SmartMusic for the iPad is available today–May 6th, 2013. Mark this day in your calendar, because the future of music education has arrived.
SmartMusic began as a program called Vivace, which was a intelligent accompanist for musicians. At that time, computers couldn't handle the processing tasks necessary to follow a musician and play along at the same time, so if you wanted this program, you had to buy a $2000 unit to use the program, plus a $30 cartridge for each song. Quite a few schools bought these units!
My, how times have changed. The company, now known as MakeMusic, has changed hands a number of times and technology has advanced exponentially.
These days, SmartMusic can still be used as an accompanist, but it can do so much more than “just” accompany a musician. The SmartMusic catalog includes over 30,000 titles–including most major band and orchestra method books, solos, full pieces, and even vocal sight-reading materials. A music teacher can buy an educator's yearly account and assign assignments from existing repertoire to students or even create their own assignments from scratch with MakeMusic's other program, Finale.
When you complete a SmartMusic exercise, etude, solo, or song, SmartMusic gives the musician immediate feedback about their performance, showing correct and incorrect notes, giving a score, and the ability to play back their performance. There really is nothing else like SmartMusic in the field of music education.
Unlike its humble beginnings as Vivace, SmartMusic runs completely on your computer (no external processing device necessary, although a microphone and speakers are strongly encouraged) and the program is subscription based for $40 per year. This may seem expensive in a world of $1 apps, but many music lessons start at $30 a half hour, and the last time I had to hire an accompanist, it was $50 for a half hour. $40 per year, or $11 per month ($.33 per day) is a bargain for what you get with SmartMusic.
This first version of SmartMusic for the iPad is intentionally incomplete. The company wanted to get a version out the door this spring and they will be adding functionality to the program in the next months. At the current time, if you have a SmartMusic subscription and use the iPad app, you will have access to all of the modern literature (exercises/songs that show printed music on screen), but not the legacy literature (songs that were accompaniment only). Just as on a computer, the SmartMusic app will listen to you as you play and sing, giving you immediate feedback on your performance (a score and visual representation of how you played in green and red notes) and allow you to hear how you played. You can also change the tempo and practice a certain area of your music. The iPad app also tracks the scores of your best three performance (this is more important that it seems…please see my next article on the use of the iPad app in choir to understand why).
My biggest frustration with traditional SmartMusic hasn't been SmartMusic's fault, it has been our school's hardware issues. School computers and networks can be a nightmare with any program, and external microphones and speakers (required for the computer version) can be damaged (sometimes maliciously) by students. The iPad version of SmartMusic utilizes the iPad's own microphone (the sound quality is excellent) and headphones (get a longer cord) or external speakers are recommended. It has been shown that students take care of iPads (all of the 1:1 programs have demonstrated this phenomenon) and I cannot possibly state how much the use of the iPad will improve the SmartMusic experience with students from the hardware perspective alone.
At this time (first release) you cannot complete a teacher's assignment or submit a recording with the app. But if you are a musician who uses SmartMusic, download the app today (Here is a link). The app itself is free and is should be considered a perk that is included with your $40 annual subscription ($140 for a teacher subscription). MakeMusic promised that they would release the app in the spring…and they made that deadline with more than a month to spare!
SmartMusic on the iPad is a GREAT thing for music education. I'm excited to see what is added to the app in the coming months, and I am excited to see what music educators do with it!