Review by Erin Brereton, Common Sense Education | Updated July 2013

SmartMusic

Music practice tool offers useful exercises but needs fine-tuning

Common Sense says
Teachers say (4 Reviews)
$avg_user_learning_rating
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Grades
7-9 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Students get a hands-on learning experience, and the assignment and review process is easy for teachers.

Cons: Kids won't find many informational resources, not all activities offer feedback, and factors like microphone placement can throw off scoring accuracy.

Bottom Line: Though assessments aren't in every activity and external factors can make it unpredictable, SmartMusic can still make practice more effective.

Select pieces from within the system for assignments and include instructions and a deadline. You can assign points to the SmartMusic assessment score and recording evaluation and listen to and evaluate students' performances. The tool offers playing input from both SmartMusic and teachers, who can monitor students' progress over time.

However, registration and setup can be a little confusing. You have to select your school from a list, and there doesn't seem to be a way to manually add students, which could cause issues for transfer students and private music teachers. According to SmartMusic, students add themselves when they sign up and enroll for the class. Kids under 13 who try to register on the site are told a parent or guardian has to contact customer support to sign them up. Registration would be easier for everyone involved if teachers had more control over creating their virtual classroom and student accounts.

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SmartMusic is an online practice tool that allows students to learn about rhythm, sight reading, and other key music concepts. Music educators can use SmartMusic to assign practice exercises and songs, and monitor individual student progress. Vocalists and musicians who play woodwind, brass, percussion, and string instruments can practice with accompaniment. They can also record each take with an external or computer-based microphone and save it in the system or as an MP3 file on their computer.

SmartMusic users search for music by category and skill level, and can choose from more than 50 instruments ranging from the guitar to the xylophone. Students can hear songs before playing along with music. Other tools, including a tuner to establish pitch, can also help them prepare, and they get immediate feedback. Correct pitches and rhythms are highlighted in green; incorrect ones appear in red.

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Students can customize pieces by altering tempo and transposing them to another key. They can access scale, interval, and other exercises and get feedback on how they play some items through SmartMusic's assessment tool, which highlights correct pitches and rhythms in green. A digital tuner and metronome can help kids find the right note and beat. They can also record and play back each performance to assess areas that need improvement. Musicians can save recordings to a computer or within the SmartMusic system for future reference.

SmartMusic doesn’t claim to be a replacement for a music teacher, and educators may want to take note of a few aspects. The tool's still-growing library offers a number of excellent resources, but it doesn't contain thousands of titles for each instrument. Also, SmartMusic doesn't offer sheet music for all of its songs; students will need to purchase it separately to use with some accompaniments. In addition, the tool's ability to evaluate student performance isn't offered with all exercises. The system doesn't provide assessments for guitar, marimba, vibraphone, and acoustic piano; percussion assessment is only available in two types of activities.

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Overall Rating
3

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
3

Students are directly involved with exercises designed to reinforce musical skills like rhythm and playing by ear. They can listen to and play along with songs and can often get immediate feedback.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
4

Practice examples involve sight-reading and other techniques, which students can search by skill level for a more personalized learning experience. Teachers can send individual assignments and monitor progress.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
2

The tool doesn't offer much reading or background information on key topics like music theory. Exercises don't feature much instruction; there's actually very little to read, except for music.


Teacher Reviews

4
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Featured review by
Andrew R. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Edina Public Schools
Edina, MN
4
Great practice tool for personalized learning and differentiated instruction (Grades 5-12+).

When students practice with SmartMusic on a band piece, they are hearing all the parts, in tune, with good tone, correct rhythm, good articulation, good technique, good balance and blend, and good musicianship as if they were rehearsing with a collegiate or professional group. When grading, I always tell my students that I give the final grade because SmartMusic can only grade correct notes and correct rhythms and even then, it isn't always a true representation of a student's performance. This year (2013-2014) SmartMusic had more server issues where they had to be offline and students couldn't access the library. Students used to be able to submit assignments from any computer that has a SmartMusic subscription but now they may only submit assignments on a computer designated as a "practice room" computer. If students want a subscription at home, they must purchase a subscription for every student in their household (there is a small discount for a second subscription). Overall, it is a great product that I will continue to use and I believe it is good for grades 5-12 and post-secondary even.

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