'Professor Piccolo' offers wonderful way to learn about music

CHILD'S PLAY:

September 27, 1993|By Mike Langberg | Mike Langberg,Knight-Ridder News Service

For many parents, the main reason for buying a CD-ROM drive is luring their children away from mindless video games toward something both fun and educational.

Too bad so many CD-ROMs for children are also mindless, failing to deliver on the promise of what CD-ROM developers call "edu-tainment."

"The Musical World of Professor Piccolo" is a welcome exception.

The new disk from Opcode Interactive of Palo Alto, Calif., due in stores this week or next, is compelling enough that children will eagerly explore its nooks and crannies --without realizing they are learning in the process.

Starting up "Professor Piccolo" takes you to a place called Music Town. "Think of it as a musical 'Mayberry R.F.D.,'" says a note on screen, although it's doubtful many kids will recognize Andy Griffith's TV show from 30 years ago.

There are seven places to visit in Music Town: rock club, symphony hall, jazz club, church, music school, library and game arcade.

At the rock and jazz clubs, you can highlight each instrument playing a tune, so that the bass guitar, for example, is heard clearly above the other instruments. The symphony hall displays a full orchestra in which each instrument can be sampled with the click of a mouse button.

Another click brings up profiles of individual instruments, complete with an audio clip. The electric guitar plays a Jimi Hendrix-like riff; the acoustic guitar produces a classical sonata.

There is audio narration for much of the text, as well as a "hint line" along the bottom of the screen that identifies the function of each icon whenever the mouse pointer is rolled over that spot on the screen.

The music school contains text lessons on such subjects as pitch, rhythm notation, scales and chords, accompanied by audio clips that explain such concepts as the difference between a quarter note and a half note.

The library provides a dictionary of musical terms and an index to the instruments. The arcade is the least interesting section of Music Town, offering four games that are neither interesting nor inventive.

Opcode Interactive describes "Professor Piccolo" as suitable for "age 8 to adult," but I'd put an upper limit of age 14.

Still, "Professor Piccolo" does a wonderful job of taking late elementary and junior high children into the world of music.

There's another new CD-ROM for younger children that I'd love to recommend as highly, but I can't.

"Lenny's Music Toons" (Paramount Interactive, (800) 821-1177; MPC; $59.95 list-$45 street) is a delightful combination of games, puzzles, do-it-yourself music videos and animations for children under age 8.

There's just one flaw. The program doesn't work properly with Sound Blaster Pro sound boards, the most common in CD-ROM-equipped PCs, unless the user goes into the Windows control panel and changes a setting for one of the audio drivers. It's a simple fix, but this information is at the bottom of the last page of a 40-page manual.

Paramount should either rewrite the software so users don't have to mess with their control panel or clearly describe the fix in the installation section of the manual.

*

The Musical World of Professor Piccolo

* Category: Children's education-entertainment

* Developer: Opcode Interactive

* Format: MPC (for IBM-compatible PCs running Windows)

* Price: $69.95 list, $49 street

(Contact Mike Langberg by mail at 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, Calif. 95190, by phone at (408) 920-5084, by fax at (408) 920-5917 or through the Internet at "cdrommikeaol.com")

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