My school recently renewed it’s educator and several practice room subscriptions via MakeMusic’s Smartmusic. Today I used it for the first time in a woodwind sectional setting. In addition to the obvious goal of improving our performance on some specific sections of the piece we were using, I also wanted students to see how the program worked so that we can send people and groups to practice rooms to work on specific sections of a piece.
Note: Smartmusic disables screen capture while the program is running, so I am unable to provide screen shots of what I am describing. I will ask Smartmusic about that, but would not want to try to “get around” their legitimate reasons to keep people from printing music from their software. So, for now, I will describe what is on the screen. The Award Winner pic comes from this Smartmusic Blog post. Check it out.
Classroom Technology Setup
I have a Macbook Air, onto which I have downloaded the Smartmusic program. I connect to the projector and sound system via Apple TV. The lighting in the room includes bright overhead lights and a series of downward point spotlights around the perimeter of the room. Had I been only working with one instrument at a time, I could have turned off all the overhead lights and had all students watching only the screen. Since I had all woodwinds in the room, I couldn’t do that — so students did also have their music with them.
The particular piece of music I wanted to rehearse is in the Smartmusic Band/Orchestra library so I downloaded and added that piece of music to my Smartmusic Library. I opened that piece, selected the 1st Clarinet part and the students can see that specific piece of music on the big screen. The recommended performance tempo is already on the metronome, but I wanted to slow it down, so I set the speed. I also, wanted to rehearse a specific section of music, so I entered the starting and ending measure numbers and told Smartmusic to Loop the run, which means as soon as it finishes, it will count off and go again. I unchecked Assessment because that was not today’s purpose. Assessment is a way for a student to play and see an onscreen assessment of notes played correctly or not. I also unchecked Accompaniment (which is an excellent recording of an ensemble performing the piece) and checked My Part. I turned Click ON so that we would hear a metronome as we play and selected a 1-bar Voice Count-off, so students will hear “One, Two, Set, Go” to begin. When I click the button, students see a “Get Ready 1-2-3-4″ on the screen and wait for the count-off.
Because the 1st Clarinet part is on the projected screen, those people watch the screen. Everyone else is to watch their music. The specific part they will hear being played (via piano) will be the 1st clarinet part, but they will also have the metronome click to keep them together.
Once we practice the loop a few times, I increase the metronome tempo, and eventually turn on the Accompaniment so students are actually playing their part with an ensemble.
I had given a specific bassoon part (we don’t have on in this ensemble) to a pair of bass clarinet and tenor sax players and wanted them to hear that part in context, so I select Bassoon 1 from the instrument list, set the section I want them to hear. Everyone can play, but the bassoon part is coming through the speakers so those two can play with it.
Observations from the session
- The automatic Loop tool is a great way to reduce downtime. It took a couple of times of not getting ready quickly enough before it was successful in the session.
- Students were focused on the software. They could hear where they were missing a note.
- A minor irritation is that there is a slight (fraction of a beat) delay when sound goes through Apple TV, so the synchronization between visual and audible are not perfect. That is an Apple TV issue and not a Smartmusic problem. I may try to go directly from computer to sound system via cable next time to see if that is better.
Stay tuned for more as we use this amazing individual and ensemble practice tool.