Seventh-grade cellists Lindsey Williams and Taylor Wilson squeeze into a small, cluttered room at Owensboro Middle School’s north campus. In front of them, a laptop tuned to SmartMusic shows an up-tempo selection from “Rondeau” sprinkled with red notes on top of black ones. Their score: an 82.
Kentucky’s Owensboro Public Schools blended SmartMusic, a piece of interactive music software, into its fine arts curriculum in October, footing the bill for 362 individual, $36 subscriptions at a discount of about 20 percent. Paid for annually, SmartMusic grants students unlimited access to what its website bills as the world’s largest accompaniment library for all ages and skill levels, including thousands of pieces of music.
“You get the assignment here,” Williams said, pointing to her student profile. She navigates her way to homework assigned by orchestra teacher Wade Wiggins earlier in the week.
“Mr. Wiggins gives us little parts of the song to play at home, usually just what we’ve learned in class so far,” Williams said. “And then as we learn more, there are different parts that we play. We can record them as many times as we like and turn in our best assessment score. If the scores are the same, you want to turn in the one with fewer red notes. He counts off for those.”
Integration begins at the middle school level, said OPS fine arts coordinator Tom Stites.
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Surrounded by sixth graders, band director Paula Humphreys walks around her room at Owensboro Middle School’s south campus, commenting here, adjusting there.
Trice Troutman raises his saxophone, belting out scales as a MacBook Air, perched on his teacher’s arm a few feet away, scores and records his notes.
Humphreys covers the screen, asking the class, “How do you think he did?”
Troutman’s classmates make guesses—91, 94, 98 and 89. His tempo was too speedy, they say, or he rested a little too long. “He was almost perfect,” one says. “He missed a lot of notes,” says another.
SmartMusic tallied only one missed note, off by a hair, scoring 12-year-old Troutman an even 100.
“With the young kids, making sure everyone’s looking at the same thing, getting used to the steady beats and note reading, every little bit helps,” Humphreys said. “And it’s also a great motivational tool. Kids want those high scores. They want to do as well as they can.”
OPS uses SmartMusic to bridge the gap between group performance at school and private practice at home, Stites said.