More than a week with SmartMusic and Choir

I wrote earlier this week about SmartMusic and how it is working for choral music.  I thought a bullet-point update would be a nice addition to my previous post.  I offer these to other teachers who are either using SmartMusic or plan to use SmartMusic in their classes (particularly with Choir), and also for MakeMusic (they are absolutely learning from the experiences we’re (collectively, “we’re” meaning choral music education) having with the new capabilities of SmartMusic.

  • I’ve now listened to self-created sight-reading assessments from over 60 students, with less than two hours of actual “correcting” time, including writing a short amount of feedback to each exercise AND entering the grades in our district’s grading system, Infinite Campus.  That’s really acceptable in my book.
  • There’s a problem (I’ve mentioned this before) where my men have to specifically select “Tenor/Bass Voice” instead of simply singing as the Tenor or Bass that they registered with in the system.  This again is problematic because the majority of our sight reading is in the treble clef.  If you leave the voice as Tenor or Bass, SmartMusic either does not recognize the notes, or marks them an octave lower.  Even though I put “choose Tenor/Bass Voice” in the directions, many men are failing to do so in practice.
  • I have a couple of unchanged voices, or changing voices, in my 9th Grade Men’s Chorus.  I wish they could transpose the exercise, without actually changing the visual example.  As a singer (at least as a singer without perfect pitch), I don’t need a “C” to be a “C,” a printed “C” could actually be any note on the staff.  If I currently transpose the exercise, it changes key altogether.
  • On a similar note, if I’m in Tenor/Bass Voice and try to transpose the exercise, crazy things happen.  So in order to properly transpose, I need to select Tenor or Bass voice.
  • We’ve been having issues with hardware…school computers that somehow reset which microphone jack (front or rear) is being used, problems with our speakers, and even some issues with the computers themselves.  This is not SmartMusic’s problem.  But I do have a solution.  The joy of Apple products is a consistency of hardware.  I’ve learned that in my six years of Apple product ownership.  Here’s my redundant pitch for an iPad version of the app: it allows every student to have the same basic hardware, eliminating hardware issues.  Sure, external speakers may be required (have you seen the Jawbone Jambox?).  But other than that–there’s a guarantee about the quality of each SmartMusic “host,” including a specific microphone.  It would also eliminate the need for the headset microphone.
  • Lots of positive comments from kids…although they are quickly realizing that a poor performance can hurt their grade (even though they can currently record as many times as they want).
  • Instant feedback to the students is incredible.
  • Sometimes, SmartMusic just doesn’t pick up a student.  It doesn’t seem to penalize them for this.  I can always adjust grades when I listen to the assignments.
  • Speaking of listening to the assignments in SmartMusic Inbox (iPad), I’ve noted that I can’t play an exercise and be entering a number or comment at the same time.  When I type, the playback stops.  It would be great if the playback would continue.
  • The students are learning to put on additional aids as they practice the exercises.  They are adding continual click tracks, or even having SmartMusic play their part.
  • I can see a need for a way to limit the number of takes that a student can try an exercise.  I need to spend time with the educator’s version of SmartMusic a bit more–it may already be available in the app.
  • I noticed that I cannot “reassign” an assignment from the SmartMusic Inbox app.  That would be a nice addition.  Furthermore, getting to the part of the SmartMusic grade book (desktop/notebook) that allows me to reassign an assignment takes too many clicks.  Follow the iPod rule of Steve Jobs–if it takes more than 3 clicks, it’s too hard (remember, I’m a techie.  What would a non-techie do?”
  • This weekend, I’ll be making my first repertoire based assignment for my top choir, which is preparing Eric Whitacre’s “Sleep.”  I’ll be assigning the hardest part of the song (pp. 9-11) to verify that all students know their notes.  The assignment won’t be due for a couple of weeks, so I’ll be able to report how this works.  I’m hoping that I can assign one voice as the assessment, and leave the other seven voices as accompaniment.  If this works, I’ll be adding assessments for my other three choirs as well.
  • We’re really stressing that students don’t need to buy SmartMusic to do these assessments, as we’ve purchased 10 computer licenses for the computers in our department.  Should SmartMusic go iPad, and should schools go iPad, that model would change…you would encourage students to buy the annual app for assessment on their schedule rather than to use school computers.  Again, I don’t know the costs involved and how much an annual app should cost…but the ability to easily do SmartMusic assessments in just about any location on an iPad would be a real winning combination (and no, I’m not talking about Charlie Sheen-type “winning.”
  • My final thought: I’m already starting to think about the possibilities of using SmartMusic as a tool to audition my current students for choir placement next year.  I can assign a sight reading exercise, assign a “scale” or pattern that tests range, and I can create a short song (such as “My Country Tis of Thee, used by the ACDA as an audition piece for ACDA honor choirs) in different keys for different voices.  Then students would have to complete all 3 parts.  As I said, this is simply a thought at this point–but it very well might work.  I’d also have an audio record with which to use if there were questions later about an audition–it would take some of the “subjective” nature of auditions away from the audition process.
  • I know I’m pushing the iPad app, over and over again.  I know that MakeMusic has heard the request from many users.  But I firmly believe in continuing to ask until it actually happens.



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