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The Nutcracker Music Game is an innovative, interactive musical education program, built around one of the most popular suites of classical music -- the Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite.
The primary educational objective of The Nutcracker Music Game, is to challenge users to identify the various musical instruments used in eight familiar classical pieces of music. The user selects a piece, listens, and then clicks on the musical instrument(s) that he/she believes were used in the composition. Clicking on an instrument causes that instrument to play alone -- perhaps the musical piece selected, or some other. A simple, but nice animation accompanies each performance. Selecting multiple instruments causes the music and animations to play simultaneously. The correct combination of instruments produces an illuminated stage production; an incorrect combination remains in the shadows, playing a potential cacophony of sounds, along with the advice to "try again".
The Nutcracker Music Game is very helpful to budding young musicians, as well as to those with more of a lay person's interest in music. For those that have never stopped to carefully listen to orchestrated classical music, The Nutcracker Music Game offers a great opportunity to listen and learn. For either, the effect is analagous to a "musical jigsaw puzzle." Instead of trying to recreate that which is seen with the eyes, here the user must attempt to recreate that which is heard with the ears. A truly fascinating concept.
The challenge for parents and teachers, however, will be in most effectively achieving the puzzle's goals. In our testing, younger users, or those less familiar with musical instruments, tended to just click various combinations until they found the right ones. With some supervision and encouragement, however (e.g. "let's listen to the song again, and try to pick out another instrument"), all our testers were able to solve some or all of the puzzles.
The program also includes additional materials, including a re-orchestration of the Nutcracker Suite, a biography of Tchaikovsky, a history of the Nutcracker ballet, etc.
"This is GREAT!" according to an 11 year-old tester, after correctly solving her second puzzle. Older children found it especially fun to play with one or two friends, discussing and arguing over which instruments to try. However, after solving all eight pieces of music, they expressed only limited interest in returning to the program in subsequent days. None of our young reviewers expressed any interest in viewing the additional educational materials included on the disk, with the exception of repeated playings of the various pieces of music.
The Nutcracker Music Game installed without difficulty on our Windows ME test machine.
Program use and navigation are intuitive -- at least after a moment or two. Our young testers (ages 7 and 10) actually grasped the concept more quickly than our adult reviewers. The screen always displays both a helpful "hint" button, and a "help" button, in case there are questions.
Actual program play, however, is challenging to those with limited knowledge of musical instrument sounds, or those with a "tin ear".
The Nutcracker Music Game is a fascinating program, in spite of its limited repeat usage appeal with older children. It would make a good stocking-stuffer or birthday present for parents who enjoy music to give to their young children. In addition, we could see the program's utility in a school computer lab (equipped with headphones!).
PC: Windows 98 or higher, Pentium 300Mhz or faster cpu, 64 MB RAM, CD-ROM, sound card .return to top of page
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