Reflections on the Effectiveness of SmartMusic as a Learning Tool

October 21, 2009 / By: Scott Fairweather

The intent of this study is to provide teacher reflections on the use of SmartMusic as a tool to improve student music literacy and music reading ability in high school students. Reflective practice of the teacher directed and shaped the musical experience of the class in the hope of connecting the research with the daily practice, planning, researching, acting, analyzing, and revising of the class.  Using the qualitative method of action research, the researcher hopes to provide improvement through empowerment for both the teacher and the student.

A twelve-page survey was sent to the students through email.  Comparisons with the researcher’s reflections and the data shows that students did benefit from using SmartMusic and that the teacher used the software to the best of his knowledge and intentions. Improvement in the final concert performance of the school year from the students using less rehearsal time demonstrated the usefulness in using SmartMusic to prepare for the concert.
An analysis of the data suggests that the majority of students feel that the teacher is using the software in a way that improves their performance.  Most of the tools within SmartMusic music were used wisely, however the researcher feels some of the tools were not used to their fullest potential.  Most students believed that the literature assignments provided an appropriate level of challenge to their performance skills.  Most students perceived that SmartMusic improved their sight-reading skills, however most students did not feel that the software improved their music reading skills.  Most private teachers do not currently use SmartMusic with their students.  Most students seem to use a reasonable amount of time practicing overall, as well as when they practice at school with the computer.  The few of those that own a home subscriptions to SmartMusic seem to enjoy a relaxed pace of learning.  The cost of the program seems to be the reason most students do not currently own a home subscription.  Most students have the same amount of experience on their instrument, however the teacher sees the potential for ambitious students who are behind in their experience to catch-up to their peers.  Most technical errors in using SmartMusic had to do with microphone and speaker selection.  Microphone placement and errors when sending assignments were also errors commonly found from this study.  The solo assignment was viewed as a valuable assignment, but the self/peer evaluation was not entirely.

Conclusions suggest that students increased their ability to detect errors and now the teacher must provide strategies to the students to fix those errors away from the teacher.  While the students did not practice sight-reading skills, they felt an improvement of skill just by using the program.  Potential exists for communication between students, parents, private lesson instructors and classroom teachers with the assistance of SmartMusic.  Students are generally getting enough practice time and yet may be more efficient in their practice by using SmartMusic.  Home subscribers seem to enjoy a more relaxed pace of learning as opposed to the school users who may have to wait to use a practice room.  Most students have a similar amount of experience performing and a potential exists for students to move at an accelerated pace.  Some technical errors are unavoidable.  The solo assignment could have been placed differently in the year and the teacher feels that the use of web-based applications like Google Docs could assist in the evaluation process, save on paper usage, and provide another way for students to use technology in the music classroom.