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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 access 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


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.

Have any questions for Heath? Please share them with us by clicking on “Comments” below.

Want to join Heath and I at MakeMusic? Check out our Careers Page.

SmartMusic Update March 2015


On Tuesday, March 17, we plan to release a SmartMusic update that includes two new features.

Sticky Settings

The first is something we call “Sticky Settings,” which refers to preferences you configure in SmartMusic. With the update installed, many settings will be retained when you switch between different titles within exercises and methods. These settings include Click, My Part, Cursor, Accompaniment, Voice CountOff, Click: Accent Downbeats, Click: Play Subdivisions, and CountOff.

Now when you begin a method book, and set up the first exercise the way you like, your settings will be retained in all subsequent exercises, too.

Improve SmartMusic

The second new feature is a means for you to help us to make SmartMusic better in ways that benefit you. After installing the update you will be asked whether you want to submit anonymous usage data to MakeMusic. This data will be used to help improve future versions of SmartMusic; no personally-identifiable information is ever collected.

Should you change your mind about sharing this data at any time, you can change this setting at Help > Setup.

To ensure you receive this and future SmartMusic updates, go to Help > Check for Updates… and confirm that “Automatically download and apply updates” is checked.

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

More SmartMusic Practice Tools for Jazz

Last fall I shared a Practice Tools for Jazz blog post that served as an introduction to the jazz patterns and improvisation exercises included in SmartMusic. Today I’ll follow-up with some tips on how to find and use SmartMusic’s jazz-themed method books, jazz band charts, and imported MP3 files.

Method Books

To get started, go to the SmartMusic “FIND MUSIC” page and open the “Method Books” category.


In the Methods window, click on the “Jazz Ensemble” tab  to see the following Jazz Ensemble method books:

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Each of these books offers great tools to develop jazz improvisation and jazz ensemble playing skills:

  • “Developing the Language of Jazz” features several ear training exercises, call and response and basic riffs.
  • “Essential Elements for Jazz Ensemble” has several “workouts” for Swing, Blues, Latin, scales and more.
  • “First Place for Jazz” features several ear training and call and response exercises as well as lead sheets.
  • “Standard of Excellence Jazz Ensemble” features warm ups as well as rhythm studies and improvisation studies based on jazz band charts.

Full Jazz Ensemble Charts with Audio Accompaniment

Today SmartMusic includes more than 400 jazz band charts that include MP3 audio accompaniment and pre-defined assignments. To find them, click on FIND MUSIC, select “Concert and Jazz Band…” and specify “Jazz Ensemble.” The degree of difficulty indicated for these arrangements is based on the JW Pepper® skill levels.

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For an example of what this repertoire looks like, the following is an alto sax part for “Hunting Wabbits” as recorded by Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band.

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This piece includes the following features:

  • Performers can slow down the tempo of the MP3 accompaniment and practice at a slower tempo.
  • The blue hyperlink at the top of the chart links to a video of Gordon Goodwin and Wayne Bergeron talking about how the band puts their own musical “stamp” on this performance.
  • And of course, each part has “red & green” assessment features.

Importing MP3 Files

Another powerful feature in SmartMusic is the ability to import any MP3 audio file for practice or to be shared as an assignment. To import an MP3:

  • Click “MP3 Audio Files” on the left side of your screen
  • Click the IMPORT button, then select your MP3 and click OPEN


Here’s what the result looks like in SmartMusic:

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With imported MP3 files you can:

  • Change the key of the recording by half steps
  • Change the tempo of the recording with hihg-quality time stretching
  • Loop any portion of your recording
  • Send out the recording with your parameters as assignments for students.

In addition to importing MP3s, any content created in Finale can easily be exported as a SmartMusic file. SmartMusic files created in Finale have all of the same characteristics as files that come pre-loaded in SmartMusic.

SmartMusic has many great features for the developing or advanced jazz student. I urge you to explore them. Have any questions? Please let us know by clicking on “Comments” below.

Grammy Music Educator of the Year Jared Cassedy

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This year, for the second time ever, the Recording Academy and Grammy Foundation recognized a music educator for outstanding contribution to music in the classroom. This year’s recipient is band director Jared Cassedy from Windham High School in Windham, New Hampshire.

In watching the CBS interview I was first tickled to see SmartMusic projected on the wall of Mr. Cassedy’s band room, but was soon caught up in the drama of the well-executed piece, and reminded, yet again, of the awesome influence a great teacher can provide. I especially liked the humility with which Mr. Cassedy responded to the question of how he felt about being nominated for a Grammy:

“I was taken aback. It’s a wonderful recognition. I see it more as a recognition of the students.”

On behalf of everyone at MakeMusic, I’d like to extend our congratulations and thanks to Mr. Cassedy as well as the other finalists recognized here.

SBO Names SmartMusic “Best Student Reward Incentive”

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Boulder, CO – January 25, 2015 – MakeMusic’s SmartMusic software was named “Best Student Reward Incentive” by School Band & Orchestra magazine at the 2015 NAMM music industry trade show in Anaheim, CA. The award was part of SBO’s Best Tools for Schools presentation at the NAMM Idea Center.

Pictured left to right above are Sonia Bertek (MakeMusic director of marketing), Mike Lawson (SBO executive director), and Giovanna Cruz (MakeMusic education services specialist)

“Given that SmartMusic for the iPad won SBO’s Best Concert Band/Orchestra Teaching Tool last year, we were very pleasantly surprised to learn that SmartMusic was recognized again this year,” said Sonia Bertek, MakeMusic’s director of marketing. “Upon reflection, however, we’re honored that the judges perceive the success that SmartMusic offers as the best incentive – and reward – a student can receive. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.”

30 Ensemble Titles Released in SmartMusic

30 new ensemble titles have been released in SmartMusic. This release includes titles for Concert Band, Jazz Ensemble, and String Orchestra.

Title Comp/Arr Publisher Music Type Pepper Level
Cattin’ Latin Martin, David LudwigMasters Concert Band VE
Cotton-Eyed Joe Traditional; Sharp, Chris FJH Music Company Concert Band ME
Doppler Effect O’Loughlin, Sean Carl Fischer Concert Band E
Ethos Clark, Larry Carl Fischer Concert Band VE
Finale from the New World Dvorak, Antonin; Roszell, Patrick Belwin Concert Band E
God’s Country Galante, Rossano Alfred Concert Band MA
Hebrew Medley (Hatikvah and Artsa Alinu) Bobrowitz, David Grand Mesa Concert Band ME
IronHeart Standridge, Randall D. Alfred Concert Band E
Ruckus Standridge, Randall D. Grand Mesa Concert Band ME
Skyburst O’Loughlin, Sean Carl Fischer Concert Band VE
Slavic Celebration Calhoun, Bill Carl Fischer Concert Band E
Song of the Mountain Horn: Music of Bela Bartok LaPlante, Pierre Daehn Publications Concert Band M
Big Clifty Breakdown Fraley, Ryan FJH Music Company Jazz Ensemble ME
Chili Today, Hot Tamale Hirsch, Rick Belwin Jazz Ensemble M
Comfort and Joy Traditional; Hirsch, Rick Belwin Jazz Ensemble M
Five Note Blues, The Beach, Doug; Shutack, George Doug Beach Music Jazz Ensemble VE
Whirly Bird Hefti, Neal; Blair, Peter Belwin Jazz Ensemble ME
Ablaze Bernotas, Chris M. Highland/Etling Publishing String Orchestra ME
Angels in Royal David’s City Gruselle, Carrie Lane FJH Music Company String Orchestra VE
Assemble the Minions! Bishop, Jeffrey S. Wingert-Jones String Orchestra ME
Attila Owens, William FJH Music Company String Orchestra VE
Boreas (The Cold, North Wind) Parrish, Todd Highland/Etling Publishing String Orchestra ME
Dance of the Comedians (From the Opera “The Bartered Bride”) Smetana, Bedrich; Bergonzi, Louis Alfred String Orchestra M
Fire in the Forge Allen, Ted Grand Mesa String Orchestra M
Jazzed-Up & High-Strung Holmes, Brian Wingert-Jones String Orchestra M
Keystone Silva, Alan Lee Carl Fischer String Orchestra MA
Nocturne (From String Quartet No. 2) Borodin, Alexander; Dabczynski, Andrew H. Highland/Etling Publishing String Orchestra M
Silent Echo, A Sweet, George Carl Fischer String Orchestra E
Symphony No. 1 (Movement I) Beethoven, Ludwig van; Hans, Christina Highland/Etling Publishing String Orchestra E
Yo Ho Ho! (We’re a Fiddlin’ Crew) Gruselle, Carrie Lane FJH Music Company String Orchestra VE

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

MakeMusic and NAMM 2015

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Do you know the feeling of putting everything you’ve got into preparations for a recital or concert? That’s what the NAMM Show is to folks who make musical instruments, software, and accessories. Each January around 100,000 people from around the world wind up in a convention center in Anaheim, California to be the first to see the latest products and services created for musicians.

This year the show runs January 22- 25, and we’ll be there sharing the latest in SmartMusic and MakeMusic news.

If you plan to attend, please stop by and say hello at the MakeMusic booth, #6210. If you’re not attending, we’ll share some highlights with you via Facebook and Twitter.

Have a guitar manufacturer you’d like me to check out? Let me know by clicking on “Comments” below.

Technology Tools to Help Orchestra Students Develop Critical Thinking Skills

The January 2015 issue of School, Band and Orchestra features an article by MakeMusic education services specialist Giovanna Cruz. View the article in context here by navigating to pages 26-28, or read the text below.

When I was a student, my teachers always stressed the importance of listening to myself in order to improve. I will admit that the thought of it wasn’t always pleasant, but once I got over the initial shock of listening to myself, I realized that recording oneself (or one’s group) is one of the best tools available for learning. Now, how do we do the same with our students? How do we teach them the critical thinking skills that go along with listening to themselves and making adjustments? As an orchestra teacher for 6 years in Austin, TX and to more than 120 students, I used a variety of approaches to prepare our pieces for concerts. My approach ranged from sectionals, string and full orchestra rehearsals, master classes, professional recordings, and lots of repetition with the graduated use the metronome, to incorporating recording technology during rehearsal and computer-based practice aids for home practice.

We all know that having students collaborate and use critical thinking skills is an important part of the learning process. Students in the music classroom already collaborate when they play together and have to fit their part into the whole. But do they know what they are doing? Do they think about their learning and their performance? Do they know how to fix their mistakes and can they verbally identify the issues? Can they provide each other with meaningful, constructive criticism? Students are already surrounded by technology. How can we best leverage that environment which is now native to them? Trying to find an answer to all those questions I started recording my students, using SmartMusic, Googledocs and

First I started using SmartMusic to help me select the pieces of repertoire that I would include in my concerts. The software’s vast library of titles was a starting point for my programming needs. Why SmartMusic? Because its assessment technology and the ability to provide immediate feedback in visual (green and red notes) and aural form (recording), coupled with the ability of the teacher to give individualized comments to the students, allowed me to reach more students in less time and also to truly track their learning and progress. No longer could a student hide in the back of the second violin section. All of a sudden, I could hear ALL students and address issues at the next rehearsal. Students started to come to rehearsal more prepared and I could truly guide their practice at home by setting the parameters of the assignments that I sent them. Also, every “take” the students did while practicing, was recorded. They could go back and listen to every take and make their own adjustments.

Then, I started recording rehearsals and concerts. I did this two different ways: I had bought a Roland R-05 digital recorder to capture my students’ performances. That device, coupled with a cube speaker right at the front of my classroom and an 8th inch cable, were all I needed to play back the recording. I also started using the computer to record them. SmartMusic has a built in digital recorder. I could just place the computer at the front of the room and record every rehearsal.

After every concert, my students were always eager to listen to their performance. I would play back the recording and then ask them to give verbal feedback. Typically, the most verbal students would talk and the quiet ones would remain to themselves. So I decided to turn the tables and make the activity much more interactive by incorporating technology the next time we had a concert.

Our next concert took place about two weeks before going to the state contest (for those readers in TX, that was UIL Concert and Sight Reading). It was a sort of pre-contest run, to see how we were doing, what we still needed to work on, and also to give the parents of the students an opportunity to listen to their kids’ work. The activity I developed required that all students participate in a public online forum that would be displayed on a screen at the front of the classroom while listening to the recording of their concert. The tools used for this activity were 1) the SmartMusic digital recorder and 2) the browser available on the students’ smartphones to access the online sharing wall found at Those students who did not have a smartphone could use the teacher’s computer.

I recorded the concert using the SmartMusic digital recorder and then played it back for the students to listen to the next day. While they were listening, students were asked to follow their individual parts and take notes about what they heard. Then students were to post their comments on, an online wall that was displayed on the screen at the front of the room. The   activity would engage the students in listening to their pre-contest performance while providing insight into the work that remained ahead. The requirements were:

  • Students were to use their name and the first initial of their last name. This would keep them accountable to one another
  • The students had to list the title of the piece they were commenting on, next to their name
  • Students were to post 3 comments per piece and three pieces were performed in the concert
  • The language of each comment had to be positive and respectful, even when commenting on a negative aspect of the performance.

The first thing that happened when I announced that was the activity of the day, was that the students got excited to be able to use their cellphones in class! Everyone pulled their device, went to their browser and pulled the pre-defined wall I had created at

With this format, even those students who didn’t feel like speaking up, had their opinions heard, as they could still participate by typing their impressions, thoughts and analysis of the performance. Each student could see the comments that their peers had made not only on their own device as they were typing, but also on the big screen, where I was projecting the padlet wall.

Once everyone was done listening to the recording and posting their comments, we read them aloud and solicited additional information from students when their comments needed clarification. At the very end, I exported all the comments as a PDF and emailed them to my students and their parents, asking the students to use the comments as guidance for practicing for the contest. All their pieces were in the SmartMusic library and now they not only had my feedback and their own comments, but also those of their peers. That was great collaboration!

After listening to a performance, students can post their comments via the Padlet app.

This activity could be taken one step further by using Response Assignments within the SmartMusic gradebook. The teacher could attach the PDF that was created with everyone’s comments and ask the students via a Response Assignment to 1) synthesize the information and create a document that contained the top three issues in each piece 2) develop a plan for addressing those issues as a group and 3) develop a plan to address the issues individually. The students would then attach a document with the answers to the response assignment. Though a little time intensive, this activity would deepen the knowledge and critical thinking skills of the students as well as give ownership of the process of improvement.

With this activity, not only did the students work on their critical listening and thinking skills, but also on collaboration, a very coveted skill for 21st century learners. The activity also addresses the Creating, Responding and Connecting strands of the National Core Art Music Standards as well as state-specific standards, not only in music, but also in the use of technology in education.

I hope this article inspires you to use technology in new and creative ways in your orchestra classroom.

with cello 2[4]Giovanna Cruz is a cellist and educator with extensive experience as an orchestral and chamber musician, college and private studio teacher, and public school teacher. Giovanna spent the last six years as Orchestra Director at James Bowie High School, in the Austin Independent School District, where she taught more than 120 annually in four orchestras. Her varsity group earned sweepstakes at UIL Concert and Sight-Reading contest in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014 and performed in festivals across the country, namely in Corpus Christi and Richmond, VA. Her other groups earned excellent ratings at the same competitions. Giovanna holds the degrees of Bachelor of Education from the Universidad Metropolitana in Caracas, Venezuela, and Master and Doctor of Musical Arts in cello performance from the University of Iowa. She currently works as education services specialist at MakeMusic Inc., the manufacturer of Finale, and SmartMusic software.