When Scheck Hillel transitioned to virtual instruction last spring due to Covid-19, every class was challenged to adapt to a new form of instruction. The Band Director, Mr. Matt Villa, encouraged students to advance their skills with continued practice at home and seamlessly taught students how to improve their musical abilities. During virtual band classes, students were asked to play their scales individually for Mr. Villa and they would learn from his feedback. Weekly homework included student submissions of a video playing their song along with a video of completed rhythmic exercises. Because of computer lags, neither Concert nor Symphonic Band could play their Aladdin or One Direction medleys together over Zoom. So, a video compilation of all the students playing their parts in the concert songs will be shared soon.
Although Scheck Hillel’s band program was presented with an incredible challenge due to Covid-19, Mr. Villa sought out innovative methods and technology to improve the program. Just as the Symphonic Band played “Don’t Stop Me Now,” last year, Covid-19 didn’t stop Mr. Villa and his band students. “Upon hours of research and conversations with colleagues from around the country, I decided to invest in Smartmusic,” said Mr. Villa. Smartmusic is an online music program that allows students to learn and submit clips of them playing assigned pieces like scales. The implementation of the Smartmusic program is allowing the Band program to continue to grow stronger and more impressive during this trying time.
Mr. Villa described Smartmusic as “an amazing program for teaching music virtually.” Elaborating further on some of the benefits of the program, Mr. Villa shared, “The students are able to listen to their individual part as well as the full ensemble recording of the music while a marker keeps track of where they are in the music. Students can also click on a note that they aren’t sure of and see how to play it and what it sounds like.”
Scheck Hillel students enjoy many of Smartmusic’s great features. Mr. Villa pointed out that “students can slow down or speed up the tempo as they learn the music. Smartmusic allows students to record themselves and be assessed on their assigned music without an instructor being present.” This software can detect if notes are flat, sharp, and if they are played incorrectly. Students are also able to use this program to teach themselves how to play certain notes by hearing the pitches and viewing the positions/fingerings.
After students submit an audio clip of them playing their assigned piece via Smartmusic, Mr. Villa can play back the recordings and view the automatic grades on Smartmusic to track his students’ progress. As an instructor, Mr. Villa commented that he “can see what the students have been working on and how to assist them better when in the classroom based on their recorded assessments.”
Smartmusic is an asset to the band program and gives students the opportunity for additional band practice outside of class to improve their skills. Each week, Mr. Villa assigns scales on Smartmusic and he always reaches out to any students who need extra help. In addition, students practicing their solos for the 2021 Florida Bandmaster Solo and Ensemble Music Competition have the opportunity to prepare with Smartmusic for enhanced practice.
Student opinions on Smartmusic have been very positive. Rachel Fishman, a saxophone player from the Class of 2026, glady shared her view on the new addition of this software. “I think Smartmusic is a great program for band students. It tells you when you are playing the wrong note so you don’t play it wrong again. It also records you and shows you which notes were best and played correctly. So, overall, I think it is a very good program.”
This year, Symphonic Band is practicing “Take on Me” by A-ha. The potential for Smartmusic to enhance student performance is tremendous. There is no limit to what the Band program will “Take on” next!