SmartMusic in 2013-2014
The latest version of SmartMusic (for computers) was released this past week, and along with the visual changes (the app reflects the branding changes that happened last year), the program now includes grading with rubrics and the new subscription plans that were announced at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.
The current pricing structure looks like this:
- There are educator subscriptions which allow you to manage classes, create assignments, and evaluate students–plus you can access all the “standard” features of SmartMusic. As of this new version, you can purchase this subscription and use it on any computer (and iPad) that has SmartMusic installed. Don't expect the iPad version of SmartMusic to have all the bells and whistles of the educator version on the computer. Price: $140 per year.
- There are individual student subscriptions which give your students access to all of SmartMusic's titles (over 30,000 at this point) as well as the ability to complete assignment from their teachers. SmartMusic gives students immediate feedback on their performance, and in the case of assignments, allows them to redo the assignment until they are happy with their performance (and/or grade). As with educator subscriptions, they can be used on any computer (or iPad) that has SmartMusic installed.
Students now pay $40 per year for a student subscription. That's less than $4 a month. $40 sounds expensive. But let's say you are a band student that pays $90 per year for instrument rental. Chances are that your school's football players pay at least $200 for the season…while your band kid would have to pay $130 per year for an instrument and SmartMusic. I don't like comparing sports to music, as each has its own merits (and both should be pursued by students)–but every now and then, you do need to ask, “What is the cost/value of this tool versus the cost/value of other activities.” Plus, it is really, really hard to get a concussion or broken arm in music (it has probably happened–likely with a bassoon player). Football players could counter with a carpal tunnel defense against musicians (pianists, especially!).
- There are practice room subscriptions which are “pinned” to an individual computer or iPad. These subscriptions offer any student with a SmartMusic account (I suggest making the accounts at gradebook.smartmusic.com) to complete a SmartMusic assignment on a common computer. These subscriptions are $44 a year (Still less than $4 per month, per subscription).
With the release of SmartMusic 2013 for computers, I am expecting the release of the latest iPad app as well. The next version of the iPad app will allow students to complete assignments at home. That's really game-changing, particularly if you are in a 1:1 environment on any device other than Chromebooks or Android devices.
What do you do if your students won't pay $40 for a personal subscription (some band programs just include the cost in a “band fee”?). The answer, then, is to find funding and purchase practice room subscriptions. In my own case, I recommend that my middle school students consider buying SmartMusic, but in no way can I require it. MakeMusic has helped this scenario with the new version of SmartMusic. A practice room subscription can be pinned and unpinned by the teacher as needed. As I work with students, I can purchase a block of practice room subscriptions (5? 10?). I can then “pin” a subscription on a student iPad so they can complete an assignment, and then “unpin” it after they are done. I can even “pin” a student's iPad for a night, so they can take SmartMusic home and complete an assignment at home (they would stop in the next morning to “unpin”).
With “pinning,” I can make full use out of a 1:1 iPad situation where funding simply doesn't exist for SmartMusic 1:1, staying true to only using the number of practice room subscriptions–monitored/maintained/managed by me (I'm not giving out the login information)–that we have purchased. Yes, it will take a little time to log into each iPad and pin a practice room subscription to it, but it will be time well spent. Yes, it would be ideal to have every purchase their own SmartMusic subscription, but the use of pinning is my only solution for now.
I'm a fan of SmartMusic. It offers students the ability to practice and drill their music in a way that no other program provides. SmartMusic provides immediate objective data to students and teachers about the actual performance of students, versus the use of subjective data in the grading of music classes. SmartMusic offers teachers objective data on student growth in music performance classes as more and more states require objective data for teacher assessment. I love that SmartMusic can be used in a formative way (go practice this section we're learning) and in a summative way (show me that you could play this correctly at our concert). SmartMusic makes students accountable to play/sing correct notes and rhythms. Could you imagine how many other aspects of music you could focus on in your classroom if students were truly “flipping” the experience and learning those notes and rhythms outside of the rehearsal, instead of “in” your rehearsal?
A friend of mine (another music teacher) recently mentioned that SmartMusic doesn't help a student bring expression to their playing. Well, just because SmartMusic doesn't give a score for expression doesn't mean that students have to play without it when using SmartMusic; and if kids are learning notes outside the rehearsal, you can focus your attention on expression, nuance, and meaning in the rehearsal!
Oh, and when was the last time that you heard a music educator claim that they were given too much lesson time, or that their lesson time increased? SmartMusic helps you keep track of the playing ability of your students even when you can't see them as much as you would like in private (or group) lessons. And you can also use SmartMusic to differentiate between the skill level of players with the assignments you give and the resources you use. On a related not, you can give timely, personal feedback to each student on each assignment–and even grade those assignments with rubrics versus numbers!
Remember, I'm a choir director. There are very few resources for choral and vocal music in the SmartMusic catalog. This doesn't bother me because I make my own resources for my students. Every song we sing is scanned and imported to PhotoScore, then exported via MusicXML to Finale. From Finale, I can export files as a SmartMusic file. The latest version of SmartMusic also shows those Finale-created files in “My Library” as “Finale Created Files.” Band teachers and orchestra teachers have an ever-growing list of literature to choose from. I know a number of band directors that make all their programming decisions based on what is available on SmartMusic.
So…SmartMusic. You know about it already; if you haven't seen it for a while, you need to check it out. If you live in a state with objective data-based teacher assessment, you need to buy it. And if you have music students, they should really be using it.