26 February, 2009


Tiba-tiba teringat movie Drumline... Sebenarnya penulis pun dah lupa tahun bila cerita nie... Tapi bagi peminat-peminat Brassband ataupun Pancaragam mesti takkan lupakan cerita... sangat menarik...


08 February, 2009

Penyelidikan Pengunaan Teknologi Dalam Pendidikan Muzik

Dari semasa ke semasa perkembangan teknologi dalam pendidikan semakin berkembang dan digunapakai di dalam bilik darjah. Instruksi ini diguna pakai mengikut objektif dan matlamat tertentu. Begitu juga dengan kaedah gunapakai yang perlu di ambil perhatian agar peranan guru akan menjadi lebih efektif iaitu dalam erti kata teknologi dan manusia perlu keseimbangan. Bagi pendidikan muzik, ia juga tidak boleh lari dari tuntutan menggunakan teknologi sebagai kaedah pengajaran.  Simposium Tanglewood Music Education merupakan satu badan yang banyak membincangkan penggunaan teknologi dalam Pendidikan Muzik. Sila rujuk artikel di bawah ini:
Scott D. Lipscomb
University of Minnesota

Brief Chronology
• late 1950s & 1960s - initial CAI investigations
o television, tape recorders, video recorders, & slide projector were primary early technologies of interest
• 1970s - emergence of computer-based investigations
• picked up significantly in the 1980s
• we now have a solid quarter century(+) of research upon which to base our understanding of the efficacy of technology in the music learning process

• Higgins, W. (1992). Technology. In R. Colwell’s (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Music Teaching and Learning (pp.480-497). NY: Schimer Books.
• Peters, G.D. (1992). Music software and emerging technology. Music Educator Journal, 79(3), 22-25, 63.
• Berz, W.L. & Bowman, J. (1994). Applications of research in music technology Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference.
• Walls, K. (1997). Music performance and learning: The impact of digital technology. Psychomusicology, 16(1-2), 68-76.
• Webster, P.W. (2002). Computer-based technology and music teaching and learning. In R. Colwell & C. Richardson (Eds.), The New Handbook of Research on Music Teaching and Learning (pp. 416-439). NY: Oxford University Press.

• Legacy
o Journal of Computer-Based Music Instruction (1977)
• Dedicated
o Journal of Technology in Music Learning (N.Barry, Ed.)
o New Journal of Music, Technology and Education (D. Collins, Ed.)
• Related papers sometimes included
o JRME, CRME, JMTE, CME, & others

Research Presentations
• Association for Technology in Music Instruction (ATMI)
 emerged out of NCCBMI in 1992
o Association for the Development of Computer-Based Instructional Systems (ADCIS)
o National Consortium for Computer-Based Music Instruction (NCCBMI)
 split from ADCIS in 1975
• Technology Institute for Music Educators (TI:ME)


03 February, 2009


Bidang ICT memang tidak dapat dipisahkan dalam bidang pendidikan ketika ini. Perubahan yang berlaku dalam bidang ini begitu cepat, pantas dan efisien. Begitu juga halnya yang berlaku dalam Pendidikan Muzik. Technology Institute for Music Education (TI:ME) telah mengklasifikasikan mengikut bidang pengkhususan dalam Pendidikan Muzik. Bagi mereka yang sedang membuat kajian mengenai Teknologi dalam Pendidikan Muzik boleh melihat dengan jelas tentang pengkhususan atau kategori mana yang menjadi pilihan anda.. Di bawah ini merupakan kerangka mengenai artikel ini...

TI:ME Areas of Competency
in Music Technology

from Technology Strategies for Music Education, 2nd Edition
  1. Electronic Musical Instruments

    1. Keyboards
    2. Controllers (Other)
    3. Synthesizers & Samplers
    4. Ensemble Performance
  2. Music Production

    1. Data Types

      1. MIDI
      2. Digital Audio
    2. Processes

      1. Looping
      2. Sequencing
      3. Signal Processing
      4. Sound Design
  3. Music Notation Software
  4. Technology-Assisted Learning

    1. Instructional Software
    2. Accompaniment/Practice Tools
    3. Internet-based Learning
  5. Multimedia

    1. Multimedia Authoring

      1. Web Pages
      2. Presentations (PowerPoint, Keynote)
      3. Movie/DVD
    2. Digital Image Capturing (Scanning, Still/Video Camera)
    3. Internet
    4. Electronic Portfolios (i.e. Note Taker)
  6. Productivity Tools, Classroom and Lab Management

    1. Productivity Tools (Text Editor, Spreadsheet, Database, etc.)
    2. Computer Systems (CPU, I/O Devices, Storage Devices/Media, etc.)
    3. Lab Management Systems (Korg, Roland, Lentines, etc.)
    4. Networks (Network Manager Software, Server, etc.)

Content Area Summaries

Electronic Musical Instruments

  • Operate electronic instruments
  • Understand their unique characteristics.
  • Use them in the classroom.
  • Connect instruments to computers and other instruments using MIDI
  • Create layered and split keyboard sounds for performances.
  • Choose and edit sounds from stored libraries
  • Create sounds using an electronic instrument.
  • Create simple to complex musical pieces.
  • Teach dexterity and technique.
  • Teach musical processes with electronic keyboards.
  • Integrate electronic instruments into existing ensembles
  • Create entirely new electronic ensembles.
  • Operate sound reinforcement equipment
  • Set up and connect a variety of electronic instruments for use in concerts in the school environment.

Music Production

  • Record and edit music using music production software and hardware
  • Understand the various processes and procedures used for recording and editing music including sequencing, looping, signal processing, and sound design
  • Understand the types of data involved in music production.
  • Store and convert digital audio data
  • Store and convert MIDI data
  • Understanding the different applications and capabilities of audio and MIDI data
  • Use software synthesizers to create digital audio under MIDI control
  • Actively apply technology tools in the music production process.
  • Enter notes in a MIDI sequence either one at time (step-time) or by performing (real-time).
  • Enter musical expressions by changing controller values to produce a more musical performance.
  • Produce transcriptions in standard music notation
  • Use advanced editing and production techniques
  • Perform complex mixing processes
  • Integrate digital audio with MIDI data in the sequencer environment.
  • Demonstrate orchestration and arranging techniques allowing students to immediately hear the example.
  • Change tempos, transposition, timbre, and dynamics
  • Teach musical concepts using music production software and hardware
  • Teach performance on traditional acoustic instruments using the MIDI sequencer as accompaniment
  • Today’s music teacher needs to understand how these software tools operate,
  • How to access music data in loop form
  • How these loops are imported into the production process
  • How to guide students in the crafting of musical phrases using loops
  • How to put all of this into the larger context of music production processes.
  • Expose students to music of different cultures
  • Understand the building blocks of musical style and form through the use of looping tools.
  • Understand sound, and how various signal processing techniques can be used to enhance audio in the production process.
  • Add effects such as reverb, chorus, and echo.
  • Improve clarity of a mix using equalization.
  • Supervise students in their production projects
  • Use music productions in live performance
  • Use music production techniques to and for improving the sound quality in recordings of student performances.

Music Notation Software           

  • Create a score for any musical ensemble or instrument
  • Enter notes using various approaches including typing, point and click, step entry, and real-time entry.
  • Edited scores
  • Transpose songs
  • Cut, copy, and paste music
  • Add expression markings
  • Layout a complete musical score
  • Extract parts
  • Integrate notation files into word processing software for text handouts and exams
  • Integrate notation software into classroom activities
  • Demonstrate relationships between symbol and sound.
  • Guide students in the use of notation software as a creative tool for composition.
  • Guide students in learning the basics of notation
  • Teach students to hear what they write.

Technology-Assisted Learning

  • Have a broad familiarity with available instructional software.
  • Understand how to install, use, and integrate these programs into their music curriculum taking full advantage of the record-keeping, evaluation, and instructional support CAI software provides.
  • Prescribe instructional software to provide students with a patient practice partner, allowing self-paced progress through subject matter.
  • Monitor class work and record progress using CAI software.
  • Integrate practice tools into their curriculum
  • Guide students in better use of them in their personal practice sessions.
  • Integrate these practice tools with music notation and sequencing programs
  • Create additional materials for student practice, more closely aligned with the school’s curriculum.
  • Connect computers to the Internet
  • Share files between computers of varying platforms
  • Effectively search and retrieve information.
  • Encourage students to use the Internet to find answers and to become life-long learners beyond the classroom experience.
  • Encourage students can use this vast information resource to research any topic. Many libraries, both public and private, allow students to search their catalogs online and will give them the references requested.


  • Understand basic multimedia authoring strategies including slide show presentations, electronic portfolios, and/or internet web sites.
  • Create materials for use in their classes.
  • Guide their students in learning multimedia authoring
  • Guide students inc collecting multimedia materials from Internet
  • Guide students in compiling media rich reports.
  • Record and edit sound
  • Capture video,
  • Acquire images from digital cameras
  • Scan pictures and drawings.
  • There are many technical issues in creating and manipulating these media elements.
  • To transfer information from the real world (analog domain) into the virtual world (digital domain), information must be captured and digitized.
  • This is usually accomplished through some form of analog to digital conversion technique.
  • Graphics may be digitized using either digital cameras or scanners that convert images into a collection of numbers called pixels (picture elements).
  • Each pixel is a dot on the computer screen and represents one of up to a million possible colors.
  • Each color is identified by its own discreet number. When digitizing video, a complete screen of pixels must be captured every thirtieth of a second in order to produce the thirty frames per second quality common to analog video.
  • In the digitization process of any media type there are always tradeoffs because image, sound, and motion quality is based on the amount of memory, storage, and processing power of the computer.
  • To successfully work with digitized media, teachers must understand how computers process data, how data is stored and retrieved from disk, and how to balance sample or frame rate, bit resolution, data transfer rates, data compression schemes, and the various file formats in which digital media can be stored.
  • Teachers need to know how to use the various editing tools available for digital media and how to edit and process media file types.
  • Teachers must also learn to use various tools that allow files in one format to be converted to another so that files can be combined into multimedia authoring environments.
  • At the advanced levels, teachers should be able to use authoring tools which allow them to integrate digital audio, video, graphics, and text into a single document which can enrich various musical activities.
  • Strategies for digitization, editing, storage, and distribution of electronic media have become necessary skills for the twenty-first century teacher.
  • Teachers also need to know how to combine these media into meaningful learning experiences for students.
  • Perhaps even more important is helping students learn to express themselves in this new media, as a literacy requirement for their future.

Productivity Tools, Classroom and Lab Management

  • Create, edit, and store information or data in digital form.
  • Operate and configure operating systems as needed.
  • Take data from one program to another converting file formats as needed.
  • Manage the work of being a teacher.
  • Manage a technology facility, be it a single computer and MIDI workstation in a classroom or a full music technology multi-station lab.
  • Understand the basic functionality of the personal computer, the various input and output peripherals, and the variety of media used to store, transport, and retrieve information.
  • Know the basic software tools used to manage a music program.
  • Use word processing software to enter, edit, format and print text-based documents.
  • Use word processing software to create concert programs, class handouts, tests, and various other office-related documents.
  • Use database software can be used to store and retrieve records for instrument and music inventories, class lists, attendance, and grades. Spreadsheet programs assist with the management of data including budget management, bookkeeping, or grades.
  • Use graphics programs to integrate illustrations into classroom presentations or word processing documents.
  • Presentation software can be used to create overhead transparencies and slides for class lectures, or for presentations made to administrators, funding agencies, and parent groups. Personal Information Management (PIM) programs allow teachers to schedule rehearsals, meetings, and concerts, and to print customized calendars for students and parents.
  • Install and run various applications programs
  • Enter data, format pages, and print out reports.
  • Manage class activities and lab systems.
  • Provide for storage of student files.
  • Protect against computer viruses
  • Develop strategies for maintaining their facilities in a manner that ensures effective use of the workstations while accomplishing their program needs and the goals of their curriculum.
  • Understand the way that multiple systems work together in a networked lab environment
  • Understand how audio, MIDI, and computer data is managed and distributed between systems.
  • Operate networked server computers on which teachers may store classroom materials, and where students may post assignments for review. Today’s teachers must understand how these systems work to most effectively use them in support of better teaching and learning.
  • Specify equipment needs for their classroom or lab facilities,
  • Understand the interaction and configurations for electronic instruments, computers, MIDI interfaces, sound reinforcement, projection systems, and sound and data networking.
  • Manage music technology installations.
TI:ME Areas of Competency
and courses in which they are addressed
Notation Music Production Electronic Instruments Multimedia Instructional Software Productivity Tools, Classroom and Lab Management
  • TI:ME 1A
  • TI:ME 1B
  • TI:ME 2A Notation
  • TI:ME 2A Sequencing
  • TI:ME 2A Electronic Instruments
  • TI:ME 2B Multimedia
  • TI:ME 2B
    Digital Media
  • TI:ME 2B
    Digital Audio
  • TI:ME 2B Advanced
    Digital Audio
  • TI:ME 2B Internet
  • TI:ME 2C Curriculum Integration
TI:ME 2C Curriculum Integration TI:ME 2C Curriculum Integration TI:ME 2C Curriculum Integration TI:ME 2C Curriculum Integration TI:ME 2C Curriculum Integration
TI:ME 2A Notation TI:ME 2A Sequencing TI:ME 2A Electronic Instruments TI:ME 2B Multimedia TI:ME 2B Multimedia
TI:ME 2B Digital Audio TI:ME 2B Internet TI:ME 2B Internet
TI:ME 2B Advanced Digital Audio TI:ME 2B Digital Media
Buku yang dicadangkan


Anda mungkin terpaksa bertanggungjawab atas jenayah yang dilakukan orang lain. Demikianlah bahana pencerobohan WiFi.

PENCEROBOHAN WiFi meletakkan pengguna yang tidak bersalah dalam keadaan bahaya. - Gambar hiasan

RANGKAIAN wayarles atau lebih popular dengan panggilan WiFi bukanlah suatu yang asing di negara kita.
Setelah lebih 12 tahun Internet diperkenalkan di Malaysia, bilangan pengguna rangkaian yang menggunakan frekuensi radio ini semakin bertambah.
Jika dahulu, WiFi hanya terhad kepada pengguna komersil seperti kafe eksklusif dan organisasi, kini ramai pengguna memasangnya di rumah bagi memudahkan mereka melungsuri Internet.
Namun masih ramai pengguna yang tidak melindungi rangkaian mereka dengan ciri keselamatan yang terdapat pada AP atau Access Point. Ini menyebabkan rangkaian tanpa wayar mereka terdedah kepada penjenayah siber - penipu, lanun siber dan pencuri maklumat.
Pernahkah anda terfikir, rangkaian anda yang tidak dikunci boleh digunakan oleh mereka yang tidak bertanggungjawab untuk menjalankan aktiviti seperti menghantar emel ugutan, mencuri kata laluan perbankan dalam talian, menulis blog berunsur subversif serta menggodam laman web organisasi tertentu?
Lebih menakutkan lagi, jika pihak berkuasa mengesan alamat IP capaian Internet anda sebagai punca aktiviti jenayah yang dilakukan, menyebabkan anda menjadi 'pak sanggup' di atas kesalahan orang lain.
Ya!, anda berhadapan dengan risiko ini sekalipun tujuan tidak mengaktifkan ciri sekuriti pada rangkaian anda ialah bertujuan untuk berkongsi akses Internet dengan jiran-jiran anda. Ramai juga yang tidak melindungi rangkaian mereka kerana kekurangan pengetahuan teknikal.
Golongan tidak bertanggungjawab ini lazimnya akan menumpang rangkaian wayarles yang tidak dilindungi - secara automatik membolehkan mereka menyamar seolah-olah pengguna sah pemilik sesuatu rangkaian itu.
Ia tidak ubah seperti mencuri talian telefon, cuma bezanya pemilik tidak akan perasan kerana kebanyakan pengguna rangkaian ini merupakan pelanggan jalur lebar tanpa had.
Malah, catatan pada bil bulanan tidak menunjukkan sebarang penggunaan yang luar biasa.

Secara perbandingannya, pemilik rangkaian wayarles rumah di negara-negara Barat lebih menitikberatkan tahap keselamatan rangkaian mereka, menurut kajian yang dijalankan oleh firma sekuriti RSA tahun ini.
Di kota Paris sebagai contoh, 98 peratus daripada pemilik rangkaian WiFi telah melindungi rangkaian mereka. New York pula menduduki tempat kedua dengan 97 peratus manakala London menduduki tempat ketiga dengan 90 peratus.
Sungguhpun belum ada statistik khusus yang menunjukkan jumlah aktiviti jenayah siber jenis ini di negara kita, ia tidak bermakna kita semua terhindar daripada ancaman ini.
Salah satu contoh yang wajar dijadikan iktibar ialah kes seorang remaja di Singapura yang menghantar ancaman bom palsu di forum Internet menggunakan rangkaian wayarles jirannya sehingga menyebabkan jirannya yang tidak bersalah itu ditahan pihak berkuasa.
Aktiviti menumpang rangkaian seperti ini begitu popular. Ini kerana penjenayah siber tahu sekiranya ada pihak yang cuba mengesan, jejaknya akan berakhir di rumah pemilik rangkaian tersebut. Sungguhpun pemilik rangkaian WiFi yang tidak bersalah boleh membersihkan nama mereka dengan menepis tuduhan, proses ini mengambil masa yang agak lama.
Di Amerika Syarikat (AS) pula, seorang lelaki berjaya memperdayakan pihak polis apabila melakukan rompakan terancang ke atas sebuah kereta perisai yang membuat penghantaran duit ke sebuah bank. Beberapa hari sebelum itu, Anthony Curcio, 28, telah membuat iklan online dengan menggunakan rangkaian wayarles individu lain bagi mendapatkan sekumpulan orang untuk memakai pakaian yang sama di bank tersebut bagi tujuan mengelirukan pihak berkuasa.
Anthony yang turut memakai pakaian berwarna yang sama seperti diiklankan berjaya melarikan sejumlah wang kerana pihak polis yang bertindak atas maklumat orang awam terkeliru. Ini kerana terdapat sejumlah orang di kawasan bank tersebut pada masa yang sama.
Sebagai contoh, sekiranya rangkaian anda digunakan oleh seseorang untuk melakukan penipuan kad kredit (menggunakan maklumat kad kredit individu lain dan membuat pembelian dalam talian), pihak polis boleh merampas komputer anda bagi tujuan penyiasatan dan ini sudah cukup menjadi mimpi buruk dalam hidup anda.
Pengguna yang ingin mengunci rangkaian mereka perlu menggunakan perkakasan wayarles yang dilengkapkan dengan ciri keselamatan seperti WiFi Protected Access atau WPA. Sungguhpun hari ini, terdapat jenis ciri sekuriti wayarles yang boleh digodam, tetapi bilangan individu yang mempunyai kepakaran seperti ini tidaklah begitu banyak dan masih terkawal.


01 February, 2009

Getting Started with Technology in Music Education

 By Kelly Demoline
Technology is becoming more and more prevalent in schools across the country. Music educators see their fellow teachers benefit from the use of technology and often ask what technology can do for them and how they can get started.  These are important questions, yet there is one other important question that usually only the skeptics ask – why should I use technology in music education?  Technology is a tool, and as with any tool, it should be carefully evaluated to determine its effectiveness and appropriateness within our instructional situation.
These three questions: why should I use technology in music instruction, what can I do with music technology, and how do I get started need to be addressed.  Beware of people who oversimplify, touting one particular product or one particular method over another.  Each learning situation has different considerations, each teacher has his or her own style of teaching, and students have their own unique learning styles. 
Why should I use technology in music instruction?
Educators that incorporate technology into their instruction have indicated that some of the main benefits are individualized instruction, assessment and motivation.  These three areas are closely related.  Students are motivated when they achieve goals that were once slightly beyond their ability.  The process of instruction and assessment should be designed to help students set and achieve realistic goals, which in turn generates intrinsic motivation.  The more individualized we make the instruction and assessment, the more effective this process is.
Individualized instruction is beneficial since students do not develop musically at the same rate.  Students’ musical experiences and needs are so widely varied in a typical classroom and they are not all interested in the same types of music.  This makes it difficult to offer individualized instruction.  Additionally, many teachers find it hard to give as much individual attention and assessment to each student as they would like.  Budget cuts add to the time restraints, making this even more difficult.
Although computers can never replace a music educator, the benefits of individualized instruction, assessment and motivation can be used to supplement the learning that takes place through performing.  Using technology, students can work at their own pace, spending more time on what they need work on.  Student performance anxiety can be reduced by focusing on learning and not peer competition.  Evaluation of responses can be totally accurate and impartial.  Assessment is generally immediate, allowing students to correct their mistakes while fresh in their mind.  If there is any doubt about the motivating power of technology, one only has to observe students, especially young children, work with a well designed educational computer game.
The way computers describe or represent information often differs from our traditional perception.  Although this may be a source of frustration, it can also be beneficial to view information, and specifically music, in a new way.  This can be useful in developing and identifying new teaching and learning styles.  For example, many music programs represent music using a graph of pitch and time.  Some of my adult students have benefited from viewing music in this regard and then associated it with traditional notation.
Technology also creates possibilities for performance that may not have existed otherwise.  In a sense, a computer can become a musical instrument that students may use for creating or performing music.  Students can create and perform music that may previously have required skills or resources (such as large ensembles) that would have otherwise been unavailable. 
Any discussion focusing on the merits of using technology in music instruction must also address the potential problems.  One of the foremost concerns that has caused the acceptance of technology in music education to be slower than in other educational fields is that of ease of use. Cumbersome technology can quickly shift the focus off of music learning.  As well, some technology does not give control over to curriculum planning and evaluation techniques and criteria to the teacher.
Fortunately, these problems can be resolved by selecting the appropriate hardware and software.  Careful planning and thoughtful consideration can help avoid these problems.  Overall, the benefits of using music technology should outweigh the potential difficulties. 
What can I do with music technology – or what can music technology do for me.
Before developing guidelines for selecting appropriate materials and implementing them, it is important to note that the use of technology must be consistent with your instructional goals.  A particular program should not be used simply because it exists.  Instead, as with any tool, technology should be used because it assists in meeting your goals.
There are many ways that technology can help you meet your instructional goals.  I plan to discuss these in terms of musicianship/theory, creativity (composition, arranging and improvisation) and listening/music history.  There are many music programs designed to help students develop their musicianship or improve their note reading ability.  Notation and sequencing programs assist students in writing music.  Accompaniment software aids in improvisation and there is a plethora of CD-ROMs focusing on music history and listening.  In addition to all of these pre-made programs, educators can easily create their own resources for students.
How do I get started?
Most educators start out by cobbling together hardware and software from various sources.  Do not overlook the many sources of used computers.  Many businesses and parents are happy to donate their old computers to a school.  It is amazing what you can still do on older computers!  Eventually, however, you will probably need to invest some money into technology.  In addition to your typical sources, remember that technology sells.  Government, business and the public place a high value on technology.  Do not be afraid to promote the benefits of using technology in music education, you may be surprised at the interest in generates.
Start networking with people who have already started using music technology.  In additions to the MENC, get in touch with organizations such as the Association for Technology in Music Instruction (ATMI) or the Technology Institute for Music Educators (TI:ME).  Keep in mind that dealers should also be good sources of information.  When you buy hardware or software, remember that you are not just buying a product – you should be buying experience and expertise as well.  Find a dealer who will offer you advice based not only on your current situation, but also on your future goals.  In addition to just selling products, a dealer should be a resource person, offering suggestions for acquiring funding.  A good salesperson will have suggestions for you and ask you questions to help identify your needs. 
When it comes to choosing between a Mac and a PC, I do not believe that one is inherently better for musical applications than the other.  Instead, individual circumstances should be considered when making a decision. Among other things, consider your school’s policy, the hardware, software and support available, your experience and your students’ experience.  Listen to the opinions of people who carefully examine your situation.  There are many excellent books, magazines and buyer’s guides dedicated to helping people purchasing computers.  Community colleges often offer courses for first time computer buyers.  Do not trust a computer salesperson to recognize your needs, especially when it comes to music-related software and hardware.
In general terms there are few points to consider.  Whenever possible, obtain a demonstration version of the program so that you can evaluate it on your own.  Focus on the following points:
Technology must be musical.  The program should:
·         Produce musical sounds.
·         Endorse and reward musicality.
·         Use musical means of communication.  (Typing on a computer keyboard is not a very musical way of communicating.)
The program must be easy to use:
·         Is the manual useful?
·         Does it come with training videos?
·         Where will you find answers to questions?  (Can you turn to technical support, dealer support or colleagues?)
The program should be technologically sound:
·         Does it use standard file formats such as MIDI? 
·         Is it compatible with the equipment you have?
·         Does it crash frequently? (There are still programs sold on the market that do not work very often, if at all!)
·         How often, if ever, is the program updated?  How much does it cost to obtain the upgrades?
Do not make the mistake of buying the first program you try, without trying others of the same type.  Try to find a salesperson (or other resource person) who has experience with many different programs and can explain the differences.  Beware of people who use absolutes: there is usually not one program that is “the best” for everybody in every situation.
If you already own a computer, you may be surprised to find out what you can do without spending your life savings.  Most computers now come with some sort of sound capability built-in. 
If you already own a MIDI device, then an inexpensive MIDI interface will allow you to connect it to the computer.  In addition to allowing you to record MIDI information on your computer, you may also send the MIDI data to an external sound source (such as a synthesizer) instead of your soundcard.
You may notice that the sounds produced by your built-in card are not acceptable for anything more than playing games.  A quick comparison between even the top of the line SoundBlaster compatible game cards and a true professional MIDI card will quickly prove that there is a big difference between “game” cards and “music” cards.  Unfortunately, most buyers only have opportunity to hear the difference between the various game cards.  Purchasing a soundcard should be no different from purchasing a musical instrument – make sure you can try as many as you can!
There are a number of avenues available for improving the sound quality on your computer, including soft synths and sound modules.
The advantage to a sound module is that it can be used on any computer without having to remove a card from the computer.  They can act as a MIDI interface for the computer, allowing the connection of a MIDI device to the computer.  They can also be used independently of the computer with any other MIDI instrument and don't suffer from latency (delays between hitting a key and hearing the sound).
A new contender in this arena is software synthesis.  Rather than having a dedicated chip produce music, programmers have written software that uses the computer’s main chip to model real instruments.  Apple’s QuickTime features this type of software synthesis and Windows XP comes with a built in soft synth from Roland.  High end soft synths with very realistic playback are also available.
These programs are significantly less costly than a dedicated sound card, however they will only run on computers with fast processors.  Since they rely on the same chip that the rest of the computer is using, performance will often lag. 
There are many exciting develops in the area of music technology on the horizon.  However, it is essential to remember that technology is a tool, and as with any teaching tool should be carefully evaluated to determine its effectiveness in meeting our goals.  There is no better time to start using technology than the present.  Develop contacts who can offer suggestions and guidance, and be willing to share your own experiences with others.  Technology can help you and your students become better musicians. 
Kelly Demoline
 Kelly Demoline is a music educator and president of Kelly’s Music & Computers.  In addition to his K-12 teaching experience, Mr. Demoline was also the Music Technology coordinator for Brandon University.  Mr. Demoline can be reached by e-mail at kelly@kellysmusicandcomputers.com
Kelly’s Music & Computers provides a broad range of music technology solutions for music educators and can be found on the web at http://kellysmusicandcomputers.com or toll free 1-888-562-8822.