Discovering Music;
a software review
Software Review by Mike Bianchi


Voyetra Discovering Music Logo When I was in high school (about a spillion years ago), I was heavily involved in the study of the history, theory and composition of music. Once I had progressed a couple of years into my studies, it was interesting and fun and I wanted to learn everything I could. The hard part was getting started.

Discovering Music by Voyetra Technologies is a product that can make beginning that journey a lot easier and more fun.


Minimum requirements: IBM PC or compatible with at least a 486SX processor running at 25 MHz; 4 Mb RAM; Windows 3.1 (it will also run under Windows 95), SVGA monitor and adapter capable of displaying 256 colors; 2x CD-ROM; 6 Mb of free hard drive space and a 16 bit Windows compatible sound card.

Recommended: 8 Mb RAM; a WaveTable sound card and an external MIDI keyboard or synthesizer. Recording digital audio requires an additional 20 Mb of free hard drive space.

Test system: For the purposes of this review, I installed Discovering Music on a 486DX 50 MHz with 16 Mb RAM, Windows 3.1, 4x CD-ROM and Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 sound card. I did not use any type of external MIDI device.


The installation procedure uses the familiar SETUP command that is typical of most Windows applications. After displaying a text window with a short reminder of licensing and copyright considerations, you are given a choice of two installation configurations. The standard configuration uses less space on your hard drive and requires that the program be run from the CD; the full configuration will allow the program to be run from your hard drive but requires about 14 Mb of available disk space. Once the program files are installed, SETUP then runs a series of diagnostic tests on your sound card and upgrades your video drivers. The sound card diagnostics are installed on your system so they can be run later if desired. Also installed is a short (1 to 2 minutes each) video introduction for each of the four major features of Discovering Music.

The MIDI sequencer in Discovering Music is compliant to the Microsoft Extended MIDI Standard. This standard utilizes ten channels with the first nine channels used for the various instrument voices and channel 10 reserved for the drum track. The installation adds a MIDI mapper to the Windows control panel. This utility allows the data on each channel to be redirected to other channels for sound cards that use a different standard. In my case, my SB16 is compliant with the General Standard, the data that comes in on channel 10 is redirected to channel 16 of the sound card.

Installing the standard installation on my system took a total of 15 minutes, including time to read the various information screens. I did not have any difficulties installing to a drive that was compressed with SuperStor. A total of 2.2 Mb of disk space was used on my compressed drive. One aspect of the installation procedure that I particularly appreciated was that the Voyetra Group Icon was placed at the bottom of the Program Manager window. Most Windows installation programs that I have encountered insert a blank row at the top of the window and put their own group there. It is always annoying to have to go back and reposition all of my icons every time a new program is installed.


Discovering Music has four main divisions. Music Conservatory is a collection of short lessons covering a wide variety of musical subjects; Recording Station turns your desktop into a recording studio; Music Writer lets you be the composer and in Jammin' Keys you become the featured soloist with a 5 piece backup band.

Music Conservatory: The conservatory is a multimedia exploration of the history, theory and concepts of music. You can learn about some of the great composers through samples of their works, short biographies and discussions of the social and political conditions that influenced their lives and their works. The conservatory is divided into 5 sections:

  1. Great Composers: This section looks at the lives and works of 14 composers from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern periods of musical history (1700-1917). It includes a graphic portrait of the composer, a brief biography and audio samples of some of their works. Selection is made by clicking on the composer's bar on a timeline graph that shows when each one lived in relation to the others. The section concentrates heavily on the Romantic Period, with 8 of the 14 composers being from that time frame.

  2. Music Theory: The Music Theory section is subdivided into 8 lessons that, when followed in order, demonstrate the logical progression from noise to music. The lessons included are: Nature of Sound, Melody, Harmony, Tonality, Notation, Rhythm, Harmony & Texture and Form & Style. Most of the screens include audio sampling of noises, tones or musical passages that demonstrate the concept being discussed.

      The Nature of Sound lesson discusses how sounds are organized into musical tones and the emotional responses elicited in the listener. It is not a lengthy discussion of physics. It contains only a single screen that briefly covers the relationship between wave frequency and pitch.

  3. Musical Instruments: This section includes information on about 75 of the more popular musical instruments. An instrument can be selected from a list of all the included instruments or the list can be filtered according to family by clicking on one of the graphic representations of the different families.

    The screen for the individual instrument includes a graphic depiction of the instrument and its component parts, and a graphic showing the size relative to other members in the same family. There are three buttons on the screen labeled Range, either Audio or Video, and Profile. Clicking the Range button displays a graphic depicting the range of pitches the instrument is capable of producing relative to a piano keyboard. The Profile button plays an audio file of a short discussion of the history and usage of the instrument. The audio button plays a short passage that lets you hear what the instrument sounds like; for many of the instruments, this button is labeled 'Video', this button plays a short video clip that shows a musician actually playing the instrument. These video clips are one of the glitches of this program: the graphics are extremely 'jaggy' (using a screen resolution of 640x480x256) and the animation is choppy.

  4. History of Music: The Music History section is a discussion of the history of western civilization from the Renaissance to the Modern era (1400-1900) with particular emphasis on music and the social climate and political events that influenced it. By clicking on a location from the timeline at the bottom of the screen, you can jump into the discussion of that period. Each screen includes a graphic of a portrait or a scene of the architecture or artwork of the time or some other depiction appropriate to the particular time being discussed. The text discussion contains two different colors of hypertext links. Selecting a green link opens a box containing the definition of the word or phrase in the text; blue links are used for titles of musical links, selecting one of these options plays an audio passage.

  5. Music Glossary: Do you know the difference between an adagio and an arpeggio? Like everything else, music has its own language. One of the most difficult things about learning any new subject is the vocabulary. Not to worry, Discovering Music includes a glossary of musical terms.

Recording Station: The Recording Station is a MIDI sequencer that adheres to the Microsoft Extended MIDI Standard with a few added flourishes.

The screen displays a set of controls for each of the ten channels. Each track (corresponding to one channel) has a separate volume and balance control and a button for Solo, Mute, and Record. The solo button allows only that track to play and the mute button silences that track so that only the other tracks are played. The record button is the only way that new music can be entered into the file, recording can only be done with the use of an external MIDI device, otherwise you are limited to working with preexisting files. Each track has a spin box to select the instrument voice that plays to that channel. You can select any of the 128 standardized MIDI voices (some of them can really be weird) by scrolling through the list one at a time; keeping in mind that the tenth track is restricted to drum voices. There are also spin boxes for selection of the key and tempo.

The features discussed in the preceding paragraph are in compliance with the Extended MIDI Standard as mentioned previously. If the file is saved in the . MID format, that is what is saved. Recording Station, however, has some additional nonstandard features. Each of the ten tracks has two additional spin boxes for Loop and Quantize control. The Quantize control forces the data to align itself on the beat, for example, if the control value is set at 4, data will be aligned on the quarter note. The Loop control allows you to specify a number of measures that repeat continuously. If your bass part repeats the same four measures throughout the entire song, you need only record those measures then set the loop control for the bass track to 4. The four measures will then play repeatedly while you record to the other tracks. Two additional tracks are available for recording digitized sound such as a voice track or any other sounds using your sound card's microphone. These additional tracks have the same volume, balance, solo, mute and record controls as the standard MIDI tracks.

Music Writer: Music Writer lets you be the composer. You can play your external MIDI keyboard and watch the score being written on the screen as you play, or you can drag notes onto the staff with your mouse.

Score of my Sonata Figure 1:My Sonata

    The drag-and-drop method is not as simple as it sounds. When entering a passage containing several short-duration notes (as beginning in measure 5 of figure 1), the rest of the beat is filled with rests and can become crowded and difficult to correctly position the next note. When writing chords, it can be difficult to position individual notes at the correct pitch. Music Writer lets you adjust the position of objects on the staff by dragging them left or right with the mouse or to change the pitch by dragging up or down (but not both at the same time). If a measure gets too crowded you can drag objects to the right to get them out of the way. If a note in a chord is pitched incorrectly, you cannot simply drag the note; chorded notes are attached to the same stem and cannot be moved independently. Sometimes it is easier to write the complete chord to the same degree of wrongness and then drag the whole thing to the desired pitch.

The instrument voice (only one) can be selected with a spin box that scrolls through the list of the 128 standard voices one at a time. A tool is available to add lyrics to the score, playing the song, however, does not play the lyrics. The documentation states that you can print finished sheet music on any Windows compatible printer. Although I had no problem printing a score on my Star LS-5 EX laser printer, the same score would not print on an HP LaserJet 4.

Jammin' Keys: This feature lets you record MIDI files from your external keyboard or by using your mouse to play the onscreen keyboard. It provides prerecorded backup from a five piece band in a variety of styles. The styles available are Blues, Jazz, Polka, Latin, Funk, Rock, Country, Reggae, Hip Hop, Metal, Disco and Waltz with four variations of each. Buttons allow the selection of one of nine preset voices that can be used for the lead track. The voices available are Piano, Guitar, Vibes, Strings, Organ, Trumpet, Flute, Saxophone or Synthesizer. A tenth button allows selection of any of the 128 voices in the MIDI standard. Several programmable Effects pads are included that can be used to add digitized sounds to include extra drum sounds or special effects from any .WAV file. A mixer lets you adjust the volume of each part separately.

Clicking a button allows you to play fills and breaks. A fill is when the backup band takes over and plays with a little more flourish than usual. A break is when the backup backs off to let the soloist take more control. With another button, the backup play a lead in at the beginning of the song or a wrapup at the end.

The file can be saved in a variety of formats (MID, JAM, ORC, RMI) that can be loaded into the Recording Station for further modification and fine tuning.


The major problems with Discovering Music have already been mentioned, what's left to discuss here is more in the category of annoyances and recommended changes that would make it easier to use.

In the Recording Station and Music Writer, the voice selection control uses a spin box requiring you to cycle through the list one voice at a time. It would be easier to have a list box to select from. The voice selection in Jammin' Keys uses a list box that shows three voices at a time.

Discovering Music does not comply with the Windows MDI standard. Although this is probably not significant to the way the program would normally be used, it was a major inconvenience in writing this review. When running Discovering Music to check out a particular feature, I was not able to switch back to WordPerfect, even using the (dare I say it??) Alt-Tab. I was required to first completely close out of Discovering Music.

Music Writer does not allow note durations of less then 1/16 (at least when working with the mouse). Once you have started writing the piece, the key and time signature cannot be changed. It is possible to change the tempo and voice, but not in the middle of the song, changes made are applied to the entire document.


Discovering Music by Voyetra Technologies is a mulitmedia exploration of music. Although far from comprehensive, it can be a good tool for the beginning musician or music student. Juliard it is not, but then even Bach had to start somewhere.