Saturday, February 4, 2012


Right around Christmas time, with violin practices having become fairly "Rocky" with some of my budding violinists, we took the plunge, and ordered a subscription to SmartMusic.  I am happy with the product, although I feel that it could do so much more for the student, and was lacking features I would have expected.

SmartMusic is computer software that listens to a person practice an instrument (or singing), evaluate how the student did, let them setup practice loops, slow down music, and in general, helps them practice better.  There is also an edition for teachers, which has many features, such as allowing them to setup assignments for students, keep grades, ask for an amount of time of practice over a period of time, and many other things.

First thing I found out (shortly before we bought the subscription), is that although the Suzuki repoitoire is available, the "assessment" feature is not available for it by requires of Suzuki.  This was disappointing, as that was a feature I was hoping for (to make it a bit like "violin hero"...)  I did decide that it was probably still worthwhile.

My first disappointment after getting the program/subscription, was when I discovered that the program won't keep track of practice time for a student (even though it obviously can somewhere in the program to report it back to teachers.)  This feature isn't available for the individual student.

Next, although the program allows several students to use the same program by creating different logins - this feature is useless (unless used with an instructor) if the students are using the same instrument and music. The program records all the practices, and you can elect to keep any song - and keep multiple takes.  However, it doesn't keep the different students seperate.  So as Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, and I (and eventually Golf) do the Suzuki violin songs - it will mix up the takes of each student.  So much for listening to an earlier "take" to see improvement.   The login process also required an email address and password (for use with a school or instructors), so it wasn't friendly for younger children.  It would have been nicer in a home environment for them to just click on a picture of themselves.  However, as there is no advantage to logging in as seperate students, we don't.

The program allows you to setup "playlists" that are handy for setting up practices - however, it only remembers the song, not all the settings. It would be nice if it would remember the speed the student is playing the song at, and the "loop" they are to practice.  It would also be nice if you could say how many times to play a practice loop. There are scale exercises available, but they all default to "C", and then you select the key.  So I can't just setup a scale exercise (with assessment) with different scales on different days - the kids would have to remember which scale, and set it up.

But, beyond all the disappointments, so far it has been worth it.  Delta is much happier practicing with it, with the playlists telling him what to practice.  I do have a piece of paper to tell him loop settings, approximate speeds, etc.  I'm not 100% sure why this makes him happier than when we did the same types of playlists on our mp3 software.... but it does.  I am still listening, commenting, helping with new pieces - but he is more independent.   The things that are more convenient are being able to change the speed (I had software that would let us do that with an MP3... but not nearly as easily or quickly), and setting up a practice loop.  Delta used to always want to try to play the whole song through (not efficient) - but now that we can set-up a loop to practice, he is doing that much more.

Echo doesn't seem fond of SmartMusic, but does use it.  Foxtrot (with me right with her) does enjoy it.

SmartMusic does let us import MP3's to play with, and will even slow it down... but it doesn't have as many features doing that.  So as Foxtrot is a pre-twinkler, I have imported our "Step-by-Step" accompaniement.  For things we practice that I have no music, I have imported blank MP3's, so that there is an item on the playlist for it, and it will still record a "take".   If you have Finale (the full version... way too expensive for us!) you can import your own music and have all the features, including assessment.

Oh, one other thing... you can (with one button) turn a practice "take" into an MP3.  We did that to send "grandma" a present of recordings of the kids practicing.

I'm not sure if we will continue the subscription next year.  As I said, I'm disappointed with many things I feel it should do.  However, the violin teacher has commented on them doing better this year... so it must be making a difference!