Developing Independent Playing with SmartMusic

We all want our students to play independently. When I speak with teachers who haven’t used SmartMusic, they often wonder if SmartMusic practice will result in students who depend on SmartMusic’s accompaniments.

It’s time for me to confess: I had this same question when I first started using SmartMusic!

As I have mentioned before, the answer depends on how SmartMusic is being used. We can all know that a metronome can be helpful in practice and still recognize that it is a means to an end and not the end in itself. Let’s look at a few ways in which SmartMusic can be used in much the same way as the metronome.

Have you ever had a student tell you in class that they did not want to play something you wanted them to? The following activities focus on helping students of any age be more comfortable performing solo in a group setting.

Having an LCD projector and speakers connected to your classroom computer can enhance the classroom experience when doing these activities: The entire class is engaged by hearing and seeing, which can offer more teaching moments.

Encourage independent playing in class

Like me, I’m sure you’ve had students play by themselves in class. We also know that some students embrace this while others would rather walk on fire. Using the accompaniments in SmartMusic, whether from a method book or large group ensemble title, can help students feel more confident because they are not playing by themselves (although they actually are).

After students gain confidence, you might prefer for your students to only play with a click track and SmartMusic gives you that option as well. My experience is that once students have success performing in front of the group, subsequent performances come more easily – regardless of whether there’s accompaniment or not.

Solo Friday

I created Solo Friday as an extension of the above activity. I introduced it as a fun activity we could all look forward to at the end of the week, but it also produced tangible benefits. While we’d try to do this every Friday, sometimes other plans took precedence.

I began Solo Friday during the students’ first month with their instruments. Students were allowed to play anything in SmartMusic (including SmartMusic files I created). In the beginning, student selections were limited to things we were working on in class. But before long, they were selecting lines from pages we hadn’t gotten to yet! Some students even chose lines from the other method books in SmartMusic!

One day, one of the percussionists came in early Friday morning to ask me if he could play a specific solo for class on the bells. When he told the name of the piece it didn’t sound familiar. When I asked what book and page it was on, he explained that it was one of the band pieces in SmartMusic. To say I was surprised would be quite an understatement! Soon after, other students were also performing band pieces for Solo Friday.

The idea of students inspiring each other to seek out new pieces and to base their decisions by listening to performances by professional musicians is pretty exciting!

Next week: a recital where everyone plays a solo AND has fun doing it!

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