SmartMusic in Public Schools

This afternoon I had the good fortune to enjoy a workshop about SmartMusic presented by Tom Carruth. In a nutshell, SmartMusic is a tool to help students as they practice music, and a tool to help teachers objectively assess students’ playing. (I’ll refrain from turning this post into a commercial about all the features and benefits. If you’re interested in knowing more about the program, click here.)

I am curious to hear from those of you who may use SmartMusic with your students. Have you been pleased with it? Disappointed? Somewhere in between?

If you use it, how heavily do you rely on it for grading? Do you require all students to use it, or is it optional?

Here are a few of my initial thoughts and observations. Those of who who know the program, please tell me if you agree or not.

– The program is incredibly well designed. It’s obvious this is not a first draft of the program. I think Tom said they’re on version 11 now, so most of the major bugs are gone, and the bells & whistles are getting really cool.

– There’s a ton of music already loaded into the system. It has virutally every popular method book and a ton of ensemble music ready to be used. For example, my students who use Essential Elements 2000 would have a very easy time practicing the music we learn at school with SmartMusic.

– Students can see the results of their assessment and get instant feedback on what they need to improve, at least in terms of playing right notes and rhythms.

– Since the nature of the program is very computer-centered, it requires students to have access to a computer. I teach in a primarily low-income district where most homes do not have a computer. It would be totally unreasonable to mandate that my students use the program. And since I teach primarily elementary, some students may lack the basic computer skills to do the work. In short, the whole element of using a computer could be an obstacle.

– The program is computer-centered, which might attract some students while discouraging others. Some students might be inclined to think, “Hey! I get to play my instrument AND use my computer at the same time! Cool!” while others might think, “If there’s anything worse than having to sit inside with a computer, it’s having to use a computer and practice my dumb instrument.” 

– Students are required to enter an email address in order to enroll and log in. Some of the teachers at the workshop mentioned that some of their students do not have email addresses because they are not allowed to use the internet. (I realize that anyone can get free email accounts, but that’s not the issue.) Has the internet/computer usage issue been an obstacle for anyone?


7 thoughts on “SmartMusic in Public Schools

  1. Steve- we are going to start using Smart Music with our students very soon at our middle school. We plan to rotate students through an iMac computer at regular intervals and hope they will set up subscriptions at home. I’ll keep you posted on our results…

  2. I use Smart Music in a couple of different ways. For my beginning string students, it is a great tool to have the accompaniment in a class setting and to use it for in-class playing quizzes. They enjoy seeing how many green notes they can get.
    For my choir classes, (since I am not a pianist) I input the accompaniment using Finale and use it as my rehearsal accompanist.
    There is a lot more I could do with it, but time and resource limitations make it impractical at the present.

  3. I think you have what the program does figured out. I think most kids are excited about using the computer to help them practice. When was the last time kids told you how much fun they had doing a practice assignment? I get that frequently.

    Our program has gone from “rotating kids through the computer once a quarter” to it “is installed everywhere it will run” (kids’ homes, practice rooms, rehearsal space, my laptop, etc.) We have about 160 installations. We are doing assignments every two weeks or so.

    I wasn’t comfy with students having e-mail accounts that aren’t monitored as well. Kids who don’t have e-mail that their parents approve of, get to use one of my e-mail boxes that they don’t really have access to. My personal e-mail provider gave me a bunch of mail boxes. It really is a rare kid that doesn’t have a parent that doesn’t have an e-mail address they can use, however.

    We really upped our usage when our time for lessons was cut by two-thirds. Since we were obviously going to do more teaching from the podium, we needed this to figure out who was getting it and who wasn’t. Now we can focus our little time on the folks that really need it. We can also look for items and trends that we really need to review with everyone.

    I would love to have the time back AND SmartMusic everywhere. We would really be rocking then. But this way I have a safety net to help.

    Hope this comment helps and hasn’t been too long. I’m blogging about this as well.

  4. Funny you should ask. I bought SmartMusic with a Finale 2008 bundle with the sole purpose of using it as an assessment tool. My subscription runs out in a month and I haven’t used it at all. When I did have students try it, they liked it, but were frustrated at how hard it was to get a good grade. I even struggled as a musician of many, MANY years. I am at a loss what to do next.

    My dilema is much like yours, when and how to use it. I have a desktop in a practice room to use the program on, but my students can’t seem to store their assessment in the right place or in such a way that I can hear it later.

    I think it is a great practice program. I like the idea of sending a student into a practice room, pulling up a song from the exercise book and giving them a chance to slow down, hear it again, etc. to work out a problem.

    As for pre-loaded music, my school music library is a great one with many old, some very old, scores. So, most of it does not show up in the database to use. Much as I like the Finale crossover feature with SmartMusic, I’m not ready to scan a 23 page score just yet.

    I think it is a good program if you have the time and resources to get all your kids on it on a regualr basis. But for $130 a year subscription, I’m not so sure it is the right fit for my students at this time.

  5. If you have an internet connection in that practice room, most of the saving files issues can be gone very quickly. Use the sister website called Impact. It’s free with the subscription. Send and receive assignments with Impact and saving them on the local hard drive really isn’t an issue.

    Yep. They NEED a million more titles in the library. You can also request a title. I haven’t tried it yet to see if that gets them to add something sooner, but there is hope. I do look to see if the new music I am buying is in their library.

    It is hard to get a good grade in SmartMusic. It improves my playing quite a bit when I use it in my own practicing.

    I think the tricks are to make sure students have been taught what they need to know, have had time to practice and really study the red/green notes to find clues on what to fix.

    It really should be about getting the music learned well, maybe an assignment every other week or so to give them time to learn it. If you get past the machine I would say you KNOW your pitches and rhythms.

  6. HellO!

    I used SmartMusic as an accompaniment tool for two years…extensively. I am the only music teacher and pianist (I do okay on grade 3 solos; have to practice for the grade 4’s) for miles.
    During 2008-2009, I got all of my 8th-12th graders used to SmartMusic Impact as an assessment tool in many formats…rhythmic exercises, scales, and repertoire assignments. It took most students using the basic functions 4-5 times before they were comfortable. My 7th graders were still struggling with using SmartMusic at the end of the school year.
    I did develop a “help sheet” for students to follow and this greatly improved the speed at which students became comfortable. I would be happy to share this “helper” with those who are interested!
    It is difficult to get a good grade. It is difficult to get a superior rating, too! I think this is what it means to have high music standards. A majority of my students really enjoyed repeating assessments to achieve a score above 90%!

  7. I am an aspiring music educator who has the experience of smart music. My brass professor told us to use smart music as a practice tool and also graded us on our completion of these practice sessions. At first I questioned the decision to use smart music. As I used it to practice, it became apparent that it was an excellent tool for such practice. It told me where i had intonation issues to work out that I did not hear when practicing the instrument myself. It also kept me practicing at a steady tempo which i would have not otherwise done. (Smart music made me come to terms with that quickly). My only caution about having a smart music studio(s) in your school is the issue of time. There needs to be a schedule that fits everyone’s available time. Unless this happens there will be a great deal of stress over who gets in the studio when it becomes crunch time. Beware the schedule if assessment is based upon this studio.

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