While SmartMusic’s ability to accompany your students — and assess them — is extremely powerful, there is a limit to this power: Software can’t go beyond the intersection of microphones and math. That’s where you come in.
Measuring the accuracy of your students’ rhythm and pitch is SmartMusic’s strong suit. On the other hand, tone, phrasing, and precise intonation are currently beyond its grasp.
In my experience, tone is subjective. I’ve played with a dark, vibrato-less tone in some concert bands and brass quintets, to grisly loud in screamer lead trumpet bands. Either sound would be wildly inappropriate in the other context. While we might agree on some basics, even with a baseline a computer is in a poor position to make this judgment.
Phrasing is similarly difficult for a computer to rate. I think most people consider phrasing part of their interpretation as it is rarely bound into the score. Phrasing is dependent on context, too — you might pause and breathe differently when playing a 3rd clarinet part in a large group than in a one-on-one session.
While SmartMusic clearly knows the difference between C and C#, and its pitch recognition seems to improve with every new version, the ability to detect a few cents worth of intonation variation — on every 16th note that whizzes by — remains elusive.
What is the solution for these “shortcomings?”
By checking “Recording Required” when you give assignments from the SmartMusic Gradebook you get the opportunity to listen, review, and assess those things the software can’t comprehend.
Tone, phrasing, and intonation are not the only limits to SmartMusic, either. Despite all the things SmartMusic has heard over the years, it can’t talk about them. It will never share stories of studying the saxophone with Eugene Rousseau, or of adding antifreeze to valve oil while marching in Minnesota in December.
It’s important to not overlook the most important component of the complete SmartMusic system — your experience!