SmartMusic and Choral Music: It’s Working

On December 22nd, 2011, MakeMusic somewhat quietly released two upgrades to its flagship product, SmartMusic 2012a and Finale 2012a. The updates allowed SmartMusic vintage 2012 to talk fully with Finale vintage 2012, especially in terms of creating vocal assessments.

The big news of SmartMusic 2012 was the new vocal assessements, based on several methods used throughout Texas schools. The only problem is that many schools here in Minnesota use Bruce Phelps’ Sight-Reading Method, a great system that allows teachers to make or distribute copies as needed. Bruce’s system is sequential and doesn’t change keys from the start, unlike the 90 Days to Sight Reading Success that is included in SmartMusic 2012. So if you want to create assessments based on the Phelps method, you need to create your own.

Now I can, and I am. I’ve assigned my first sight-reading assessment (we have 10 computers that students can use to take assessements at our school between our band, choir, and orchestra students). I created a class for each section of each choir, and in this case, assigned one sight reading exercise to women, and another to men. There is a little glitch where men need to specifically choose the voice of “tenor/bass” because the standard “bass” or “tenor” reads an octave lower than printed (our sight reading methodolgy is typically based on the treble clef). So far, about 10% of my students have come in to take the first assessment, and things are going well. SmartMusic, overall, is doing a good job of indicating correct and incorrect notes. I can change student scores if SmartMusic incorrectly marks a note. I can see how long students were recording a session, and I can leave each student a note if I choose.

Another win-win is that the grading process just takes a few seconds, as all the typical hemming and hawing of students before sight-reading (statements like, “I’m scared, I’m bad at this, Don’t listen,” are not a part of the process. They might be doing so–but they’re doing so in the practice room before recording their assessments).  That lack of “whining” and “excuses” really saves time!  I’m also okay if students re-record…they’re learning with the extra practice.  No–it might not be sight reading at that point, but they are still working the skill itself.

The best part is that I can do assessments on the iPad. With all sincerity, assessement of SmartMusic assignments is better on the iPad than it is on a computer. On the computer, I had to scroll through the visual assessment of correct and incorrect notes, while the entire exercise showed on the iPad.

Because I make Finale files of our literature, I’ll be able to use SmartMusic to assess students singing parts of our actual literature. Right now, SmartMusic is offering a large number of band scores so that teachers can assess actual literature through SmartMusic. There are no such offerings for choir, so you need to make your own.

This is really working. I’ve already had a number of students tell me how much they like the program and the process (they can instantly see how they’ve done). And most importantly, I, as a director, have a completely objective way to assess my students based on their performance, the students have both the potential for instant feedback as well as additional feedback, and individual performances can be shared with parents or administrators as needed.

If you are a band teacher and you use SmartMusic regularly in your teaching, SmartMusic Inbox is good enough that you should consider purchasing an iPad just for that app (Find a colleague with an iPad and try it out, you’ll see).

And to MakeMusic/SmartMusic: I now know what you’re capable of with iOS. SmartMusic Inbox is wonderful. Now give us SmartMusic for iPad–and reap the financial awards for doing so (the big trick with SmartMusic for iPad is going to be the subscription price, as it’s currently $36 per registered computer but accounts are free. Maybe it makes sense to make an annual SmartMusic app for iPad at $10, but to sell millions of more copies…that’s all dependent on the licensing fees SmartMusic has to pay for the use of the literature on SmartMusic, as well as the cost of developing the software and running the company)

P.S. I made the annotations above in the free app called Skitch, which is owned by Evernote. It’s a great tool and I highly recommend it.



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