Wednesday, September 10, 2008

SmartMusic 11!

MakeMusic! has released SmartMusic 11! Music teachers, if you haven't heard about SmartMusic before version 11, you have been hiding under a rock. If you aren't using it, you really should consider it. This version works hard at cleaning up some things. Installation, Activation and Enrolling for Class are three different activities and, in my past experience with kids and parents, this is the hardest thing to explain. The screen that did Activation and Enrolling for class didn't communicate simply enough. This version changes the look of that screen and I think it does a better job of communicating what to do. There is now a microphone set-up process. Complete with pictures of mic placement and help setting the volume.  I have heard a few assignments come in where the student really needed this. In digital audio recording having a mic set too high really causes problems with distortion.  A mic set too low in SmartMusic causes problems with the assessment feature and makes it hard to hear the work on the recording. This process will really help kids by simplifying this important step.
Teachers, make sure your students know how to: 1.) find this mic setting wizard, 2.) know how to review their recordings and 3.) know how to adjust the accompaniment/soloist balance and everyone will be much happier with the results! Also improved are the teacher tools. It is now possible to create an assignment and not have to recreate it for each instrument. Band assessments for the whole group in one-tenth the time. You will need Finale 2009 to make that work. Hopefully, that is just an upgrade for your school.  If you are starting from scratch, put Finale '09 on your must have list. SmartMusic is by subscription. You do renew this year after year. I'm surprised that more software doesn't work this way. You always have the latest version and don't have 42 outdated versions on your hard drive. (and MakeMusic doesn't have to support several years worth of versions.)  I wonder if Adobe shouldn't toy with this idea...ever wanted to upgrade Photo$hop?
SmartMusic runs on Vista or XP and Tiger and Leopard.  You can bump into memory and speed issues with the hardware, so check the requirements at  I don't know about your program, but at my school, we can be the last in the building for any kind of hardware upgrade.  
Hardware can be an issue at home as well.  94 percent of my students have internet access and a computer.  80 percent of my kids can run SmartMusic at home.  Most of that 14 percent are having problems with old hardware...Dad brought home a cast-off from work, etc.  So if you are doing a site license program at your school, do some careful surveying to get the real number of possible installs figured out for your situation. 
Who knows, maybe we will get to the promised land of solid machines for all kids someday.  Or all programmers will write code that doesn't need a ton of system resources.  SmartMusic on the iPhone App store anyone?
I am looking forward to using this program with my kids this fall.  MakeMusic! has found ways to make a solid product easier to use!  Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

I'm trying to get my students into SmartMusic as well, but they seemed to have had some not so good experiences last year on it when they had a different director. Any tips on how to bring them back?

Mr. ReBand

Roger Whaley said...

That is a tough one. I think you need to be able to explain to everyone involved why you are using SmartMusic. I think my approach would be different for each stakeholder involved and there are a couple of points to make for each of them.

For parents... There is no easier way to document the progress your student is making. What better way to know if your student is practicing enough?

For the administration... Very similar to the parent view. Plus this is the way today's students learn.

For the students... This program will help you grow as a musician. Then I would address the issues. If students are having problems with the program (activation, registration, mic settings) we can figure them out. Version 11 and a year's worth of experience does make those things simpler and easier. If you are having problems with the music that is what your teacher's advice and a little more practice time will fix. If kids are having issues with hardware at home, make sure they have easy access at school. With a little teaching and some confidence you should be able to get this working for your program.

Hopefully, this will get you started.

Anyone else have ideas?

Tyler said...

One of the things I don't like about SmartMusic is how little it does to show off the cool music it has, especially in the concert band/orchestra stuff. Perhaps it would help to point out some of the literature that might interest students. I know I would have loved to play the Superman pieces in there when I was in school. There's a lot of fun sight-reading to do with this software.

Making it all about homework and assignments might also make it a tough sell for the students. You could perhaps have some assignments that are purely for fun and maybe make little competitions out of them, either on an individual basis or with teams (sections, etc.). I've had students compete on the rhythm exercises, using the clap feature to see who can get through exercises at the fastest tempo, turning up the tempo after each successful completion. There's a lot about SmartMusic that's similar to games like Guitar Hero, and putting it to work as a motivational tool is as valid a use as any.

Roger Whaley said...

Good reminders, Tyler.

When we use SmartMusic in sectionals, we have a lot of fun with right note contests and speed contests. These work especially well on technical things.

If you have a large monitor or projector for your computer you can use it as an in-class tuning demo as well. Way easier to see from the back than a needle on a dial. Can you get the triangle green?

The gaming aspects will reach a lot of students.