Teacher Tip: An Activity Tracker for Vocalists

Mary-Hannah Klontz, choral teacher at Swanson Middle School in Arlington, VA, and doctoral candidate at George Mason University, shares why she uses SmartMusic and Finale in her teaching.

Today’s technology trend is “wearables;” digital devices that are worn like jewelry or glasses. An example is the FitBit® which provides instant feedback about daily activity such as steps taken, active minutes spent, calories burned and quality of sleep. Although there is no such wearable device for musicians that I am aware of, SmartMusic can provide this kind of immediate feedback. In addition, you can create your own SmartMusic files with Finale. Both of these software programs can work in tandem to provide singers with a way to gain immediate feedback on their performance.

I use SmartMusic at Swanson Middle School in Arlington, Virginia and with my community chorus, The Chamber Chorale of Fredericksburg. I also used it in my doctoral lecture recital for George Mason University where I prepared SmartMusic files for Schoenberg’s De Profundis, a twelve-tone a cappella work. One of the Schoenberg singers said, “SmartMusic is like Rosetta Stone for 12-Tone.” Another said, “It lets an average singer like me sing with the pros.”

De Profundis

Vocal Repertoire

The repertoire library for vocalists allows singers to work on fundamental skills at home. Several Sight Singing method books, vocalises (including Building Beautiful Voices) and an extensive solo accompaniment collection are in the library. Since it is relatively simple to create a SmartMusic score from a Finale score, I use the Choral Public Domain Library where thousands of choral works are freely available in Finale format (.MUS) as well as other formats that Finale can open. This is a tremendous advantage, as I don’t have to input the notes myself. Because several of my groups meet by gender, but perform together as an SATB chorus, singers can hear the full chorus as the accompaniment in SmartMusic.

Assessment and Feedback

SmartMusic has many unique features that are valuable to vocalists. It assesses pitch and rhythm, showing the assessment immediately on the screen. The assessment shows red or green notes for incorrect and correct performance as well as a percentage score and an MP3 recording of the take. It is very powerful when singers discover that they have been singing the melody instead of their part. Even though they’ve heard that from me in rehearsal, seeing the red notes on the screen in the shape of the melody brings that home in a whole new way.

By clicking on the notes, one sees the pitch name and hears the tone. If an incorrect note has been sung, a singer can compare the note that should have been sung to the one that was actually sung. Singers can also make choices about the level of support they need; opting to hear the accompaniment only, voice part only or no support at all other than the starting pitch and tempo.

Red Assessment 

Black assessment

SmartMusic Gradebook

As a teacher, I can’t emphasize enough how valuable and convenient it is to log in to my SmartMusic Gradebook and listen to each individual singer in my program.

Singers not only work on the SmartMusic files at home or school, they submit the assessments and recordings to me through the SmartMusic Gradebook. I can listen at my “leisure” to provide individual feedback and better understand the needs of the singers as I contemplate rehearsal strategies. One note of caution is that singers need to know that the computer’s score is only part of the grade that I give them. I listen to each singer….yes, each one… and then provide my part of the grade and my feedback. I can change the computer’s score if I wish to account for microphone interference or crying babies in the background.

“SmartMusic has literally opened the eyes and ears of my singers.”

For my middle school singers, SmartMusic gives them a new way to understand their voice. For those who are still struggling to find correct pitches, especially my boys going through a voice change, they can see whether they sang too high or too low and try as many times as they wish to get more on target; all in the privacy of their own home or in my room after hours. Listening immediately to the recording they made while seeing their notes on screen is really valuable. After seeing their results, I can tailor individual assignments to help students sight-sing at the appropriate level of difficulty and set parameters of the assignment such as key and tempo. My gifted students love to explore the vocal library, challenging themselves to sing more music than we can accomplish in class. They also enjoy composing their own music using the free Finale Notepad.

Audition preparation

All my singers prepared their Honors Chorus auditions through SmartMusic. They got the “judge’s” score right away, so that subsequent recordings and live auditions improved dramatically making them more competitive. I also use SmartMusic for auditions for solos in our own programs. This gives me another impartial “judge” in the process and helps me understand who has the drive to do the extra work needed for this kind of opportunity.

Creative use

Some of my most confident singers learn a second part to sing. Last year we all learned to sing the Star Spangled Banner in unison. Recently I assigned the Star Spangled Banner and asked all my 8th grade sopranos to learn the new alto part. This strengthened their ability to read music and made it easy to perform in small groups at our basketball games because my 8th graders could sing switch parts depending on who came to sing. With only one practice on the alto part in class, the students were singing confidently in two parts!

Directors who are interested in finding out more about using SmartMusic in the choral setting may contact me at [email protected]

Mary Photo DEvon Cass3075 copyMary-Hannah Klontz is Musical Director of the Swanson Middle School Choral Program (Arlington, VA) and the Chamber Chorale of Fredericksburg (VA). She is a candidate for a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Choral Conducting from George Mason University. Ensembles under her direction have received numerous honors and have been invited to perform at the Virginia Music Educators Conference, The White House, The National Cathedral and The Millennium Stage of the Kennedy Center. Ms. Klontz currently serves as Community Choir Repertoire and Standards Chair for the Virginia chapter of the American Choral Directors’ Association and is a Creative Motion Master Teacher on the faculty of the annual Windswept Summer Music Conference. Mary-Hannah resides in Arlington with her husband, Paul Klontz, a member of the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets and their daughters, McKenna and Kyra.

 

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