SmartMusic on the iPad: A Sneak Peek from MakeMusic

My colleague Paul Shimmons has written about this: MakeMusic has posted its first sneak peek of SmartMusic on the iPad (link).

I have had the opportunity to see the app in action a few times (it has been displayed at various music conventions starting with the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic), and have been waiting for MakeMusic to release this first video.

It is important to note that the first version of SmartMusic for the iPad will not include the ability to do “assigned” assessments nor the ability to use custom SmartMusic files (i.e. generated by Finale), but you will be able to use the app to assess yourself with any of the existing SmartMusic files. The other functionality will come later (likely in the year).

It doesn't take long to figure out that this is a game changer. I know a number of teachers are fretting over SmartMusic's pricing changes–particularly those teachers who used a practice room subscription to serve most of their SmartMusic needs.

In my case (high school choral), I use one of four computers to process about 140 students. My students have to (generally) do their SmartMusic exercises outside of the school day, during lunch, or in class. We have continual difficulties with audio (particularly microphones) as well as abuse of our microphones by students (The practice rooms are used by a variety of students, so as of late, we have to check microphones in and out). Using the SmartMusic USB adapters has helped (if you are a Mac user, that adapter is a MUST), but the audio setup can be a challenge. I burned 40 minutes today getting computers “going” for SmartMusic. This is NOT SmartMusic's fault…it is the fault of our computer hardware. And it is the fault of students who unplug things they shouldn't and yank and twist things they should leave alone.

All of that struggle will go away with iPads…whether they are $40 student subscriptions or $8 practice room subscriptions. We will be able to check an iPad out with a headset to a student, and check them in (quickly verifying any damage), unlike desktop computers that have to sit unguarded in a practice room. We may even be able to check out a Practice-Room enabled iPad to a student overnight, so they can complete a SmartMusic assignment at home.

And in 1-to-1 settings where students have SmartMusic on their iPads, having the ability to do SmartMusic anywhere, anytime will be a huge benefit as I want to start using SmartMusic for shorter formative assessments that will keep my choir students accountable to learning their music.

I also know a number of choir teachers who use one SmartMusic account to teach sight reading to their class. The iPad version of the program will be incredible for that use.

Paul Shimmons, in a follow-up post, noted that one of the requirements of SmartMusic for the iPad was a set of headphones or external speakers. This makes sense, as the iPad's speaker will never be as loud as I can sing–and certainly not as loud as I play my tuba. So if I want to play a song that has an accompaniment (most songs), I would need a way to hear that accompaniment (the MakeMusic video doesn't actually demonstrate playback).

In short, the iPad version of SmartMusic, along with the new individual subscription (versus per-computer subscription) is going to bring a whole new level of accessibility to SmartMusic–making it well worth the $40 or $8 per student. And at the same time, that $40 or $8 investment will cause most teachers to make better use of SmartMusic, knowing that there is a cost for the program.

As you go to check out the MakeMusic mobile website, take a look at the new website layout and MakeMusic branding. The site is looking great!

As always, I speak from my own opinion and I do not represent any company.


Note: there are always a few people asking, “Where is this program for Android?” Remember that the original target for SmartMusic is grade 5-12 band, choir, and orchestra programs (although there are certainly applications for younger students with recorder, as well as collegiate students). Android tablets are not seeing any significant implementation in education (there are scattered efforts, such as with the Kuno), whereas just today, Apple mentioned that there are 8 million iPads in education–4.5 million in the US alone, a number growing by the day (literally). I know that MakeMusic isn't “Anti-Android” as they released SmartMusic Inbox for both Android and iOS. SmartMusic will already run on the Microsoft Surface Pro. But if you are going to create an app that will have the greatest impact on education (and also sales), the iPad is the tablet of choice. That may not be fun for an Android owner to hear–but if you are an Android aficionado, you know the benefits that the Android platform brings to the table–as well as the challenges of that platform.



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