San Francisco Symphony Launches Online Education Website,

The San Francisco Symphony (SFS) continues its mission of providing broad access to music and music education with the release of a new version of its free online music education resource, The new SFSKids incorporates user-friendly educational game-play techniques to bring orchestral music to today's digitally savvy children, and launches a new generation of music instruction tools for parents and teachers. The new SFSKids was developed in creative partnership with University of California, Irvine's Institute for Software Research.

The new SFSKids presents an updated online experience entirely different from the original SFSKids. The original website, which has now had more than 5 million site visits in more than 20 countries, has been re-imagined and rebuilt to be more appealing to today's computer users, while continuing to ensure maximum access through its design for desktops and laptops. The second generation SFSKids incorporates new approaches to music learning, new and significantly expanded content areas, and a completely new graphic identity. Some examples of brand-new features and content throughout SFSKids include: a fun and playful series of educational modules presented as immersive environments and using animal avatars as guides; the ability to explore various linkages between composers, instruments, and music compositions; biographical background about selected composers; a greatly expanded library of music available for listening, with more than double the number of excerpts and a rotational system to provide increased variety; the use of some game-based techniques to motivate repeated listening and engagement; gesture controlled simulation scenarios using the mouse and keyboard to provide "hands-on" experiences of playing instrument and conducting music; interactive online tutorials to learn about music basics; the opportunity for users to compose and notate their own original music; and much more.

SFSKids remains a key component of the SF Symphony's commitment to music education."Technology is a fantastic tool to acquaint young people with orchestral music," says Brent Assink, Executive Director of the San Francisco Symphony. "It is our hope that SFSKids will help a new generation of young students engage with music in a fun and meaningful way."

Walt Scacchi, a senior research scientist at UC Irvine's Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences and UC Irvine's Institutefor Software Research, said "Our collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony resulted from their creative insight to embrace an online music learning game environment as a contemporary way to bring classical music to young people. Game-based learning environments and simulation scenarios engage students, families, and teachers in ways that build and strengthen learning."


The development of SFSKids by the SF Symphony and UC Irvine's Institute for Software Research is part of a partnership that has enabled the San Francisco Symphony to build on its work as a new-media pioneer in the performing arts. The Institute for Software Research is the only Organized Research Unit in the University of California system with a focus on Software Research. The Institute's work advances software and information technology through research partnerships that form the intersection between cutting edge software research and real world practice.The Bren School's commitment to education technology includes a program that mentors middle school students in an app-writing competition.


The new SFSKids is specifically designed for use on desktops and laptops in order to ensure maximum access in homes and classrooms. Since most public classrooms around the world still use older model devices, SFSKids is designed with modest technical requirements in mind, using Adobe® Flashwith the intention of providing the most widespread accessibility possible. A future phase of development will enable SFSKids to be used on smartphones and tablets. SF Symphony Director of Education and Youth Orchestra Ron Gallman explains "Our first priority was for SFSKids to be accessible to as many children, families and teachers as possible worldwide. Tablets and smartphones are certainly increasing in global usage, and we look forward to adding users of handheld devices in the future."


SFSKids is designed in alignment with nationally prescribed music education curriculum standards, and supports learning goals in regional and local music education curricula. The site presents music education concepts through an online environment that motivates users to interact with music and perform cognitive tasks. Users are able to explore various components of music-making, such as orchestral instruments, composers of orchestral music, the basics of conducting and composing, and much more. Multiple scientific studies have demonstrated the benefits of music as an essential part of the educational process. Through SFSKids, the San Francisco Symphony provides an accessible resource for children, families, and teachers to learn about and build familiarity with orchestral music.


SFSKids presents music education concepts and fosters engagement with orchestral music through six interactive and game-based learning modules: Discover, Listen, Play, Perform, Conduct, and Compose.

1. Discover

Users explore relationships between music, composers, and the instruments of the orchestra across 300 years of music history. Knowledge "Bubbles" pop open to reveal fun facts and provide connections to more information and more music. Timelines help to situate composers and musical compositions chronologically. Designed to stimulate deepening levels of inquiry, the module invites users to explore further and further on a voyage of discovery.

2. Listen

Users gain increased familiarity with orchestral music by listening to a wide selection of audio excerpts performed by the San Francisco Symphony. Each sample includes a short written description designed to provide contextual information, such as the mood or function of the music, or directing the user to listen for specific events or gestures occurring in the music. The site incorporates more than 170 music excerpts, some of which remain on the site permanently while others will rotate every six months to provide more variety. At any given time, 124 different clips of orchestral music will be available for users to explore.

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by Peter Danish