CORNELIUS – With advancements in technology, practicing a musical instrument isn’t what it used to be.
For Hough High School orchestra students, practice sessions have essentially turned into private lessons with the use of the SmarMusic App.
The app, made by MakeMusic, Inc., records students as they play along with the music on a computer screen and gives them instant feedback by marking the correctly played notes in green and incorrectly played notes in red.
Hough High junior viola player Brandon Castillo demonstrated the app’s capabilities.
“As you can see all the notes turning green, except for one he jumped in early on and a little bit late on that one,” orchestra teacher Bill Myers commented as Castillo played. “Immediately, it’s giving him feedback so that he can work on it.”
He turned to Castillo once he finished, “So Brandon, what would you change?”
“I need to count more through the rest,” Castillo said.
Castillo tried another exercise.
“That’s pretty much perfect,” Myers said as green dots peppered the screen. “Way to go.”
Castillo, who recently performed in the state’s Western Regional Honors Orchestra, said the app points out mistakes that he may not catch if he practiced without it, allowing him to make corrections prior to class rehearsal rather than be corrected in class rehearsal.
When students can make those corrections during individual practice, it makes the orchestra rehearsal more cohesive, Myers said.
“In a rehearsal – re, hears, al – you rehear your part in conjunction with everybody else’s part, and that makes a huge difference in how they perceive the music,” he said.
Being able to grade students off of their practice recordings also saves time in class by eliminating individual practice tests, where students only had one chance to get it right and do it in front of their peers, Myers added.
The app also allows students to move at their own pace by controlling the tempo, and they can learn their part in context with the background accompaniment of a full ensemble.
The ability for Myers to track each student’s practice time through the app not only keeps them accountable, but it also helps him gage his class’ learning pace.
“If I make an assignment and a kid spends 10 minutes on it or I make an assignment and a kid spends an hour on it, oh, maybe I’m moving too fast,” he said. “I can make some adjustments to my teaching.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools provides copies of the app for instructors and school practice rooms. A yearly subscription for students is $36.
As class was ending, Myers reminded his students that practice is the avenue for an orchestra to achieve its goal.
“The goal is to reach people out there and make them feel something,” Myers said. “You know up (in your head) what this stuff is, but you have to practice it until you can do it with your hands, do it with your fingers, do it with feeling. So I want you guys to continue to practice.”