Saturday, April 24, 2010

Novelty vs. Utility vs. Reality pt.5

Utility – SmartMusic

SmartMusc is a great piece of software capable of so many things.  I’m currently only taking advantage of a few of the things is can do, but nothing else out there can do what this software does.  It plays accompaniment files while displaying the music on the screen and scrolling the display to keep up.  It will also listen to the performer and adjust playback to match.  This is adjustable so I can set how strictly my students need to follow. 

This is tremendously useful for me, as my own piano accompaniment skills end about halfway through book 1.  Smart Music allows me to hear my students with the piano accompaniment and even create graduation recordings with the proper accompaniment without the need to hire an accompanist and set aside a special day to record.  Recordings with accompaniment can now be done in the lessons. 

It’s only $30 for a year subscription, which allows you do download all the music you want from their library.  I have all the Suzuki violin and viola books, in addition to some neat little song books I picked up along the way for fun.  It allows you to create playlists, so i have a playlist for each review day to make going through the review lists easy and much more fun.  Sadly, the assessment feature doesn’t work in the Suzuki repertoire.  I can understand why the Suzuki association chose to leave that out, but there are times it would be nice to have. 

It will do assessments on all the songbooks.  It listens to the performer and then goes back and turns all the notes you got right green and drops red notes where it heard extra or wrong notes.  It’s a neat visual feedback and can turn practice time into a video game.  I’ve used a few times in lessons.  Most students think it’s neat, but none have ever asked about doing more.  I think it’s more a novelty that an actual useful tool.  Perhaps if I set up a system where they had to work their way through a particular set, or replaced the reading book with using the songbooks here.  Most students just really enjoy the pieces they are already playing and don’t feel much of a need to play around with the more simple pieces in the assessable books.  They also know when they’re playing it right or wrong and don’t seem to be particularly motivated by little green or red notes.  It’s too bad, as it seems like such a neat idea in theory, but it’s never really taken off in practice, at least not for me.

While the assessment feature is not as useful as I would have thought or hoped, the ability to provide piano accompaniments to more advance Suzuki repertoire is huge.  Even if I had another device to consolidate a PDF library of my music, I would still need to bring the laptop in for Smart Music accompaniments on occasion.  Finding a tablet that could run SmartMusic would really be ideal, but this is not a lightweight piece of software.  It won’t run on the Atom processor that powers most netbooks and tablets, at least not under Windows.  My hackintoshed HP mini 311 handles it just fine in OSX.  I’m not sure whether to blame that on Windows for being crappy, or MakeMusic for writing bloated software. Heavy duty recording stuff (logic, pro-tools) used to run on less.   Either way, the only way to run it on a slate would be to try something like the Havnon slate with it’s CULV processor, or find a tablet that can be hackintoshed. 

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