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Karen Allendoerfer

Smart Music

September 18, 2007 at 3:06 PM

While I'd like to think that what I do musically is always smart, the above is the name of some educational software being implemented in my daughter's elementary school music program.

This year, third graders have a choice of playing violin, viola, or cello. My daughter chose violin, which she has worked on sporadically for the past two years using "Adventures in Violinland" and Suzuki Book 1, after a mixed Suzuki experience when she was 6. Her best friend chose viola and a third friend chose the cello. This program is very popular at this age. It's called a "pull-out" program, in that the kids taking string instruments are pulled out of their classrooms during the school day and sent to group lessons. More kids are pulled out than stay behind. But there is only *one* string teacher for all 3 instruments and two grades. Furthermore, this one teacher goes to a different elementary school every day of the week and is there for the morning. In the afternoon she goes to the middle school. She seemed great when I met her: young, enthusiastic, warm. But what a zoo these classes are going to be.

There is also an accompanying Saturday School, that's optional and costs money, where the kids have opportunities to play more group lessons with a professional teacher who specializes in their instrument and to play in an orchestra. Of course, this being soccer season, that is going to make Saturday mornings pretty full. But I think that's the most important part. It's especially important to my daughter that all her friends are doing it too.

Parents went to a school information session last night during which the band teacher gave a presentation on this program, SmartMusic. It's only been in full use in the district for a year and costs us $25 per family for the year. I'm trying to be open-minded, honestly I'm not sure what to think. The program generates mp3 accompaniment and allows the child to play along with the computer. You can also record your music and make mp3's out of it for posting and emailing. For beginners, it "listens" to you play, assesses rhythm and intonation, and gives you a score out of 100. A teacher demonstrated, playing "Old MacDonald" on the oboe with the accompaniment, both perfectly and then with some intentional mistakes. The program tells you which notes you missed, when you were late, etc. And Old MacDonald sounded surprisingly good. The teachers told us that the kids love the program so far and it's very motivating for them. They practice longer when they use it.

I think that would probably be true for my daughter. She likes computer games and also would like trying to improve her score by improving her rhythm and intonation. She also would probably take bad news about those things better from a computer than, say, from me. I'm cautiously optimistic.

But I'm also wondering if there's a downside. I guess I'll find out when I can't get to my computer because it's blocked by the violinist, violist, and cellist using it to play Old MacDonald accompanied by a jazz beat.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 18, 2007 at 10:38 PM
Karin, the music teachers in the public schools here are just like the ones you described. They have to teach large classes, including many instruments, and they go to a different school every day. The ones I met are truly exceptional. They love their work so much that they put up with all this.

Please let us know about your experiences with the new software.

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