SmartMusic as an Assessment Tool

SmartMusic is an “interactive music learning software” by MakeMusic, creators of the music notation software Finale. It can pretty accurately assess pitch and rhythm for nearly all of the instruments in the wind band. There is a multitude of method books, solo literature, concert band literature, and jazz band literature in their library with new material being added frequently. SmartMusic can also incorporate files created in Finale. It is an outstanding tool we use daily in our work with students.

Subscriptions
In order to use SmartMusic in any way this year, you must have a subscription. Here are the different options:

  • Educator Subscription ($140/year) – Teachers can create classes and assessments for students. They can then listen to and grade these assessments. This subscription can be used on any SmartMusic device, but it cannot be pinned.
  • Paid Student Subscription ($40/year) – Students can use these subscriptions to register for classes, complete assessments, and explore SmartMusic. This subscription can be used on any SmartMusic device, but it cannot be pinned.
  • Free Student Subscription – Anyone with an e-mail address can create a free account to register for classes, complete assessments, and explore SmartMusic. This subscription can only be used on a pinned SmartMusic device.
  • Practice Room Subscription ($44/year) – These subscriptions can be pinned to a specific device to allow any Free Student Subscriptions to login. These subscriptions are typically tied to an Educator Subscription. They cannot be used on their own to register for classes, complete assessments, or explore SmartMusic.

At the high school level (10-12 Instrumental & Vocal Music), we have 8 practice room subscriptions and 4 educator subscriptions. There are similar numbers at our middle school feeders as well (6-7 Middle School, 8-9 Middle School; more info on our Vertical Teaching Model). Our district supplied us with the following to run the practice room subscriptions:

We also have school laptops for our educator subscriptions:

We made sure to purchase enough Blue Snowflake Microphone and Yamaha Monitor Speakers that our laptops can be used by students if need be.

Our district utilizes Google Apps accounts for all of our students and staff. This means that all of our students have a StudentID@students.ankenyschools.org e-mail address. As part of the lesson process at the beginning of the school year, we have students register for their band class in SmartMusic (10th Grade Band, 11th Grade Band, etc.) using the Free Student Subscription. This means the students can only use their subscriptions on pinned Practice Room Devices. If a student wants to upgrade to a Paid Student Subscription, that is their perogative, but it is not a requirement for work in our program.

SmartMusic’s Learning Center
MakeMusic has created a quite helpful Knowledge Base that can demonstrate and walk through a variety of different things that SmartMusic can do. Rather than duplicate the information from their website, I am going to talk specifically about what we do with SmartMusic. I would be happy to answer any questions you have about getting any of these pieces with SmartMusic to work.

Assessing with SmartMusic
Once every 2-4 weeks, our students complete a series of assignments designed to show their ability to play in certain key signatures. We pull our exercises from the method book Foundations for Superior Performance which is already included in the SmartMusic software. The assignments our students typically complete are:

  • Mini-Scale and Tonic Arpeggio (12345432|12345432|12345432|1358531)
  • Scale Pattern #1 (1231 2342|3454 4564|5435 4324|3213 2172|1 2 1)
  • Scale in Thirds (132435465769781 | 867564534231271)
  • Chord Study #1 (13531 | 14641 | 13531353 | 24547454 | 313585351)

Sophomores must play Concert Bb, Eb, F, Ab, Db major and Concert g minor at quarter note = 80bpm. Juniors add G major and c minor, all at quarter = 92bpm. Seniors add D Major, all at quarter = 112bpm.

SmartMusic has the ability to group assignments into units, allowing you to assign several assignments all at once. We spent some time at the beginning of this year creating the assignments in units which made distribution to the students very easy. Here is a sample of that creation:

Assignment Creation Screen

Assignment Creation Screen

To get to this screen, I logged in using my Educator Subscription. I then found Foundations for Superior Performance under Method Books and selected Technical Exercises (Concert Bb) – Mini-Scale & Tonic Arpeggio. The small button that says Assignment opens up the middle window you see in the picture above. We now have a variety of options available to us in the uppermost part of the screen:

    • Tempo – set using numbers or drag using the slider
    • Click – do you want the metronome?
      • Accent Downbeat
      • Play Subdivisions
      • No Countoff – not recommended unless there is some kind of introduction
      • 1 Bar Countoff
      • 2 Bar Countoff
      • Voice Countoff – the option we typically use
    • Location – where do you want the assessment to begin and end?
    • Tracks
      • My Part – plays the part on the screen, for assessments, keep this off)
      • Accompaniment – plays the parts not on the screen
      • Assessment – assess the performance

Moving down to the middle section of the page shows what requirements will be placed on the assignment. All adjustments must be made in the upper section. The middle section only turns on which settings are required.

      • Assignment Name – how will the assignment appear for students
      • Instructions to Students – put anything specific you would like them to do, we typically do not include anything here
      • Grading Style
        • Standard – normal number of points for grading
        • Rubric – new method of assessment (details below)
      • Points
        • Assessment – how many points you would like SmartMusic to give
        • Recording – how many points you would like to give for the recording
      • Assignment Details
        • Tempo – what requirements would you like to place on the tempo?
        • Click – what requirements would you like to place on the click?
        • My Part – we always require this to be off, otherwise students would get 100% for SM playing their part perfectly!
        • Cursor – we typically require this to be off
        • Music On Screen – if you want students to perform memorized music, you can turn this off!

Grading with SmartMusic
After the students have submitted their assignments, the grades SmartMusic gives them for their pitch and rhythmic accuracy (Assessment Points) populate the SmartMusic Gradebook. This can be accessed via the SmartMusic app while logged in with an Educator Subscription or by logging in with that same subscription to gradebook.smartmusic.com.

SmartMusic Gradebook

SmartMusic Gradebook

I have blocked out the students’ names, but you can see the information SmartMusic provides and allows you to control from this view. Because we only use SmartMusic as a means of collecting data about the students’ performance on assessments, we do not report our grades using the SmartMusic gradebook. Instead, we listen to each of the recordings, evaluating them using our Wind Rubric or Percussion Rubric, documenting our assessment using our Google Form, and record the grade in Infinite Campus.

Options for Grading using SmartMusic
We have been experimenting with trying to make this process quicker and easier to listen and assess on the teacher side throughout the year. Here are some things we experimented with:

  • Rubric Grading Style – SmartMusic allows you to create up to a 5×5 rubric to grade assessments. We input our Wind and Percussion Rubrics without the Posture and Preparedness categories into SmartMusic. It brought up several problems: students could not see these assignments on iPads, grading was tedious and confusing, and SmartMusic does not provide a visual assessment. As I understand, they have improved this process, but we have not tested it since.
  • Assessment and Recording Points – If you do not allot any points to SmartMusic in the Assessment Points category, it will not communicate its assessment of pitch and rhythmic accuracy to the teacher. It will show this in terms of a percent and red/green note heads to the student, but neither of these are included in a submission to the teacher. SmartMusic’s Assessment Points can allow a good visual for quickly seeing if students are on track.

Problems We Had
I strongly wish our school district had purchased iMacs for our practice rooms. The other high school in our district has older models in their practice rooms. All of the iMacs have good built-in microphones and can connect easily to a monitor speaker. The iMacs can all be managed from one computer using Apple Remote Desktop. This makes installing SmartMusic or updates, logging out, restarting, can all be done from one location instead of each individual practice room. It also makes it easy to monitor what is happening on the computers in all of the practice rooms. There are also only 2 outlets in each of our practice rooms. With an iMac and a powered speaker, those outlets are comfortably occupied. With our current setup, there are at least three devices to plug in. Add in the electronic keyboards in each practice room and things begin to get overloaded.

Our Yamaha Monitor speakers have three inputs on the back: RCA, XLR, and ¼”. The XLR and ¼” are balanced inputs. The output from our Lenovo ThinkPads are NOT balanced outputs. We originally purchased ⅛” to ¼” cables, but only one channel would come through. We wanted a single-cable solution so students weren’t as tempted to take any adapters from the setup. After several weeks and failed attempts, we were able to get our local music shop to custom make us a 3 foot ⅛” to RCA cable that works well with our setups.

SmartMusic changed their subscription process for the 2014 school year. Now, the subscriptions are login-based instead of device-based. This has both positive and negative effects for us. If you have purchased a paid Student Subscription, you can login to SmartMusic anywhere at any time. If you have purchased an Educator Subscription, you can login to SmartMusic anywhere at anytime. As an educator, if you purchase Practice Room Subscriptions, you now pin them to specific devices. For us, this means each of the Lenovo ThinkCentre and ThinkPad computers. Students can create free Student subscriptions that are only allowed to login to SmartMusic on pinned devices. Therefore, students with free accounts can login to any of our practice room computers, but they can not login at home until they purchase a paid Student Subscription. You do NOT have the ability to pin an Educator Subscription. I typically use my Educator Subscription on my personal MacBook Pro, but a student would be unable to use SmartMusic on my computer unless they had a paid Student Subscription. We did not purchase enough subscriptions to use on our iPads.

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One thought on “SmartMusic as an Assessment Tool

  1. Great post! I’m thinking about using smart music in exactly the way you describe here. I was wondering why you chose to not use the self grading function?

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