SmartMusic and Differentiated Instruction

SmartMusic and Differentiated Instruction

You’ve heard us say that SmartMusic is great for differentiated instruction. But what does that mean exactly? In this article, we’ll share some specific ways SmartMusic can help you meet the needs of every student.


First, let’s talk about assessment.

Formative assessment is a term used to describe the techniques that teachers use to conduct in-process evaluation of the progress students are making. Testing at the beginning and end of anything is called summative assessment. Testing in the middle is formative. Summative assessment looks at a snapshot in time. Formative assessment looks at multiple points in the line during the learning process.

SmartMusic makes it easy to create formative assessments. You can pre-test students’ skills before attempting a new piece (perhaps by having them run scales at tempo, or by having them sight read difficult rhythms), and track student progress while working on those same concepts in concert repertoire.

Student needs can also be monitored because you have access to the recordings that students submit for each assignment. You can reassign exercises that need more work, and offer personalized feedback to each student on each assignment during the gradebook process. Giving each student individualized feedback not only shows that you’re engaged with their learning, but will help them make faster progress.

It’s also easy to add supplemental assignments (and weight them appropriately to your grading scale) so that students who are struggling can get extra practice with a concept. Because there’s no limit to the number of assignments you can create, you can scaffold concepts so that students approach them through method book exercises, etudes, and concert repertoire. If your favorite exercise isn’t in the SmartMusic library, upload and assign it!

Rather than framing these supplemental assignments as remediation or “extra work,” differentiated instruction makes it clear that each students is getting what they need to succeed.

You can also create clear, consistent rubric criteria so that students understand how they are being evaluated. The more consistently you use rubrics, the more they become part of the fabric of your teaching. Eventually, students will stop looking at every assessment as just a grade.

Data-Driven Decisions

Because formative assessment tracks student progress during the learning process, it provides you with data that can help you to differentiate your instruction. For example, it can help you identify that your trombones can’t slur, or your flues can’t play quietly. Armed with this information, the problem is no longer “my band can’t play slow, pretty pieces.” Instead, you’ve identified two groups of students who need to work on specific things.

Of course, few teachers have time to create individualized assignments for every student. SmartMusic helps by letting you assign different pieces to different groups of kids. Students that need to work on dynamics or articulations, for example, can be given an assignment for that purpose.


Another key differentiated instruction strategy is grouping students in ways that help them get what they need. Instead of only grouping students by instrument, group students by ability level and give them different assignment parameters.

Playing tuba should not doom a student with an excellent ear to a life of quarter notes! Instead, pair that tubist with a saxophone player and assign them a lyrical etude or technical study that challenges both of them. This “compacting” approach can sometimes feel like more work, so assigning fun solo content can keep advanced students engaged (instead of feeling burdened).

Students can also group themselves. Assign multiple pieces to the entire ensemble in SmartMusic, and let students choose one. Each group can perform for their peers in class, and because these are assignments in SmartMusic, you’ll get to hear that each student was practicing their part.

Over to You

You can get started using these differentiated instruction strategies in SmartMusic today. Try it for free

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