The New SmartMusic Web

This year, we have been using the new web-based version of SmartMusic with our 10-12th grade students. We were awarded a grant for our 5 teachers and 116 teachers to have SmartMusic Teach subscriptions. Dr. Christopher Russell has a description of the different platforms, but here is a brief summary:

  • TEACH Free: Allows teachers to try out the new SmartMusic Web prior to purchasing. Library is limited to SmartMusic’s free catalog (Free Selections 1 & Free Selections 2).
  • TEACH: 3 teachers can assign repertoire from the full library to 50 students for $399. Students can only access materials that are assigned to them. Each additional teacher is $40. A block of 5 additional students is also $40.
  • PLAY: Upgrade individual student accounts to access the full library. $20/account.

I should preface this post with the statement that the web-based version of SmartMusic is not yet a finished product. They are continuing to add and refine features, to take feature requests, and to provide quality support for the new product.

Administering the Platform

As the Administrator on our account, I invited our 5 teachers to the platform.

Students add themselves to the platform by inputting a Class Code generated when a teacher creates a class.

I’ve hidden the classroom codes, but you can also see that I have been unable to delete a duplicate class I have created so far.

The Home Screen

The banner image for this post (also below) is the Home screen for me as the teacher.

I currently don’t have any Assignments To Be Graded because none have been submitted to me. The assignments I currently have out are for them to explore the platform. You can see that here my classes appear correctly in Class & Student Management. Hovering over a class gives me two options: Admin and Grading Info. More about those below. My Assignment Templates are assignments I have already created. Students are exploring the platform using Franco Cesarini’s Greek Folk Song Suite, a piece we are playing later this year. My Recently Uploaded Content is our Fall 2016 marching band show, which I uploaded via MusicXML, more on that below. The Open Or Assign Content search dialog and the Browse By Category buttons function similar to the original SmartMusic application (SmartMusic Classic).

Searching or Browsing for Content

As a teacher, searching for new content displays results on the following screen:

I am able to Filter Results after searching. Clicking Open prompts me to choose a Movement (even if it is not a multi-movement work) and an Instrument. Clicking Assign only prompts me to choose a movement. More on assigning below.

As of right now, it appears our students are able to search and open content in the library that we have NOT assigned to them. This appears to be contrary to how SmartMusic is advertising the platform.

I should also caution you that the entire library that is available in the Classic SmartMusic is not yet fully converted to the new SmartMusic Web. For example, we use the Rubank Advanced Method Volume 1 with our 10-12th Grade Students. Most of our assessment material comes from the Studies in Melodic Interpretation section. As you can see, not all of the instruments are available for all of the different studies. What you see in the screenshot is what is currently available. The list of available studies and instruments has been growing as we have continued to use the platform.

Viewing Content

Below is a screenshot of the interface looks like when opening content or an assignment.

It appears there may be a few bugs to work out in how the rendering engine deals with subtitles, but I can assure you the interface is much easier to use than Classic SmartMusic. Across the top there are separate tabs that will change the toolbar just below it. We are currently in the Tracks tab which allows to:

  • Set Loops of measures to be repeated by clicking and dragging over measures
  • Control the volume of the Accompaniment. In our imported MusicXML files, we are currently unable to hear the accompaniment.
  • Control the volume of My Part. In the screenshot, it is muted. Clicking the Speaker X icon will unmute it.
  • Control the volume of the Metronome.

The library of sounds included in the new SmartMusic Web is based of the Garritan Instrument Library as opposed to the SmartMusic SoftSynth or MIDI used in the ClassicSmartMusic. It is much better to listen to!

The My Takes tab allows you to browse through takes you have already recorded. You can Delete or Save these takes. Save downloads your take as a WAV file. Currently, if students log out, the takes do not remain stored in SmartMusic. There is also not currently a way to upload saved takes back into the program.

The Display tab provides features for Highlight Current Measure, having the Cursor click across each Beat or Flowing across the measure in tempo. You can also turn the Cursor: Off. The Zoom feature allows you to adjust the size of the displayed content. When the engraved page reaches the size of the screen, you can continue zooming in. SmartMusic then adjusts the sizes of the staves, noteheads, etc. to continue zooming:

The Assessment tab looks like this:

Show Assessment turns the red and green note heads off. Percussion Mode tells SmartMusic to assess percussion instruments specifically. Sub Part allows you to choose which part is being assessed (ex: the bottom line of a duet vs. the top line). See Instructions displays the instructions for an assignment. These instructions automatically appear when students open instructions. Calibrate Mic does exactly that only much quicker:

This interface for calibrating is MUCH quicker than Classic SmartMusic. It also occurs automatically when beginning a new recording.

The Mvmt./Instr. tab allows you to select which Movement or Instrument you would like displayed. If students move outside of their assigned movement or instrument, they will not be allowed to submit their assignment.

The Annotation feature is not yet available, but students and teachers will be able to “write” on the music. This could be to give feedback or accidental/fingering reminders.

Speaking of fingerings, clicking on a note will show students fingerings AND can play the pitch using the Garritan sound.

Assigning Content

When creating a new assignment, you are first prompted to Name it. The types available are any that SmartMusic has already created or a Custom AssignmentGeneral Instructions appear when students open the assignment.

The next screen allows you to select the Criteria you will use to evaluate the assignment. I’ve input the different criteria from our Wind Rubric as a test. I can then allocate Points Possible for each Criteria. I can also Create New Criterion:

Here I put all of the Level Descriptions and Level Titles from our Wind Rubric. I can also change the color of the Criterion.

The next screen allows you to provide specific instructions for each instrument. Each instrument is allowed to have its own independent StartEnd, and Tempo. You can also ask students to Sight Read, setting a timer to countdown before it begins recording. You can also provide instrument-specific Instructions For Your Students. Clicking Save Part moves on to the next part in the list. Skip Part is pretty self-explanatory. Copy allows you to copy the settings from one part to multiple parts. When all the parts have been either saved or skipped, you can Save This Parts Setup. This creates a Template for you to Assign. You can choose to Assign Now or Later.

The next screen allows me to set dates for the assignment. The period it is referencing is the Grading Period I setup for the class when creating it.

Then we can assign parts to students. I’ve blanked out my students’ names and profile pictures. You can see that some of them were a bit creative when choosing their instruments. If I click Automatically Assign and their chosen Instruments do not align with available parts, then nothing will be automatically assigned to them. I can, however, select multiple boxes below All | None to assign a singular part to many students. When every student has a part assigned, I can click Finish and it assigns the part.

Grading Assignments

As our first assignment is due this weekend, we have not yet had the opportunity to work through the grading part of the new platform. We will update this post as we go through the process.

Importing MusicXML Content

SmartMusic has provided a tutorial on how to import content. We did this to import our Fall 2016 marching show. I won’t walk you through the tutorial, but I will share a few screenshots and descriptions of the process.

The new SmartMusic Web views imported content as a “book,” which can be immensely helpful in collecting a wide variety of material for a single assignment. We were able to incorporate all three movements of our show into a single “book” of uploaded content.

However, each individual part needs its own MusicXML file. In Finale 25, they have built-in this feature to the Export function. They have also provided a free Dolet plugin for previous versions of Finale. If you use another application for composing, you’ll need to export MusicXML files for each individual part. SmartMusic Web cannot pull the information from the XML of a score.

Conclusion

We are not completely thrilled with the new platform. We are lucky that we were awarded a grant that allows us to fund the new SmartMusic Web while we can continue to use our own budget to fund SmartMusic Classic as we have in previous school years. Here is a list of what we do not like:

  • Full Library not available in SmartMusic Web. This is in the process of being addressed, but it isn’t happening quickly enough for our liking.
  • Accompaniment sounds not available for uploaded content. It is great that we can upload MusicXML files instead of SMP and SMPX files that could only be created in Finale. That being said, these uploaded files are not as fully functional as imported SMPX files are in SmartMusic Classic.
  • Administrator is unable to see other Teachers As the Administrator for our account, I can invite other teachers to the platform, but I cannot access their classes. For example, Scott teaches different concert and jazz ensembles than I do. If he is having issues, it would be nice for me to access his account. The only thing I can see is the fact that he has a class called Wind Symphony with a specific access code. We would also like multiple teachers to have access to the same class.
  • Students can’t save takes from session to session. If a student records several takes on one day, those takes will not still be available on another day if they have logged out at any point in between. Even if they haven’t logged out, we have found that SmartMusic Web does not always keep the takes saved (they are stored in the browser cache). While students can save their takes as a WAV file, they cannot upload them back into the platform after doing so.
  • Inconsistent experience when leaving tabs open. Many of our students leave their SmartMusic Web tab open on their Chromebooks as a reminder to complete the assignment, continue practicing, etc. The longer they leave these tabs open, the more inconsistent the platform appears to run. Simply closing the tab and re-opening it usually solves the problem. Students also need to make sure they are running the most up-to-date version of Chrome. This is more difficult to manage on a Chromebook than a Chrome browser on a computer.
  • Assignments don’t get assigned to new students. If a student joins the SmartMusic class after you have assigned an Assignment, you have to go back in and re-assign to this student.

All that being said, we are excited for the potential this platform provides. For the cost of $8 per student, we are able to provide them with a tool that lets them practice their instrument with immediate pitch and rhythm feedback. The interface is much more refined than SmartMusic Classic. It is quicker to use and far more intuitive. The technicians are very quick to answer questions and solve problems.

The New SmartMusic is also available for iPad. Unfortunately, my 4th generation iPad does not meet the minimum system requirements to test this out for you.

Let us know what you want to know! We look forward to continuing to update you with our use of it!

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