SmartMusic Finale Garritan MusicXML

Feature Friday: Pinned Practice Rooms

FeatureFriday_Pinned Practice Rooms

When implementing SmartMusic in your program, many directors start by offering the tool to their students at a parent night or by absorbing the cost in the “band fee”. The most successful SmartMusic educators have seen a drastic improvement in student skills when the majority of their students have it in their home. However, there may be a year or two before it is fully adopted with all your students. In this case, students that do not yet have SmartMusic at home can use a practice room computer at school.

A feature unique to the latest version of SmartMusic is the ability to pin and unpin a practice room subscription to a school computer or iPad. This allows teachers a greater level of flexibility with their subscriptions as equipment is upgraded, or when waiting for IT support. Here is a quick video on how to pin and unpin a practice room subscription:


Piece of the Week: Academic Festival Overture

PieceOfTheWeek_Academic Festival Overture

Composition Notes

“This arrangement of “Academic Festival Overture” contains most of the important themes of the original work in a setting lasting approximately 3 1/2 minutes. There are numerous cues present for bands that lack a complete lower woodwind section. The opening section should be played staccato and very lightly. In the forte passage beginning at measure 30, the music should still be played on the lighter side-never heavy. To assist in a smooth tempo change at measure 51, you may wish to conduct the last 2 beats of measure 50 at the new tempo. Instruct your students to memorize these two measures so they can give the tempo change their full attention.

I hope you and your ensemble find “Academic Festival Overture” to be an exciting and rewarding musical experience!”

- Michael Story


Composer – Brahms, Johannes

Johannes Brahms was born on May 7, 1833 in Hamburg, Germany, and died on April 3, 1897 in Vienna, Austria. He is recognized as one of the great composers of the Romantic era (1820-1900), and as a keeper of musical tradition. He had a reverence for the form and construction used by the old masters from Bach to Beethoven, and upheld this sense of order in his own music. Because of this, he was recognized in his own time as a composer in the true central German mold. Brahms knew that his artistic direction was different from that being taken by members of what was called the “New German School.” Richard Wagner and others openly attacked him for his aesthetic beliefs, but Brahms found support from artists like Joseph Joachim, J. O. Grimm, and Robert and Clara Schumann. This support was crucial because it led to his eventual popularity and success. He composed a large quantity of choral and chamber music, and a number of orchestral works. Among his larger pieces are four symphonies, the “German Requiem,” two concertos for piano, one for violin; and a double concerto for violin and violoncello. Brahms was a very reserved man who needed solitude to truly express his feelings through music; he disliked sentimentality and admired chivalry and patriotism. Some saw him as self-righteous and egotistical, but evidence also points to the contrary. Although he commanded attention from his circle of friends, and was intolerant of disagreement, he was not afraid to ask others for advice in composition, and displayed loyalty and selflessness. Even after a lifelong friendship, Clara Schumann admitted, “To me he is as much a riddle – I might almost say as much a stranger – as he was 25 years ago.”

Arranger – Story, Michael

Michael Story has written extensively for college, high school and junior high school bands as well as for professional groups, including the Houston Pops Orchestra. A versatile writer and current marching band editor for Alfred (Belwin), he is adept at focusing on the needs of the developing band. His works for young or inexperienced concert and marching bands, such as his Big and Easy marching band series, is designed to accommodate uneven instrumentation while maintaining a full band sound. Mr. Story earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Music Education from the University of Houston, where he served as an assistant band director. He works regularly with school bands in Texas, and presents band workshops throughout the country. Even as a young composer, he is already known as a dynamic and prolific writer, with more than 750 compositions published for bands and jazz ensemble. He is a driving force among the writers and clinicians of Alfred Publishing Co., Inc.

Feature Friday: Fingering Charts

FeatureFriday_Fingering Charts

The most powerful influence SmartMusic can have on your students is it’s ability to eliminate roadblocks during a practice session. This ability puts the pace of learning in the students hands, and creates a culture of accountability for home practice. In this blog series, we’ve already covered:

If you missed an earlier Feature Friday post, click the links above to catch up.

By using the features listed above, students using SmartMusic at home are now ALWAYS: tuning with a digital tuner, playing with a pitch and rhythmic reference, hearing the quality of professional recordings as the model sound, slowing the tempo and looping difficult sections, and understanding how their part fits within the ensemble even before the piece is played in class, . These are all the things you train them to do anyways! SmartMusic simply ensures these habits are happening outside of the classroom.

But, what if they run into a problem like forgetting a fingering for a new piece, scale, solo, or exercise. Simply click any note on screen to display a fingering chart. A situation that may have been a showstopper for your students previously is now a learning experience that takes their playing to the next level. This new fingering can easily be worked out in a matter of minutes by lowering the tempo and turning on the loop feature!

Fingering Charts

Fingering charts are just another way to keep your students engaged in a practice session, letting them move at their own pace, and making them more accountable for their achievement as a musician.

How do fingering charts help your students? Leave a message below.


Piece of the Week: Flash Flood by Chris Bernotas

PieceOfTheWeek_Flash Flood

Piece Of The Week’s First Guest Blog

This Piece of the Week guest blog was written by “Flash Flood” composer Chris Bernotas. A big thank you goes out to Chris for giving us additional insight into his motivation for this composition. I also appreciate Alfred Music’s help in working with MakeMusic and Chris on this post.

Composition Notes:

I was commissioned to write a piece for the Lehman Intermediate School 7th and 8th grade band in East Stroudsburg, PA. The East Stroudsburg Area School District has a long history of commissioning pieces and bringing in composers to work with their students each year. I was extremely excited to be invited to work with the students and directors of this terrific music department. The commission was to be an interesting and meaningful piece that allowed for teaching opportunity, student growth, and would also be exciting for the audience. I spent two days working with each of the bands in the district and it was an experience I will always remember fondly. The teachers were wonderful and the students were so well prepared and enthusiastic. I thank them for the invitation to join in making wonderful music in their community. 

“Flash Flood” was written following the disaster left after Hurricane Irene struck the east coast. Good friends of ours were among those affected by the flooding. As my wife and I drove through their neighborhood on our way to help begin their clean-up, we were met with the sight of piles and piles of worldly and personal possessions lining both sides of the road. House after house, pile after pile of couches, TVs, bedding, pictures, artwork, carpets, refrigerators, ovens, and so on, were on every lawn. There were tears streaming down our cheeks as we approached our friends’ home. We had read about and had seen the destruction of the storm on TV but to experience the actual destruction by driving through the mountains of memories was emotionally devastating, even as an outsider who was there to lend a hand. What struck us, however, wasn’t the sadness and pain of devastation—it was the determination and spirit of our friends and of the entire community. We were hit hard with the vision of destruction, but were met with smiles and good attitudes from the victims. It is this spirit that provided the inspiration for “Flash Flood.”

Sample Audio Clip (full audio link below)


The piece starts with the ominous feeling when you know of an impending storm and what it might bring. After that we have the rage of the water breaking through “furiously” (M10) and flowing onward. You will notice that the melody is rather heroic in nature (M18) and that is because all of the people we encountered while helping our friends were truly heroes in our minds. They were not beaten down by the storm. They were empowered and ready to make their homes not just livable as they were before, but better than they were before the waters hit them. There is more excitement and toss and tussle of the raging waters throughout the first section with a dramatic build up (M39) that leads to the more tranquil middle section. I used the Lydian mode in the more calm section (M49) that gives the feeling not of raging waters, but of the more still water from after the storm passes. There is now a lake, with houses in the middle of it. The reflection of heroic action is heard with the dotted eighth and sixteenth motives in M55–56 and M59–60. That motive is representative of the pride that the community displayed and of their helping of one another when they had nothing for themselves. Once the tranquil section ends we revisit the memory of the storm that has passed and end the piece in major. The ending (Coda) is bright and powerful and is intended to show that while possessions can be destroyed, human spirit cannot. In the end, community is stronger than before and the heroic spirit of the community is far more powerful than the storm.

Additional Info

Chris Bernotas bio

Full Audio Track

Flash Flood is available at Alfred Music

Feature Friday: Practice Loops

FeatureFriday_Practice Loops


Students have varying methods of practice at home.

The biggest offenders that I’ve noticed with my students over the years include: playing too fast, focusing the majority of practice time on parts that they can already play well, or skipping difficult sections entirely. SmartMusic’s loop feature can eliminate these issues, and teach your students to practice efficiently. The loop feature should be used by your students when practicing with SmartMusic already, but you can also specify that they use this feature in the assignment details.


In addition to just telling students to use the practice loop feature in the assignment details, there are 2 other ways to suggest practice loops to your students via assignments:

Educators can set up a series of assignments:

To keep it simple, lets imagine a piece has a difficult clarinet run in mm 31-32 at 100 bpm. Send 5 assignments (one a day for a week) that requires your clarinets to play the section at increasing tempos: 60, 70, 80, 90, and 100 (at tempo). Students will find the loop feature the most efficient way to increase their proficiency before submitting their best take. You will be amazed at how much this section will improve in a week, and you will know your students are doing it in the most efficient way. It might only take 5 minutes a day!

With a Response Assignment:

You can send a response assignment asking your students to play a loop of a specified section of music at a specified tempo, and submit the recording when they are finished. This is done by simply exporting the MP3 of a saved take and attaching it with your response assignment submission.

How do you use Practice Loops? Have they positively affected your students practice at home? If so, leave a comment below.



Piece of the Week: 4’33″ by John Cage

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John Cage’s 4’33” is now available in SmartMusic! This SmartMusic edition of Cage’s piece serves as an excellent introduction to this 20th century American icon and makes an excellent conversation starter on the topic of modern music.

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 3.52.33 PM4’33” is famously known as John Cage’s silent composition. All three movements are entirely comprised of blank measures. The composer, however, never saw the composition as silent. Writing in 1954, Cage stated, “The piece is not actually silent (there will never be silence until death comes which never comes); it is full of sound, but sounds which I did not think of beforehand, which I hear for the first time the same time others hear.”



Here is a performance of John Cage’s 4’33″ from outside the MakeMusic headquarters in Eden Prairie, MN on 3/26:

At first glance, this may seem like an odd inclusion in SmartMusic’s repertoire catalogue. However, the focus of the piece is on listening to one’s surroundings and being aware of unintentional sounds occurring during a performance. Since a musical instrument can take years to master, students are often focused on issues involving technique and playing the right notes. In the process of learning to control an instrument, ideas about larger musical statements and musical aesthetics are sometimes lost. 4’33” is a piece that forces listeners and performers to confront these issues of musical aesthetics.

This piece can be part of a much larger conversation about music. What is music? What is the role of the performer in the music making process? Does the audience have a role in a musical statement? While the answers to these questions can widely vary, getting students to begin thinking about these issues is an important step in a musician’s journey.

To further the conversation about Cage and his views on music, the John Cage Trust website ( has many valuable resources, including a 4’33” app for iPhone and iPad. The 4’33” app features the ability to post and share versions of 4’33”. The app also includes a recording of 4’33” made in Cage’s last New York apartment.

We hope you enjoy the SmartMusic edition of 4’33”. To find the piece, simply search for John Cage in SmartMusic’s Find Music quick search. We have provided concert band, string orchestra and full orchestra versions of the work. The pre-authored assignment consists of the first movement of 4’33”.

And while it is not 4’33”, the following is a video clip of John Cage performing his Water Walk (1959) composition. The performance was taken from the 1960s television show. Seeing Cage perform one of his own works can provide a wealth of conversation topics and can be fun for students to watch.


Feel free to send us your recordings of John Cage’s 4’33″. If we receive enough submissions,  we will create a mash-up of the submissions.


Meet Steve in Chicago

SteveSteve Struhar, SmartMusic’s Product Manager, will be in the Chicago/Naperville area March 31 – April 1, 2014. He’s bringing along two User Interface specialists, and he’d like to sit down with you to study how you interact with the SmartMusic software.

Would you like to meet with Steve? Tell Steve how he can get in touch with you to schedule an appointment by providing your information in this short form:

Why meet with Steve?

  • Steve and his team can improve SmartMusic’s interface based on your feedback.
  • This is your chance to sit down face to face with SmartMusic’s team and use the software together.

Steve’s schedule will fill up fast, so if you’d like to take this opportunity to meet Steve, submit your contact information to Steve as soon as possible.

Check out this post if you’d like to learn more about Steve.

Midwest Panel Discussion Video Series Pt. 3

Midwest Clinic 1Mike Holden, Highcrest Middle School

Although Mike technically is the “youngster” of the group, his use of SmartMusic in the past four years allows him to offer sage SmartMusic tips in this Midwest Panel Discussion. Mike uses SmartMusic to give his students more exposure to pieces before they play as an ensemble. this allows him to work on more advanced musical concepts in rehearsal.

In this video, Mike covers:

  • Starting students in sectionals in 5th grade
  • Accompaniments as listening examples
  • Recording and self assessment capabilities
  • Avoiding the assessment tool for the first few months
  • Projecting on screen and asking students to point out musical markings
  • A parent night to show the benefit of using SmartMusic
  • First assignments are just “practice reports”
  • As the teacher, be the SmartMusic expert. There will be questions
  • Giving students a couple weeks to complete assignments
  • Have a few loaner microphones
  • Do SmartMusic “tips of the week” and “pieces of the week” with your students

Feature Friday: Response Assignments

Response Assignments are a great way to send and receive many different resources to your students. If you are not familiar with how Response Assignments work, watch this 1:45 tutorial video:


Response Assignments can eliminate printing paper permission slips, surveys, quizzes, or burning cd’s for music listening and analysis. Use this feature to streamline as many communications with your students or parents as possible, while keeping track of this information in your secure Gradebook. It’s impossible for your students to lose these important documents and files, because they are stored in the cloud.

All of the standard assignment options are available, such as: grading style, due date, reminder email, classes, and students. Response Assignments also provide the ability to require an attachment with the student’s response. This is a nice reminder that helps eliminate forgetfulness when students are submitting a Response Assignment. It is also important to note that students must complete Response Assignments from a laptop or desktop computer, as it is the only assignment type not supported on iPad.

Try assigning a piece or two to your students every week for music listening, and holding contests designated days of the month. I happen to know a blog series that could give you some suggestions.

If you regularly use Response Assignments, I’d like to hear from you. How have they helped you and your students?

SmartMusic Update Information


Here at MakeMusic, we’ve continued to make improvements that will provide both you and your students the very best experience with SmartMusic. Coming soon is a substantial update that not only includes a large number of fixes, but also several key enhancements. This update will happen automatically, and no action on your part is needed.

Grade any assignment, even if your students are no longer able to submit them.

  • Go back into previous grading periods and change grades for assignments.
  • Facilitate make-up work with the ability to grade old assignments, or assignments that students can no longer submit via SmartMusic. Any assignments you grade manually are automatically removed from your students assignment list.

Easily keep track of your Practice Room Subscriptions and “pinned” devices.

  • You can now name your device when you pin a practice room subscription to it.
  • The pin status of the device you’re using is now prominently displayed at the top of the screen for both you and your students to see.
  • When you are logged in, both the number of pinned and available Practice Room Subscriptions you have are displayed at the top of the screen.

Other Highlights:

  • Recommending music to your students just got easier: specific titles within collections are properly added to recommended music.
  •  The web Gradebook login page ( has been enhanced. It now includes SmartMusic announcements and featured videos.