Wednesday, June 25, 2014

SmartMusic Training!

Are you looking for license renewal hours?  Are you required by your state to get some hours in "technology" even though you teach music?  MakeMusic is offering workshops that may just be the perfect fit for you.

There are two tracks.  One is called "SmartMusic Fundamentals" and the other is called "Extending Your Reach Using SmartMusic Online Gradebook."

The two days of workshops are offered a large number of places.  Hopefully, you are near one of the locations or can work a trip around one of the locations.  (Vegas!  Here we come!)

If you are new to SmartMusic take the "Fundamentals" class for sure.  SmartMusic will change the way you teach music.  There are some very creative things that can be done with SmartMusic in the single computer classroom, a 3 or 4 station practice area, or even a one to one equipped school.  You can adapt this computer program to your situation.

The "Extending" portion will dive into the SmartMusic Gradebook.  This is more than a gradebook, it is a learning management system that will make it possible for you to send assignments that meet your specifications and it will keep the completed assignments organized for you.  If you think you are going to send assignments, you will want this course too.

If you haven't seen SmartMusic lately, or haven't heard about it before, this music educational software is worth serious consideration.  I've said it before, SmartMusic will change the way you teach.

Need more info?  Can't take the courses as scheduled?  Visit the SmartMusic web site and look through the tutorials there or get more info on registration, where and when on the workshops.  Lots of support for teachers and students there.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Have You Ever Wished For Musical Slow Motion?

I was listening to some student assignments that were in my SmartMusic in box.  I had one that was tricky to diagnose what was happening and I was wishing I had slow motion to sort it out.  I saved it for later and went on.

A short while later I was looking in SBO Magazine and reading through the article on "Power User Synthesis."  It's a great article and worth the read, especially if you are stumped about how to get your repertoire into SmartMusic.   In the article there was discussion about scanning and notation software.  After some discussion about Finale, Sibelius and MusicXML the article talked about creating SmartMusic files and uses for those... including listening to the recording at slower speed.

Then it hit me that SmartMusic could do the slow motion trick I needed.  No, I couldn't just slow the tempo of a recording down and listen to it that way.  But with a little file magic, I found a way to do just that.

Here's how.  First, export your audio file as an .mp3 file.  Then go to SmartMusic's MP3 Audio Files link.  Import the file you just created.  You can now listen to the performance slower or faster.  All you have to do is adjust the tempo (it is listed by a percentage.)

The slower listen uses are pretty obvious.  You can slow things down to hear what really happened.

The faster uses might not be so obvious.  How about checking to see if that faster tempo really works musically?  Here is a chance to try some things without the whole band waiting for you to do that, just take care of that in your score study time.  Or show your students how they could sound.

Take a read through the SBO article for more ideas.  If the ideas don't save your time, they will help you do a higher quality job.  Worth the read.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Happy Digital Learning Day (2/5/14)

Happy Digital Learning Day.

Actually, I think most days are digital learning days in my room.  Have been since 1992 or so.

It all started with CD audio recordings.  Clean sound and quick access to what you really wanted to hear.  Big advantages over tape or vinyl.

Then there was Finale on a computer that was in my office.  I was teasing the choir teacher today about her being too young to have actually transposed for instruments and singers in her head.  I think my college theory and arranging experiences would have been WAAAY less time intensive had there been such a thing when I was earning my first degree.

Then the powers that be put an internet connected computer on my desk.  Teacher access to the internet was pretty bold choice in 1994.  The internet has turned out to be very valuable.  I believe Letterman said "This internet idea is a keeper."  I agree.

That value wasn't lost on me.  I have run with that set-up.  I have spent time learning how to code some html and I have developed excellent FileMaker Pro chops.  The web has made those skills pretty valuable.  Communicating and keeping track with parents and other teachers has been made easier with the network.

Next came iPods and digital audio recording.  We still have the Roland 880 here, but Garageband (or Audacity, Pro Tools, Logic) have made having that box pretty much unnecessary.  Playback can be a pretty powerful mirror.  I have yet to hear a kid say the recorder is making us sound bad since I got away from cheap tape recorders.

I use videos of other schools bands as examples for my students.  I'm not getting those in the mail.  Of course I find them on YouTube.  Thank you to all who have put their group's work up there.  It adds another dimension to the discussions about what we are doing in our band room.

I use Twitter to get ideas and keep up with the news. Actually, it may be more accurate to describe that as stealing great ideas from my PLN.  Thanks Tweeps for putting those ideas out there.

(By the way, you can get info about Digital Learning Day on Twitter @OfficialDLDay or it looks like the hash tag is going to be .  Check it out and let's get that trending.)

SmartMusic.  I know it has changed the way I teach music.  That program has changed too.  It went from an $2000 add-on box for your computer, to an add on cartridge reader, to a download for your student's iPad over the last 20 years.  Sending and getting assignments over the internet has helped me to really understand how my students are doing as individuals.  SmartMusic has also helped my students develop their own knowledge of rhythm and pitch on their own.

If your classroom isn't digital yet,  There are a couple of good thinking models out there for you to get started: SAMR by Dr. Puentedura or RAT by Dr. Hughes.  I know there are some who think that kids don't really need technology to learn or I can teach without it.  Please rethink that.  I cannot think of an entry level job that doesn't require you to interface with some form of digital technology.  I use the digits to make the invisible visible and help kids become musically independent faster,  How are you using them?  How could you be using them?

To me, the really big deal on the web is sharing. I share what I know about what I do right here.  This sharing only happens with digital technology.  I wouldn't know where to send my stories.  You wouldn't know where to find them if this was published any other way.   I am coming up on 34,000 page views over the last two years.  I think that is pretty amazing considering the really narrow focus of most my topics.  I hope that, if you came to my blog looking for ideas and help, you found what you needed.

Thanks for reading and happy Digital Learning Day.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Too Many Cold Days Off. Improving a Concert's Chances With SmartMusic.

The mp3 feature may not seem like a big deal in SmartMusic, but after losing 5 days to cold weather last month, it could turn into this month's concert saver.  The problem is not every piece we are doing on the concert is available in the SmartMusic catalog.  The ability to import an mp3 can help work around that.

I have mp3s of most of the concert selections that aren't in SmartMusic for the February concert.

There are many ways to get mp3s for this.  Publisher's demo recordings and your band's previous years' recordings (if they are good enough to be great examples.) come to mind.  If you have CD recordings you will need to convert them from aiff to mp3.  iTunes and many other programs can do that conversion for you.  Import the mp3s into SmartMusic by going to "MP3 Audio Files." (In the left hand column.)  Then click the "Import" button and follow the directions there.

The next step is to send them as assignments.  You will notice that the music on screen feature isn't available.  The kids will need to know that this how this type of assignment works and there is nothing wrong with their computer or the assignment.  Write that info in your assignment directions and tell them when you see them in person... It seems odd to have to tell them to use the paper copy, but we have had this come up!

It is possible to take the time to work out all the parts in Finale and save them as SmartMusic files, but that would be a big project time-wise and sending it out would not be as slick as with a SmartMusic published material.  I am just looking for a way to verify that the students are working on their music outside of class.

I did make this an assignment worth some points for the recording.  I am also going to listen to them for concepts to work on for rehearsals.  In a way, this is like a rehearsal where the feedback from the director is really slow.  Am I grading these as close as a music on screen assignment?  No.  The red/green note feature is unavailable and for my beginners it would be hard to self evaluate and fix problems.  But I think students will benefit by listening to themselves and comparing themselves with the recording.

A few more observations:

Once the assignment has been sent in, my students think it is gone from their computers when it really isn't.  It appears that the accompaniment's mp3 file stays on your computer, just follow the "MP3 Audio Files" button.  That will be pretty handy for avoiding the "assignment's due avalanche" on the due date from the very responsible about practicing bunch.  They can send it in.  They still have the mp3.

Teachers could also listen, score in your school's grade book and send the assignment back if you want this assignment to keep showing up in the student's inbox.

Don't forget to coach kids on the "Find Music" feature for the songs that are published in SmartMusic.  That way they can keep practicing those as well.

The other thing to coach students on is the tempo control feature.  There is no substitute for spending time working something technical at a slow tempo.

Don't forget that SmartMusic does take requests!  If you have a piece that isn't in SmartMusic yet, they are looking for ideas about what to add.  This can take some time, so importing mp3s is what I am doing this month.

Hopefully, this will help us beat the "too much time off blues."  It is good to have work-arounds. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, December 2, 2013

I Wish I Knew This About SmartMusic Rubrics Last Week

I was really excited about the new SmartMusic rubric feature that is available this year in SmartMusic 2013.

Rubrics give students something to aim for.  Rubrics give teachers a framework for their reflection on student work.  A computerized version can be very practical for a guy faced with 250 students' work.

The rubric tool is very flexible.  You can pick the number of categories to evaluate and the number of descriptors for each category.  It will even add points up.  So a couple of clicks on the descriptors and write a quick comment, done. On to the next project.  Nice.

Then the iOS people were wondering why they weren't getting the assignments.  Turns out this feature doesn't work on the iPad.  I knew that it wouldn't work for evaluating work on the iPad, but I do most of my listening on my computer so it was a non-issue for me.  I didn't think it would be  a problem for the kids because they don't fill out the rubric.  It turns out that the on student-side SmartMusic won't send the rubric assignments to the iOS app.  Ouch.

The work-around was to resend the assignment without the rubric.  Because I had some students that used computers and had the assignment in already I kept their work and removed the assignment from the kids that didn't have it in.  Then I removed the second assignment from the kids that did have it done.

I could have told people to ignore the assignment that didn't work, but that is one of those things that bring a lot of phone calls and e-mail with questions...  "Is it really true that Johnny doesn't have to do this line twice?"... I have some parents that are really on top of the homework.

If I had to guess, this may be one of those Flash/iOS problems that will work after they get it worked out in HTML 5.  My million dollar idea for a quick fix would be for SmartMusic not to send the rubric to an iOS device, but do send/receive the assignment.  Not the best solution, because the students won't see the targets of the rubric.  But I wouldn't expect them to fill out the form anyway, that's the teacher's job.

In the meantime, if any of your students will want to do their SmartMusic on their iPad, don't use the rubric feature.

Hopefully, this gets fixed fast.  I really liked the rubric.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

SmartMusic Everywhere-- Tips For Enrollment

There is more than one way to get SmartMusic.  We go with the school volume purchase plan at our school.  There is also more than one way to activate your student accounts.  I like to have kids do all this themselves, but you could activate their accounts for them (I may be the World's Worst Typist, so, NOT IT!)

After living with our SmartMusic roll-out for a couple of days, I think the easiest approach to activating an account is to start with your favorite browser, point it to and follow the "Redeem a Code" button.

There you will be asked to select a new account or existing account.

In classes with beginners, you talk your way through the process as new account members.  There will be a lot of questions to answer and at the end there will be a place to put in your code.

In the older classes, walk them through the existing customer route.  There will be fewer questions to answer and at the end, there is a place to put in your code.

After the code is used to activate the account, try the program.  If you used the browser to get in to activate the code, you need to start SmartMusic and login.  Login as an "Existing Customer" because once you have an account activated with a code, you are an existing customer.  (That may seem obvious to you, but with younger kids...)

This changing from the browser to SmartMusic may be where most of my kid problems are.  But, if you make them aware that you cannot do anything other than redeem the code and you have to switch to a SmartMusic app or program to do the work, the kids seem to get it.  I tell kids that you need to quit the browser and test your login in SmartMusic.

When they get into SmartMusic, those of you using the educator subscription need to have the kids "Enroll" for your class.  There is a clearly marked area for classes and a button there to enroll on the home page.  Older students may be asked to update their information as well.

My first SmartMusic Assignment this year had nothing to do with playing notes into SmartMusic.  Instead, I told kids there were going to get a grade for enrolling in class.  That did make for a flurry of activity on the deadline day, but I think that beats having problems trickle in.

I also had a couple of my very helpful older students in the practice room area (we have 5 stations for SmartMusic there) to trouble shoot for kids that were having problems.  Gave them a chance to be helpful and sped things up for the people who needed help.  I may be have a couple of future teachers here!

Last year the process for SmartMusic was install, activate and enroll for class; all done in SmartMusic.  This year the process is more like activate/renew your account and open SmartMusic (install it if you need to.)  This new approach seems more natural and easier to follow.

I know they have taken some heat for the new pricing plans, but there is something there when SmartMusic talks about the advantages for the end users when they license users and not devices.  Not having to activate the software on the end use machine is easier.  (And there is the iPad app and the ability to install SmartMusic in more than one place.....)

All of this is pretty easy to show with a IWB or projector in class and worth the time to do that.

So browser to activate the account, SmartMusic to test the login and enroll for class.  That's it in a nutshell.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Changes in SmartMusic Subscriptions and Our SmartMusic Everywhere Plan

Last March, this pricing policy went into effect:

"School Practice Room subscription – the new price is $44 per year with no per-student fee. This subscription allows students’ access to SmartMusic on a school-owned device (computer or iPad).

And, as previously announced the pricing for Educator and Student subscriptions are as follows:

• Educator subscription – the price will remain at $140 per year with the added benefit of using your subscription on multiple devices at school or home.

• Student subscription – the new price is $40 per year with the added benefit of using a subscription on multiple devices at school or home, including the SmartMusic iPad version."    

If you are a band student and have an internet connected computer, we want you to have access to SmartMusic.  We think of it as a SmartMusic Everywhere plan for our students.  If you have problems with the computer/internet part of this, we have your back with practice rooms equipped with SmartMusic stations.

We cover the costs with our band fee.  If you have a home computer, you have access there paid for by your fee.  If you don't have a computer, you are helping to pay for our stations.

Overall, I would say we have been successful.  Our kids' practice is certainly more productive.  I can hear individuals and evaluate their playing.  Parents have evidence of their child's progress.  SmartMusic has been good for everyone in the program.

What has changed with the new pricing?  Not much as far as costs.  We came out about the same.  A little higher, but about the same.

There are some things that are different because of the way things are structured access-wise.  We were used to the per computer model, which is pretty hard to coordinate with families.  Do you have a computer?  Is it connected to the internet?  Can it run SmartMusic?  Throw brothers and sisters sharing a computer in the mix and YIKES.  How many do I order???

You can still run your program with just the practice rooms.  Fairly inexpensively too.

There are some downsides to a practice room only format.

Do you have the real-estate and computers to pull it off well?  There are days around here where there are kids 2 and 3 deep for our 5 stations.  That means a late afternoon for me at my school.

Your practice room login information will not let you login anywhere but the practice room until you have an active (paid for) account.  After that, you can login pretty much anywhere.  This may be the big change on our end.  Our students were able to use any device that had a paid-for subscription.  Now it is the user that needs to be paid for.  License users not machines.

We have found that the more kids use SmartMusic the better they get.  There is lots of time when our building isn't open for kids.  Having SmartMusic at home is a good thing.  I like going home.  I was a little nervous about the changes, but they really haven't been too bad.  Hopefully, the year goes well in this department.