Trying Out SmartMusic

I have recently begun using SmartMusic, mainly with my elementary band students. I am LOVING it, and my students are really enjoying it as well. In fact, on the 2nd day of using it with my small sixth grade group today, when I asked who wanted to go first, all hands immediately shot up in the air. I have never seen students so excited to play in class! The more I learn about the program, the more impressed I am with it. The integrated online gradebook, called “Impact” is really amazing. When students complete assignments, they are sent directly to your gradebook, and it calculates everything for you. You can even add other assignments that are not necessarily SmartMusic assignments.

Right now, I do not have any students currently enrolled in my classes, but most students have shown interest in getting the program at home. We are currently using the program on my personal laptop. I also am using the program weekly for graded assignments with the students. However, I am not factoring in these SmartMusic grades with their report card grades until next year. I still want to find out how much the software will impact their grade before I really “make it count.”

I am already noticing the added benefits while using it in class. First, the students are really excited to work with the program, and I can see this being a good practice motivator. What is also great about the program is that it forces students to play at a steadytempo. This is something that my students struggle with regularly. If they are playing along with the software at home, it will really help their time. Our Standard of Excellence books now come with accompaniment CDs, and I have found that students that practice with those CDs have a much better sense of time than those who do not.

What I worry about with the program is that it may frustrate those students who struggle. I hope that it motivates them to practice more, but I can see it becoming a deterrent. My concern is that those who struggle will get frustrated and lose some confidence as a result of getting “bad grades” on their playing tests. But, I have also found that students who struggle can consistently see improvements in their grades after repeated playing.

I am also a little worried that students will not utilize the “loop” feature that is offered in the software. In other words, I am concerned that they will simply play exercises from beginning to end over and over without just focusing on the areas that they need to work on. I guess I should remember that this software is a practice aid, and does not simply replace the teacher. This brings me to another point. The major drawback to the software is that I don’t think it can accurately measure articulations, dymanics and/or note lengths. Mostly, the program can only recognize correct pitches and rhythms. But this is half the battle, and the teacher must be diligent in still teaching musicianship, not just “button pushing.”

So these are my observations so far in about 3 weeks of using the program. I have also used it a little with my middle and senior high students with concert and jazz band music. I plan on rolling out the program fully in the fall for next year.

What are your experiences with the program? Have you used it? Are you currently using it? I look forward to your feedback.

Twitter & Music Educators

If you are not yet familiar with Twitter, I encourage you to check it out. Rather than try to explain it to you, I will quote Wikipedia:

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users’ updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.

Updates are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them. The sender can restrict delivery to those in his or her circle of friends (delivery to everyone being the default). Users can receive updates via the Twitter website, instant messaging, SMS, RSS, email or through an application such as Twitterrific or Facebook. For SMS, four gateway numbers are currently available: short codes for the United States, Canada, and India, as well as a United Kingdom number for international use. Several third parties offer posting and receiving updates via email.

I have really just recently started using Twitter, and have come to find that I have some colleagues in my own school district that are new users as well. What I would like to do, however, is figure out some way for music educators to start following each other on Twitter, so that we can share information, etc.

So, if you get a chance, please find me on Twitter, and we can start “following” each other. I am on Twitter as “dougbutchy.” Hope to hear from you soon!

2008 PMEA Summer Conference & Summer Catch-Up

While my wife is out and my daughter is taking a nap, I finally have found time to catch up on the summer so far. First, beginning July 2, I have been holding optional music rehearsals for my marching band students. We have been meeting on Wednesday mornings each week. This is the first year I have done this. Experience has taught me that since this is the first year that I have done this, the entire group of musicians would probably not show up. And, this has held true, and it’s what I expected. However, each session has been productive and has yielded positive results. The way I figure it is that anything that we get done before our regular camp in August is a positive. This will put us ahead of the game, and can only be a good thing. Other than that, the only thing left to do for camp is write drill…which I am currently dragging my feet on!

At this time last week, I had the absolute pleasure of attending the Annual PMEA Summer Conference in State College, PA. This is the first time I have attended, and I will continue to come back every year. I encourage all music educators in PA to attend this event! It is cheap, and is full of great information…not to mention that it helps you get charged up for the impending school year! As a blogger, I was particularly excited about this conference as the title was “Tools for the 21st Century Music Educator.” I was especially impressed by our two opening morning speakers, Mr. David Warlick, and Mr. James Frankel. Both presentations were excellent!

David Warlick talked about our 21st century students, and how they learn. He also talked about why it is important for us as educators to look at how we teach them in this ever-evolving technological age. You can find much more information on his pages at and

James Frankel discussed current trends in music technology, and shared with us some really interesting new things in the field. Well, they were things that I wasn’t aware of anyway. He also gave other presentations as well. You can hear his entire presentations from the conference here. He has many great podcasts. Be sure to check out the ones on the Korg Kaossilator! Very cool!

Our afternoon session was in the band “strand” and we played an rehearsed under Dr. Edward Lisk. This session was especially enjoyable for me, since my college wind ensemble director, Dr. Stephen Gage is a student of Dr. Lisk’s. Dr. Lisk’s session was divided into two parts: 1. A new dimension in teaching, thinking, practicing, and playing and instrument. The clinic addressed instrumental teaching and rehearsal strategies for developing a successful instrumental music program. The rehearsal and instructional concepts are designed to enhance and accelerate student performance skills. 2. New considerations for interpreting expression beyond the unadorned markings of music notation. The concepts and instructional techniques address the uniqueness of expression, ensemble interpretation, characteristic qualities and the decision making process surrounding the subtle details of artistic response. You can see Dr. Lisk’s website with the concepts covered in this session here.

The rest of the first day concluded with dinner and our variety show. Tuesday morning began with an update from the Pennsylvania Dept. of Education, and then followed with a jazz reading and improvisation session.

After our closing general session, it was time to head back to Sharon, PA! I want to thank Eric Schrader, Director of Bands at Greenville HS, and Jim Scanga, Director of Bands at Farrell HS for being great roommates during the trip. Special thanks to Eric for driving the whole way!