music dynamics (the pianissimo and fortissimo), develop their understanding of skips and steps, and get acquainted with eighth notes and rests. Kids play activities that include identifying correct rhythm patterns and finding hidden notes and rests in a forest setting. They are introduced to the Brass Family.
Unit 3 reviews the 5-Finger Positions, introduces chords, develops understanding of time signatures, and allows kids to compose "movie music". Dinosaurs are the theme, and this unit's repertory of songs includes "My Pet Dino".
Volumes 3 and 4
These volumes further develop children's understanding of musical concepts, present plenty of songs for practice, and introduce more sophisticated concepts such as the Grand Staff, tied notes, more advanced note reading, articulation, and more.
The Programs as a Whole
The programs are outstanding both for introducing music fundamentals to absolute beginners and for extra support and practice for children already involved in a formal music program. Parents wondering whether their children would be interested in a music course might let them try out these programs first. Our five-year-old tester who has had no formal music training responded to Volume 1 with huge enthusiasm, though she needed help understanding some of the concepts presented later in the program.
Owning a midi keyboard is not a requirement for using the program (an onscreen keyboard will suffice). However, if you don't use a midi keyboard, note that it is extremely helpful to have a piano or electronic keyboard nearby. Practice with the "real thing" will greatly enhance retention of the lovely lessons in this program.
The graphics and sound are not as impressive as those in many edutainment titles on the market, but the program's fun characters and games more than compensate.
The interface is a little tricky for younger users. Parents will need to be on hand at the outset, at least until kids get the hang of the icons. In addition, kids will need to have "drag and drop" skills as well as fairly accurate mouse control in order to make full use of the program.
Further music explorations can be found in MidiSaurus: Music Fun for Kids! Vol. 5-8.