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Fun and Games with Young Instrumentalists



Dr Scott Watsons Classroom Image

You’ve no doubt heard the old saying, “You can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Likewise, sometimes you can get more out of your young instrumentalists when you embed the learning in a game! Robert and Richard Sherman had it right in the lyrics to their song, “A Spoonful of Sugar” from the film Mary Poppins:

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun
You find the fun and snap, the job’s a game!

The following are a few games and challenges I’ve used with beginning-intermediate students to push them further while having fun:

1. Long Tone Contest
I strongly believe in beginning each lesson group or rehearsal with a brief warm-up. Establishing this routine will pay dividends for student and teacher along the way. As soon as I teach first year band students their very first note, a long tone on that note becomes their first warm-up. I challenge students to beat their own time from week to week, but what they like most is when we make it a contest to see who in the lesson group or band can hold a note the longest. That student is dubbed the long tone champion for the day.

To make it more of an event, I ask students to stand in place, breathe, and start the note together. As they run out of air, they take their seat and the last boy or girls standing wins! When I need to teach a new fingering for a concert selection, you can bet that will be the note we use for our next long tone contest.

2. Accuracy Race
In this game, each student in a lesson group or sectional plays a selected passage to see who can make it the farthest in the music before making a rhythmic or pitch error. I use this game to encourage students to keep chipping away at an especially difficult exercise or concert music excerpt.

In my band room I normally project our method book (Alfred’s Sound Innovations) or concert music using SmartMusic from my laptop onto a large IWB (interactive whiteboard).The first student plays. As soon as he/she makes a rhythmic or pitch (fingering) error I write his/her name or initials with a dry erase marker at that place in the music. The next student goes and I do the same.

This continues until everyone has had a chance. You’ll sense the excitement. Each successive student really, REALLY tries hard to make it past the previous student…and they’ll beg you to let them try another round!

3. Pencil Check
We all want students to come to rehearsals with a pencil for marking in counts, accidentals, and other helpful items. If I notice this habit waning, I turn to a pencil check challenge to help turn things around.

At the start of a rehearsal I’ll call out, “Show me your pencils,” and I write down the number that hold one up. (When a colleague of mine does this, she asks her students to place the eraser on their heads with the pencil point facing up – it’s quite a sight!) Challenge the students to do better the next rehearsal: “34 of you remembered your pencil today…thank you! But 11 of you forgot and I know we can do better. When we do our pencil check next time do you think 100% of you can come prepared?”

4. The Longest Phrase
A hallmark of a beginning or less mature band is choppy phrasing, where students breathe after every note or two. As bands mature, they play longer phrases. While the long tone contest should demonstrate to students that they are capable of playing several measures in one breath, most first and second year students – as a matter of habit – will still breath far more often they they should.

To help, I challenge students to play a scale or phrase of music breathing only when they need to. For instance, in a small group lesson or sectional I ask each student to play an ascending/descending B-flat major scale on half notes while I watch to see when they inhale. Under this scrutiny, many who normally breath every 4 or 8 beats will play the entire ascending scale, or even more, in one breathe! Each student tries to beat the others. In a band rehearsal I’ll have students count off – “1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2,” etc. – and have the 1’s watch the 2’s and visa versa to determine who can play the “longest phrase.”

5. Candy Incentive
This may be the most controversial tip here (note how I avoided using the word “bribe”!), but I don’t have a problem springing for some candy treats which I offer here and there throughout the year to students who are willing to spend a lot of effort in a short time to learn a passage of music I know to be pretty tough.

For instance, if I know my clarinet section will really have to apply themselves to attain a passage, but want to “jump start” the process, I’ll say, “If any of you can play measures 30 through 68 with no more than one rhythmic or pitch error by next lesson, you’ll earn a pack of M&Ms.” The next week there may be only one student who has met the challenge, earning the treat, but now I have a nucleus around which the rest of the section can aspire.

6. Staff Wars 2
This is a really cool, space-themed, note recognition video game for instrumentalists. What’s more…it’s free! After launching the program, choose which instrument will be playing and adjust the settings for note range, key, and level (speed). In this way, beginners and more advanced players can be appropriately challenged.

As the game starts, notes fly across the staff in outer space. As the player recognizes the pitch, he/she plays it. The internal mic on your computer will listen for notes played. If played correctly, the note explodes off the staff advancing the player. If the note reaches the other side of the screen without the player sounding the correct pitch, one space ship is removed from the players fleet (of three). This is a great incentive game: “If we can get through these three items in our lesson today, we’ll have time to play Staff Wars!” The program, designed for use on IWB’s, can be downloaded at themusicinteractive.com. Click here see a video of Staff Wars 2 in action.

I regard my time with students as both limited and precious. The longer I’ve been at it, the more I am interested in my teaching being efficient and enjoyable. I’ve found using games and challenges like the ones described above to be one way to do both. If you have a game or challenge to which your students really respond, please share it in the comment section below!

scott_watsonDr. Scott Watson is a veteran music teacher (Parkland School District, Allentown, PA), an award-winning, frequently commissioned/published composer (Alfred Publishing, and others), and a highly regarded music technology specialist. To learn more about his music for band and orchestra at all levels, and other activities, visit www.scottwatsonmusic.com, or www.jwpepper.com. Watson’s widely-praised book, Using Technology to Unlock Musical Creativity (©2011, Oxford Univ. Press), reflects his interest in creative, tech-infused music learning. Contact Dr. Watson at drscottwatson@gmail.com.

SmartMusic Repertoire Released: 20 Ensemble Titles



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Last week we added 20 new ensemble titles to the growing collection of SmartMusic repertoire, including pieces for Concert Band, Jazz Ensemble, String Orchestra and Full Orchestra.

Title Comp/Arr Publisher Music Type Pepper Level
Just Swingin’ By Sherburne, Erik C.L. Barnhouse Jazz Ensemble ME
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing Standridge, Randall Grand Mesa Concert Band ME
Loyalty (March) Clark, Larry Carl Fischer Concert Band VE
Memories of Spring Hill Lee, Robert Carl Fischer Concert Band E
Triumph of the Argonauts Sheldon, Robert Alfred Concert Band M
Sticks Adderly, Julian; Kamuf, Mike Belwin Jazz Ensemble ME
Embraceable You Gershwin, George; Gershwin, Ira; Meader, Darmon Belwin Jazz Ensemble MA
Song from M*A*S*H Altman, Mike; Mandel, Johnny; Denton, John Belwin Jazz Ensemble M
Recorda me Henderson, Joe; Berg, Kris Belwin Jazz Ensemble MA
Cheep Tricks Berg, Kris Belwin Jazz Ensemble M
Burn Barrett, Roland Belwin Concert Band M
Silversword (‘Ahinahina o Maui) Strommen, Carl Belwin Concert Band ME
Quest for the Grail Mogensen, Michael TRN Full Orchestra M
Vivaldi’s Autumn Seasonings Vivaldi, Antonio; Monday, Deborah Baker Kjos String Orchestra VE
Olaf and the Elf Maiden (Olafur Liljuros) Folk Song; Newbold, Soon Hee FJH String Orchestra VE
Andante Cantabile Gounod, Charles; Moreno, Matthew Grand Mesa String Orchestra MA
Symphony No. 5 (1st Movement) Beethoven, Ludwig van; Rigg, Richard Highland/Etling Full Orchestra ME
Kilimanjaro Silva, Alan Lee Carl Fischer String Orchestra E
Coronation 1727 (Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened) Handel, George Frideric; Giardiniere, David Belvin String Orchestra M
Daydreams Sheldon, Robert Highland/Etling String Orchestra VE​​

You can request a piece for a future SmartMusic release here.

SmartMusic Funding Options



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Educators who are most successful in using SmartMusic with all their students typically share one thing in common: They buy SmartMusic for their kids. This approach ensures 100% implementation, and with all students using it regularly, SmartMusic becomes part of “how they do” band, orchestra or choir.

Perhaps you’re already convinced that SmartMusic would truly benefit your students, but don’t know where the money will come from. Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar?

  • Your school/music program has a large percentage of students on free or reduced lunch, therefore they can’t afford the cost of the yearly subscription
  • You think it will be hard to sell the idea of a yearly subscription to parents/administrators
  • You are reluctant to ask parents to pay
  • The school/music program does not have the funding to pay for an annual subscription fee

If you see your situation reflected on any of the statements above, I hope you see some potential solutions in one or more of the following SmartMusic funding options.

Option 1: Built-in Fees

The easiest solution is when parents can pay for the $40 yearly student home subscription. Some programs already have “fees” they charge at the beginning of the school year to cover program expenses that are otherwise not covered by the district/school budget. In these cases, the $40 subscription could be built into that fee.

Option 2: District and School Funds

Many schools and/or districts have technology departments for which funds may be available. Check with your local technology department and consider becoming a member of the technology committee to have a voice on what is purchased by your school/district.

Option 3: Fundraising

If fundraising is allowed at your school, this is another way to raise money to fund your purchase of SmartMusic subscriptions. There are multiple ways to fundraise which include traditional door-to-door sales of anything from candy to magazine subscriptions, to online fundraising including crowd-funding and donations.

MakeMusic, Inc. has partnered with CafeGive to provide teachers with an online fundraising platform that can be personalized. The platform comes with a website that allows the music program to raise funds towards the purchase of SmartMusic. Teachers and students can then leverage their social media contacts and the community to donate money online towards their cause. At the end of the fundraising period, CafeGive cuts a check to the school. Any money exceeding the original goal is kept by the music program. Learn more from this CafeGive page.

In the same spirit of crowdfunding, websites such as www.donorschoose.org  and www.gofundme.com  can help you raise the necessary funds to bring SmartMusic to all your students.

Option 4: Title I Grants

If you teach in a school where a large number of students are on free or reduced lunch, your school may qualify for Title I grants. You may want to check with your school administration to see if any of those funds could be available for purchasing technology for those students, or for school-wide programs that would benefit your music students. The Department of Education offers additional information on this page.

Option 5: Other Grants

Another option is to write a grant. There are multiple local, state and federal agencies as well as private foundations that have money available for educational grants. One initiative at the federal level that comes to mind is the President’s ConnectED initiative, unveiled in 2013, which “will provide high-speed Internet to every school in America, and will help to make affordable computers, tablets, software, and other digital resources widely available.” The 2016 fiscal year proposal includes a request of $200 million dollars for Educational Technology State Grants program that would “fund State subgrants to model districts to support teachers and leaders in using technology to improve instruction and personalize learning.” Learn more at http://tech.ed.gov/eett and/or download this letter to help you understand how to use federal grant funds that are part of the ConnectED initiative.

If you need some guidance in writing a grant proposal, these pages from the Minnesota Council of Foundations and Learner Associates are just two of the many sites that walk you through the process.

Other sources of grants available can be found in many places on-line including these pages from technologygrantnews.com, Calcasieu Parish Public Schools, grantgopher.com, and weareteachers.com.

Option 6: Awards

Here’s an example of another type of possibility you might find through a web search: “GRAMMY Signature School awards are given to high school music programs that are keeping music programs alive and well despite budgets and school politics.” In this case, these cash prizes can be as much as $10,000 per school, and to date approximately $800,000 in grants has been distributed to approximately 421 schools in almost all 50 states. Find additional information at GRAMMY Signature Schools.

I hope this list inspires you to explore some of the many options available.

Ready to get started with SmartMusic? Contact us for a free trial.

Attend a SmartMusic Workshop Near You



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No matter where you are in your SmartMusic journey, we’re ready to help.

This summer we’re conducting SmartMusic workshops all across the map. We’ll travel from Tacoma to Tampa, visiting dozens of stops along the way, to make sure there’s a workshop near you.

Are you just starting to introduce SmartMusic to your students, or ready to fully integrate it into your program? We offer two different sessions to ensure you get the information you need to inspire your students.

Interested? Find details, locations, and dates to fit your schedule here.

Have any questions? Please let us know by clicking on “Comments” below.

Meet Grammy Music Educator of the Year Jared Cassedy



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In February the Recording Academy and Grammy Foundation selected one music educator – from a pool of more than 7,000 nominees – for their 2015 Music Educator Award: Jared Cassedy, the director of bands at Windham High School in Windham, New Hampshire.

This was the latest of several accolades paid to Jared, who was named “Outstanding Young Band Director of the Year” by the New Hampshire Band Director’s Association in 2011, and was nominated for New Hampshire Teacher of the Year in 2014. Under his leadership the WHS Concert band has enjoyed remarkable success:

  • First place division gold medal, highest scoring ensemble, Outstanding Band of Festival Award, and Adjudicator’s Award at Heritage Festival: NYC (2012)
  • Highest concert band score at Festival of Gold: Chicago, Illinois (2013)
  • One of two high school concert bands selected to participate in the NAfME Eastern Division Conference in Hartford, CT (2013)
  • Performed in the National Band and Orchestra Festival at Carnegie Hall in NYC (2014)
  • Performed at the Music for All National Festival in Indianapolis, Indiana (2015)

Clearly directing such a high-performing ensemble necessitates an extremely busy schedule, so I’m very appreciative of the time Jared generously shared with our blog:

What inspired you to become a music educator? Was a particularly influential teacher or mentor part of this decision?

I think what inspired me to be a teacher was my family. I come from a big family of teachers – my siblings, my parents, grandparents, great grandparents. My parents wanted my older sisters, brother, and I to have a well-rounded education so they encouraged us to not only play sports and take part in other clubs and activities, but to also participate in music. We all were to take at least two years of piano lessons and then play a school band instrument. This really encouraged me to pursue music more in-depth.

When I got to high school my band director was extremely influential in my journey. He had such a positive and enthusiastic energy that really propelled me into thinking of music education as a career.

It’s clear you share that positive energy. Is there a secret – or guiding principle – behind your teaching philosophy?

It all comes down to remaining student-focused. I love teaching music, but I use it as my own vehicle for guiding and educating the entire child. The lessons and experiences they have in my classes will hopefully encourage them to find passion and excitement in whatever their own interests are.

In your CBS interview they mentioned you don’t believe in auditions. Can you talk about that?

Indeed, we are an all-inclusive band program. There are students that perform at exceedingly high levels – that have made it into state, regional, and national honor bands – along with students who have just picked up their instrument for the first time. Our program is rooted in the collaboration, sharing, and celebrating of music.

It’s not to say that I do not believe in auditions, but rather that we need to take into consideration each individual student’s raw talents and potential, and provide the support necessary to help to reach that next level of musicianship and achievement.

How has technology in the classroom impacted your teaching?

I consider myself a pretty tech-savvy person and believe that technology has an extremely positive role within our 21st century classroom environments. However, with that being said, trends change very rapidly and there isn’t a day that goes by without a new app or program that promises to change your classroom for the better.

The challenge is weeding through those programs and initiatives to find the resources that fit your program. It’s not a one-size-fits-all learning environment by any means. I do so appreciate that the technology we use can engage our students in an even more effective and efficient way.

How did you first hear about SmartMusic?

I’ve heard about SmartMusic since it was first being developed when I was in college. There were test modules that I knew other music teachers were working with.

When you first implemented SmartMusic, what were you hoping it would offer?

SmartMusic offers an interactive platform that encourages students to practice as well as provides a more meaningful context for practice sessions. I was looking for a way to engage students in their own musical development outside of the classroom. Before SmartMusic, we used practice logs, but they were becoming more and more ineffective.

I would also spend much time during the actual class time writing out exercises on the board and/or explaining them before actually playing them. Now with SmartMusic, we can assign these skills and students can work on them accordingly outside of class time.

Did SmartMusic immediately meet your expectations, or did it take a while?

I would say yes and no. It’s an outstanding practice tool, however, it does take a bit to make it a mainstream part of your curriculum. It’s just a bit of a paradigm shift.

Can you talk a little about this shift, in terms of what was difficult and what you found helped?

The shift occurred when I began considering what role this software application had in my daily teaching. Instead of writing things out myself, I continually had to remind myself that these tools were at my fingertips.

How does SmartMusic fit in your overall teaching style?

It allows me the flexibility to demonstrate certain skills and also for the students to work on specific skills in a more enriching and efficient way.

What do you like best about SmartMusic?

I like that the students can rehearse their music within the context of a full ensemble performing along with them. I also love the amount of exercises that are provided as resources. It holds the students more accountable and provides me the means to really take the time to analyze the progress of the students.

What do your students like best about SmartMusic?

I would say that it’s more engaging to practice than practicing their parts alone with no accompaniment.

What would you like to see improved in SmartMusic?

I love how SmartMusic has an array of exercises and activities. I wish there were even more applicable practice activities and skill building activities specific to the needs of the instrument the students plays. Sometimes we do an exercise, but it’s not adapted the best way for each instrument.

I also hope that the Grade Book can be updated in a way that it loads faster and without delay. It would be great if the program tracked the entire amount of time a student spent on an assignment, not just during a single practice session. Having the program assess and reflect dynamic and articulation markings would also be wonderful.

Finally, having writing capability or putting in specific notes on the music would benefit students as well. Students are always writing in notes to themselves, accidentals, etc. on their own music, but when they do the assignment on SmartMusic, they’re reading off of a clean screen.

What accomplishments are you the proudest of?

I’m most proud of the students and this program. We started off back in 2009 with a brand new high school and only 220 freshmen and sophomores. The band only had 46 students in it. [Today the band has 87 members.] Since then, we’ve worked together to develop a program that is firmly rooted in collaboration and the highest quality music experiences possible. Each and every day the students come to rehearsal and are completely committed to what their roles and responsibilities are within the band.

What is the best part of your day?

Point blank – my students; both in and outside of rehearsal! They are the most amazingly talented and intelligent individuals I have ever had the chance to work with and I feel so privileged to be given the opportunity to collaborate with them.

What do you want your students to remember you for?

I tell my students that when they are 50, 60, 70 years old – and I’m far gone – that I want them to be able to pick up their instrument and not only remember the fingerings for a scale or how to correctly articulate passages, but to remember the experiences they had in the program and (hopefully) how it helped to shape their journey in life on a grander scale. I want them to love the journey of music!

The passion and energy Jared devotes to enriching his students lives on a grander scale is inspiring: I’m glad to share it with you today. Thanks to Jared – and every music educator reading this – for putting our children first.

SmartMusic and Texas Proclamation 2015



Did you know that SmartMusic has been approved as instructional materials for music education as part of Texas Proclamation 2015?

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This may open up funding for you to get SmartMusic in your classroom. This PDF from the TEA has information about instructional materials submitted for music at the secondary school levels. You will be able to see the alignment between SmartMusic and the TEKS for each one of those materials. SmartMusic has a high percentage of alignment.

The September 2014 issue of Southwestern Musician included an article by TMEA executive director Robert Floyd titled The Time is Now. In it, Mr. Floyd states:

“I’m sure you are aware that, as a condition of accreditation, our new music TEKS must be implemented in the classroom beginning August 2015. However, the process by which your district can order those supporting materials has completely changed. You must get involved as the competition for dollars at the local level could negatively affect your access to instructional materials.”

I hope you find this information useful.

Interested in getting started with SmartMusic? Contact us for a free trial subscription.

The Value of SmartMusic to the Music Educator



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Today’s classroom music educators are incredibly busy. They arrive before school and stay after to plan, rehearse their ensembles and help their students individually. They might teach six out of eight class periods, and even travel between different schools. They need to be able to reach every student, hear them play, provide feedback and track their progress. Additionally, classroom teachers need to demonstrate to parents and administrators that students are learning, and concerts alone are no longer enough.

Today’s students are fast paced and easily distractible. They’re also digital natives: it is as though they were born using cell phones, video games and computers! Teachers in all academic areas are tasked with designing activities and providing tools that meet these students where they live – in a digital world – and engaging those students in new ways.

What technology can music teachers use that satisfies the students’ need for interactivity and feedback?

To many, the answer is SmartMusic.

“In this age of technology, the kids immediately respond to this program. They get immediate feedback where they can SEE what they played wrong and they can record and hear themselves. It frees up a lot of class time.”
- Kimberly Farrell, Choir/Orchestra director, Miller Middle School, Durango, CO

“Students are really excited about learning music when SmartMusic is involved. It is one of the most engaging, efficient, and versatile music teaching tools out there.”
- Asa Burk, Director of Bands, Cross Timbers Middle School, Grapevine, TX

Immediate Feedback, Individualized and Differentiated Instruction

SmartMusic is interactive music learning software that provides students with immediate visual and aural feedback. It allows students to listen to their performance and see the correct and incorrect rhythms and pitches onscreen. Students are also able to hear their part in context with SmartMusic’s professional accompaniment, giving them pitch and rhythmic references when practicing at home.

Educators send assignments to individual students based on each student’s strengths and weaknesses, and can better guide each student – after reviewing their submitted assignments – with the customized feedback needed to get better faster.

“SmartMusic has enabled my students to engage in their own individual practice sessions in a more meaningful way!  They are given a wealth of feedback and have a tremendous amount of resources just at the click of a button.”
- Jared Cassedy, 2015 Music Educator Grammy Award Winner, Director of Bands and Director of K-12 Fine Arts, Windham School District, Windham, NH.

“Parents have commented to me that their children have never practiced so much in their lives!”
- Carrie Provost, Orchestra Teacher, Franklin Middle School, Wheaton, IL

Student Home Practice

We know that practice outside of the classroom is integral to success, but without an educator present, it’s easy for students to practice incorrectly. In addition to the immediate feedback SmartMusic provides, educators can extend their reach into home practice, by sharing carefully chosen assignments with students, and responding with feedback when those assignments are submitted.

Effective practice requires that students break challenging passages apart, slow them down, repeat them many times, then speed up gradually. With SmartMusic, educators can guide this type of practice remotely.

Like a flipped classroom model, SmartMusic allows students to work on technical concepts necessary for performance outside of class, at their own pace, with support materials, and then do the “homework” in class with the teacher. When the students come to the classroom already knowing how to play the notes, this frees the teacher to focus on the finer aspects of performance, including interpretation, dynamics, and musicality.

Streamlined Teacher Workflow

With the click of a few buttons, teachers can schedule assignments from any piece of repertoire to any and all of their students. Once students complete and submit these assignments, they automatically appear in the teachers’ Gradebook. In the Gradebook teachers can SEE the rhythms and pitches the student played or sang correctly or incorrectly, and HEAR a recording of the corresponding performance. With this information, teachers can quickly discover each student’s strengths and weaknesses, facilitating their instructional response and direction.

“The SmartMusic Gradebook keeps the process organized and allows me the flexibility to weight my review of a student’s recorded performance vs. SmartMusic’s built-in assessment.”
- Brent Comeau, Director of Bands, Woodbury High School, Woodbury, MN

“The opportunity to hear my choral students sing individually is a very useful assessment tool. I am getting to know my singers strengths and needs so I can build a better program.”
- Tina Harris, Choral Director, St. Francis High School, Sacramento, CA

What’s more, the email feature inside of SmartMusic allows teachers to easily communicate with parents about their students’ progress.

Extensive Library of Titles

SmartMusic contains the world’s largest digital library of assessable third-party ensemble titles. This means that the pieces that educators want to program for concerts are often already in SmartMusic, and they report that students sound better and advance faster when they prepare their concert pieces using SmartMusic as a practice tool.

“My students who consistently use SmartMusic, progress much quicker and they are enjoying practicing and performing with SmartMusic.”
- David Hall, Band Director, Santa Fe Christian Schools, Solana Beach, CA

“I also use SmartMusic as an outstanding tool for collaborative learning while we meet as entire ensembles.  Whether this is through the use of rhythm exercises or practicing jazz improvisation, the program motivates the students to work as cohesive unit!”
- Jared Cassedy, 2015 Music Educator Grammy Award Winner, Director of Bands and Director of K-12 Fine Arts, Windham School District, Windham, NH.

Detailed Documentation

The SmartMusic Gradebook provides teachers with a detailed record of their students’ assignments and the amount of time each student spent practicing, providing objective data to back up their grades. (Teachers can even upload rubrics to make their grading criteria-specific and meet State Music Standards.) Educators can instantly display – to students, parents and administrators – which notes were played or sung correctly or incorrectly, and play corresponding student recordings. This non-subjective data makes it easy to chart student growth.

For musicians, nothing shows progress better than the concerts that take place throughout the school year. For administrators, however, it is really useful and valuable to see, in numbers, how a student has grown in the field of music over a certain period of time.

“It is worth the time, energy, money, or anything else that it may take to get your students involved in using SmartMusic.”
- Ben Jones, Band Director, Fort Johnson Middle School, Charleston, SC

SmartMusic Value

SmartMusic engages students, and helps them improve faster. It streamlines educators’ workflow and allows them to offer more individualized instruction.  Administrators and parents can better track student progress with the objective data SmartMusic provides.

Sometimes technology is embraced for technology’s sake. In the case of SmartMusic, the technology not only meets students in the digital realm where they live, but it also extends the reach of an educator in ways not possible before.

Meet Dr. Fenton Higgensbottom



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The question we are most often asked about SmartMusic is “When will it support the jaw harp?”

We at MakeMusic are keenly aware that the jaw harp has eclipsed even the Lur in popularity among conservatory-level instrumental performers. Our challenge has been to properly coax the SmartMusic technology to accurately assess the complex nature of the jaw harp’s unique timbre.

Today we’re proud to announce the tentative engagement of Dr. Fenton Higgensbottom as MakeMusic’s new Director of SmartMusic Jaw Harp Assessment. Dr. Higgensbottom and an as-yet-to-be-formed team will devote their undivided attention to a detailed analysis of the jaw harp, and the development of algorithms to track its complicated waveforms.

“Assessing the jaw harp, or the guimbarde as the French more eloquently refer to it, poses an interesting challenge,” Dr. Higgensbottom exclaimed at a press conference this morning. “I plan to form a team made up of fellow colleagues from the aerospace industry, as I believe missile tracking experience may prove extremely useful.”

“I personally have been a big fan of the jaw harp for some time,” added SmartMusic Product Manager Heath Mathews. “I really look forward to start working up the second movement of the Firebird Suite on my jaw harp. I only wish Stravinsky were alive to hear it.”

I encourage anyone with aerospace experience interested in a position on Dr. Higgensbottom’s team to contact him by clicking on “Comments” below.

Released: Method Book and 15 Ensemble Titles



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A new method book, Sound Innovations for Concert Band, Ensemble Development Advanced, has been released in SmartMusic, along with 15 additional ensemble titles:

Title Comp/Arr Publisher Music Type Pepper Level
Blue Tiger Morales, Erik FJH Music Company Jazz Ensemble MA
Brazos Apparitions Allen Fred J. TRN Music Publisher Inc Concert Band M
Crank It Up Broadbent, Patrick Brolga Music Jazz Ensemble VE
Dance of the Tumblers (from the opera “Snow Maiden”) Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai; Parrish, Todd Highland/Etling Publishing String Orchestra MA
Hard Bargain Tomaro, Mike Doug Beach Music Jazz Ensemble M
Honeydew Dude Levy, Jeremy FJH Music Company Jazz Ensemble MA
Into the Rapids Shaffer, David C.L. Barnhouse Co. Concert Band E
Inverno (Scenes from Vivaldi’s Winter) Vivaldi, Antonio; Parrish, Todd Wingert-Jones Publications, a division of J.W. Pepper. String Orchestra M
Johnny Come Lately Strayhorn, Billy; Morales, Erik Belwin Jazz Ensemble M
Millipede Madness Bernofsky, Lauren FJH Music Company String Orchestra VE
Prelude and Firestorm Barret, Roland Alfred Publishing Co., Inc Concert Band E
Shepherd’s Hey English Folk Song; Meredith, James Carl Fischer LLC. String Orchestra VE
Unleashed! Spears, Jared Daehn Publications Concert Band M
Zululand Mixon, Kevin Carl Fischer LLC. Concert Band VE
Zuma Breakers Spata, Doug Highland/Etling Publishing String Orchestra VE

You can request a piece for a future SmartMusic release here.

Meet Product Manager Heath Mathews



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Back in December, CEO Gear Fisher introduced himself and the new MakeMusic leadership team on this blog. Today it’s my pleasure to announce another vital member of the team, our new SmartMusic Product Manager, Heath Mathews.

In addition to his new role at MakeMusic, Heath is also an active composer, currently completing two commissions from arts organizations and working on a recording project.

While Heath and I have worked together at MakeMusic for over seven years, I learned several new things about him in our brief interview: Clearly I need to get out of my chair more often.

What is your musical background?

I grew up in a musical household, where participation in family musical events was expected, and involvement in school music programs was strongly encouraged. Music was always a natural part of our lives.

I played trombone through elementary school and into college. While an undergraduate in college, I changed my primary instrument to guitar and considered a degree in guitar performance, but ultimately completed my undergraduate degree in composition and went on to finish an M.A. and Ph.D. in music composition.

As a graduate student, I taught several music courses, ranging from music theory and ear training to rock history. While I was working on my dissertation, I also began to teach online as an adjunct professor. I have continued to teach online for the past 8 years.

When did you join MakeMusic?

I joined MakeMusic in 2007 as a music production engineer, where I contributed to the development of SmartMusic content. My background in band and composition were very helpful in this role, where I enjoyed exploring the repertoire available for the education market and began to understand the complexities of the publishing world.

What are you working on now at MakeMusic?

We’re working to better integrate the different parts of SmartMusic development and make sure that all aspects of our team are working together as efficiently as possible. I gather feedback from the field and help direct the application development. What helps make this work is that the environment is particularly collaborative. From the veteran teachers on our Education Services team to the brilliant young developers on our engineering team, we all have the same goals in mind and are working in the same direction.

What personal experiences do you bring to SmartMusic development?

Being actively involved in online teaching helps me to see where LMS (learning management system) development is headed and how technology is being implemented to assist educators. Setting up my own classes and assignments in other systems helps to inform decisions we make in our development process. Additionally, the daily running of a class helps to identify specific problem points for educators, such as forgotten passwords or the length of time required to set up an assignment.

Similarly, keeping active as a musician is an important part of working on an application like SmartMusic. My compositions continue to be performed by a wide range of musicians from a variety of backgrounds (classical, jazz, pop, etc.). Working with diverse groups of musicians helps to identify different learning and performance strategies. These strategies, in turn, help to shape a range of pedagogical approaches in SmartMusic.

Another personal experience I draw on is seeing SmartMusic in action at home. My children take private music lessons and participate in school music programs, and SmartMusic is part of how they practice at home. Seeing the assignment loop from this perspective is helpful in the identification of issues that arise for students and parents in the home.

What is your vision for the future of SmartMusic?

One of the near-term goals for SmartMusic is to remove points of friction for educators. As an educator, I see the value in technology as an important tool, but I can also see how technology can sometimes get in the way. Part of my vision for SmartMusic is for the application to be more user-friendly while offering the repertoire and content educators need. I would like for SmartMusic to be an essential teaching tool for educators that never gets in the way.

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