Remote Teaching Archives - SmartMusic Thu, 17 Mar 2022 18:16:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Remote Teaching Archives - SmartMusic 32 32 10 Engaging Activities for In-Person and Virtual Classrooms Thu, 17 Jun 2021 11:00:21 +0000 It is a truth universally acknowledged, that as music educators in possession of good intentions, we want to engage kids […]

The post 10 Engaging Activities for In-Person and Virtual Classrooms appeared first on SmartMusic.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that as music educators in possession of good intentions, we want to engage kids in their learning. The very definition of the word engage is to attract and hold fast. It is also universally acknowledged that, as music educators, we are in constant search of activities which will engage young learners. When this happens, when young learners are engaged, they want more because it’s fun to learn and grow.

Enter: 10 cool, engaging activities that you can use in both in-class and virtual situations.

1. Write What You See/Hear


  • Sound system
  • Pencil/pen
  • Paper
  • Ears


1. Tell your students that you are going to play a piece of music (1-2 minutes in length). Their task is to write down any images that come to mind.

2. Encourage them to be as descriptive as possible. The more detail, the better. Tell them this will be fun because there are no wrong answers (isn’t music great?).

3. At the end of the excerpt, ask them to describe the images that the music suggests. Give positive feedback.

4. After they finish sharing (the number of responses you allow is up to you), play the same music again but this time ask them to write, specifically, what they hear in the music that suggested the images they saw the first time. For example: what instruments are they hearing, is the tempo fast or slow, is the music loud or soft, is the texture thick or thin? Again, encourage them to provide as much detail as possible.

5. Discuss responses. You can do this with any music you choose (I tend to use music that is cinematic in nature as it is written specifically to accompany a visual component). Whatever works. I guarantee, this kind of focused listening will open their ears.


Kids will begin to see and hear things in the music they weren’t previously aware of and they will begin to understand how composers organize the elements of music to express various emotions and ideas.

2. Guided Listening

Ok, here’s a really simple way to illustrate how composers can take the listener on a musical journey. When I started attending concerts years ago, I would notice everything that was going on visually—the trumpet players changing mutes, the percussionist changing mallets, not to mention the conductor’s antics. Afterward, when someone asked me what I thought of the Beethoven piece, I realized that I couldn’t recall much about it.

At the next concert, I closed my eyes for the duration of each piece and what I noticed was amazing. A whole new world opened up to me! The music was telling a story, painting a picture. The composer was taking me on a journey, leading my ear forward. I heard so much more from then on. That’s what you can do with your students.


  • Sound system
  • Student ears


1. Choose any piece you like and play it for your students. A great example of this is Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 From the New World (2nd movement). Just the first minute or two of this piece is sufficient. I’ve heard this hundreds of times and I still get goosebumps every time. It’s amazing to think how many times Dvorak repeats a simple three note motif and still manages to make the music so expressive and lead the ear forward.

2. The important thing is to make sure and tell them to close their eyes as they listen.

3. Fade the music out at an appropriate point.

4. Discuss student responses.


Students gain a greater awareness of how composers develop themes.

3. The Word

Music creation is about two things: 1) thinking in sound, and 2) organizing sound. This idea gets kids to do just that. No theory required!


  • Student imagination


1. Instruct students to close their eyes. Tell them you are going to give them the title of a piece they are going to compose (they don’t really have to compose the piece). Students have to think in sound for 10 seconds as if they were going to.

2. Remind them to notice what they are hearing specifically as they imagine what their composition will sound like (instruments, tempo, volume, texture).

3. The word is TIME.

4. Remind students that the human brain is the most sophisticated computer on the planet yet it’ll only do what we ask of it. So don’t let it be lazy. Push it.

5. After 10 seconds ask students what they heard specifically. They don’t have to answer out loud, just in their head.

6. Repeat the above steps but this time for 15 seconds and the word is JOURNEY.

7. Once more for 20 seconds and the word is STORM.


This simple activity illustrates very clearly what composition is really about and when done regularly, will make your students’ creativity muscles strong.

4. Creating Soundscapes

Here is another quick, “no preparation required” activity. Creating soundscapes is a lot of fun.


  • Assorted percussion
  • Non-musical objects
  • (or) Music creation apps (for individual music creation)


1. Assign each student a percussion instrument or auxiliary percussion instrument; snare, bass, cymbals, timpani, shaker, tambourine, cabasa, etc. If there aren’t enough to go around, get creative with traditional instruments. Trumpets can blow air through the horn for ten seconds, then have a cymbal roll for five seconds. None of this needs notation. Just start organizing sound.

2. Start a quarter note pulse on the bass drum. Five seconds in, have someone else do a soft cymbal roll. Just keep adding and coming up with creative ideas.

3. Over top of this, kids can hum and winds can click their flute keys. For choirs there are lots of possibilities. In addition to singing, use spoken words, repeating syllables, whispers, finger snaps, and tongue clicks. The key point in this activity is that you are making decisions as a group. Remember, there are no wrong answers. Just have fun taking musical risks. This activity is just layering sounds and experimenting with how they can be combined. After you’ve polished your soundscape, invite someone into your room or call the office on the intercom and play it for them. Kids will be thrilled to have someone listen to them and they will definitely have fun putting the soundscape together. There are a host of fun apps that kids can use to start building soundscapes on their own. SongMaker, Beepbox, BandLab are just a few.


Soundscapes are another great way to get kids to start thinking in, and organizing, sound.

5. Film Composition

Using video as a starting point for composition makes it easier for students to form a concept of what they are going to compose (for example, a chase scene will mean more suspense, more intensity, and the composer will choose a faster tempo, thick texture, and louder dynamics, etc.).


  • Film clip (2-3 min.)
  • Musical instruments
  • Pen and paper / Music notation app or software
  • Projector
  • Sound system


1. Take a segment of a film with little or no dialogue (remove the sound so students aren’t influenced by the actual composer)

2. Form groups of 3 to 5 students

3. Ask students to create a timing sheet which is a breakdown of what happens in the scene. For example, at 5 seconds in there is a mysterious noise outside. At 10 seconds the camera pans in close up on Granny’s face looking surprised. (You get the point.) This will help students make decisions about where to start and stop music in a scene.

4. Allow students time to discuss the psychology of what is happening in the scene.

5. Allow students to start experimenting with musical ideas.

6. Show your students how to create a graphic score. Create a timeline across the top of a sheet of paper (or computer screen) and the instrumentation along the left side (like a spreadsheet). It can include notation if the student is comfortable with that or just arrows and text as well. Whatever works for your students. Notation is not required. 

7. Designate a conductor and have them put a stop watch on the stand with the graphic score.

8. Project the movie scene on a large screen or wall and set up your ensemble in a U-shape in front of the screen. The conductor’s job is not to conduct time but simply to look at the score and the stopwatch and cue the various entries. This may take several classes but it is worthwhile.


Aside from being a lot of fun to create music to film, students will work collaboratively to understand the emotional arc or psychological requirements of the narrative and make decisions as to how music can be constructed to function in a supportive role. They can also practice notating their musical ideas.

Create and Edit Music with SmartMusic’s Notation Tool, Compose!

6. Composers Table Presentation

Because it’s programmatic, film music is a great way to get kids to begin to think about how music is constructed. Asking why a composer made certain choices can help guide student choices in their own compositions. Here’s the task.


  • Computer
  • Projector


Students will choose a scene from a movie and answer three questions. They then present to the class with examples from the scene they chose. There really aren’t any wrong answers. Here are the questions.

1. Where does music start and stop in the scene? This gets kids to think about the composer’s rationale. In other words—what is the psychology or emotional intent behind the scene?

2. How does the composer handle music under dialogue? and three…

3. How does the composer use music to heighten the drama: for example

  • What instruments are used and…
  • What types of ideas are used (ex. rhythmic, melodic, harmonic)

Student presentations can be anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. Allow time for

questions and discussions from the class.


Students gain insight into the motivation and/or psychology of how composers construct (organize) sound.

Creativity Workouts: Help Students Build the Creative Muscles to Compose

7. Easy Improv for Kids

Kids can have a lot of fun with improvisation if it’s broken down into bite-sized chunks.


  • Computer/device
  • Instrument


1. Find a straight ahead rhythm track with a nice, easy groove (Bb or F blues).

2. Choose a very comfortable tempo. Students don’t need to know anything about chords at this point, so just ignore them.

3. Instruct students (on the first time through) to just play the tonic note, concert Bb, two whole notes tied (each note is 8 beats long). This is really simple, anyone can do it!

4. The second time through, instruct students to play just two eighth notes with a swing feel followed by 7 beats rest, still using only one pitch, Bb concert.

5. Third time through, two 8ths, 2 short quarter notes, and 5 beats rest). Again, all on concert Bb.

6. When they feel comfortable, students can begin to improvise and mix up the rhythms.

7. Students can then play the track many times and start to add other notes from the Blues scale (or other scales).

Let this process take as long as necessary for kids to feel comfortable.


What a great way to ease into improv and work on scales!

8. Pocket Guitar

Speaking of play-along, why not turn playing tests into play-along tests. This can help ease students’  performance anxiety significantly. My friend Mike is a band director and an excellent guitarist. For playing tests, he opens up his Pocket Guitar app and comps playing a rhythm to accompany each student while they play their scale.


  • Computer/device
  • Sound system


1. Connect your device to the music room audio system.

2. If you’re not a guitarist, how about playing the piano, or using a rhythm track. You can discover thousands of professional backing tracks in SmartMusic’s vast repertoire library, in all keys and styles. Find some way to change things up and get outside of the box.

3. Count students in and watch them go!

4. If you are in a virtual situation, simply record your accompaniment and drop it in your shared drive. Kids can even record their playing test at home and drop it back into the drive for you to evaluate.


Reducing or eliminating the anxiety of playing tests, as we know, results in a much better performance and helps to build confidence.

Use SmartMusic’s Reference Recordings With Your Students

9. Sneak Previews

Every once in a while, invite another class in to listen to your students perform. It doesn’t have to be an entire, polished work. Just something in progress.


  • Your students


Simply nab the next person walking past your room. Ask them the following, “Hey, wanna hear eight bars of ‘Bang Zoom?’”


Kids love to perform and sometimes the best progress is made in front of a live audience. Kids get super excited to show what they can do. ‘Nuff said!

10. Creating Cool Ideas

Have you ever taken things that are unrelated and put them together in a new way? That’s the creative process and that’s how we put ideas together. Let me explain.

Remember idea #7, Easy Imrov? I created that by taking an idea from a concert band piece I taught a beginner class years ago called “Fidgets.” It was very simple, but it worked and the kids loved it. I took the rhythms from that piece and combined them with a rhythm track I found on YouTube, and in my notation software wrote out the blues scale and some variations on the rhythms from “Fidgets.”

Out of these four unrelated things came a new, cool idea that you can use! I want to illustrate that you aren’t limited to teaching kids just one idea (in this case, improv). You can use this process any time you wish to create your own cool ideas to teach literally anything. I’m sure you already do. So look around. What’s in your classroom, your home, your computer, the internet? Search through your past experiences and see what you can creatively recombine to use in a way that enhances the experience of your students and, ultimately, you.

Isn’t it exciting to know that there are so many possibilities? The sky’s the limit… VIRTUALLY!

Well, that’s it for now. Ten engaging, cool ideas that work. And there are so many more just waiting for you to create. So get to creating and start sharing your cool ideas!

The post 10 Engaging Activities for In-Person and Virtual Classrooms appeared first on SmartMusic.

Advocating for SmartMusic in Your Classroom Mon, 14 Jun 2021 17:55:47 +0000 By Krystal Williams and Peggy Rakas Why advocate for using SmartMusic in the classroom? As music educators, we are often […]

The post Advocating for SmartMusic in Your Classroom appeared first on SmartMusic.

By Krystal Williams and Peggy Rakas

Why advocate for using SmartMusic in the classroom?

As music educators, we are often held to the same standards as our academic core subjects, such as math and English. A lot of initiatives that come from districts ask us how we’re meeting those same standards, requiring us to provide quantifiable data that shows student growth over time.

Below are some of the benefits of implementing SmartMusic in your classroom, as well as strategies for advocating for using SmartMusic as a tool that supports and measures student progress.

The Benefits of SmartMusic

SmartMusic addresses educators’ and students’ needs in full force, arming teachers with quantifiable data and students with access to a repertoire library much larger than most standard physical sheet music budgets provide—in addition to a full suite of practice tools that support effective practice and growth. Some benefits include:

  • Accessibility
  • Increased student engagement
  • Premade units/assignments
  • Differentiated and individualized instruction
  • Student self-efficacy
  • Digital access to literature and method book choices
  • Performance examples and models
  • Lowers your paper budget
  • Social-distance friendly
  • Maintains connection between teacher and student outside of the classroom
  • Built-in practice analytics—quantifiable data!
  • Ability to download student recordings

The Ultimate Deliberate Practice Tool

If the big picture goal is to teach students about how to succeed—and not just play 10,000 hours of “Hot Cross Buns.” The path to success in all fields depends on the ability to expertly and deliberately practice and SmartMusic is the ultimate deliberate practice tool. We need to examine the underlying process of deliberate practice, analyze how it applies to our instruction and to the work done by students outside of class, and understand how SmartMusic is a valuable tool for nurturing this process.

For instance, a student might practice a piece of music (do), and upon reflection, realize that one section needs a lot of work. The plan becomes to work on that section. SmartMusic’s immediate feedback and real-time assessment assists students in the reflection stage, showing missed rhythms and pitches. Practice tools such as the looping feature, metronome, tuner, and tempo adjustment all help with planning to improve. The cycle begins again with another round of practice and playing.

plan do reflect

Proof of Student Outcomes

Academic studies also confirm that SmartMusic has a proven, positive effect on student outcomes. For example, studies have shown that for sight-singing assessment, SmartMusic had a positive effect with students scoring an average of 49.4 points higher from Pre-Assessment to Post-Assessment, compared to 29.25 points for students not using SmartMusic. Students also find success using SmartMusic in sight-reading and performance techniques, as shown in the graph below.

avg growth with SM

How to Advocate for SmartMusic with your District

Take a Data-Driven Approach

“I showed them the gradebook tool in SmartMusic and said, ‘here’s why my group sounds the way they do. They sound good because they have the same tools that math and English [students] have, now through something like SmartMusic.’”—Krystal Williams

If your goal is to keep administrators happy and to defend your grades and the assessment tools that you’re using, SmartMusic is the solution. Many Fine Arts Coordinators and district representatives are looking for quantifiable data that supports the need for providing certain tools—numbers that show why music is important and effective, not just a class that kids take so they can play the songs they like. 

While administrators may have an appreciation for music education, they don’t always understand that there is an intellectual process at play. SmartMusic’s Gradebook and practice analytics deliver student growth metrics in a language that the non-musician (administrators) can easily understand. Without a tool to provide the data that districts are looking for, any measurement for student growth would be subjective, making grades and assessment all the more difficult to defend. 

Show, Don’t Tell—Schedule a SmartMusic Demo

Scheduling a demonstration for your school board can be an incredibly effective way to show the power of SmartMusic to decision-makers. Ask for a few student volunteers (with parent permission) to attend the meeting and play along with a simple exercise or song, demonstrating the immediate feedback and other tools available in the Practice app. Project the SmartMusic interface on a Smartboard so that meeting attendees can collectively follow along with the cursor on the screen while students play, witnessing the yellow, green, and red notes in real-time assessment. 

Learn how to use SmartMusic to help teach National Standards >

Final Advice

Students love technology—we know this because they won’t put away their phones! It’s so important that teachers spend time with the program to familiarize themselves with it and get comfortable operating it. Often, teachers give up on technology because they’re uncomfortable, and that gets projected on our students. There are a lot of wonderful tutorials available through SmartMusic Academy—spend time learning how to navigate the program. The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable the students will be.

Start a 30 Day Trial

In the end, great teaching is about love and connection. With the tools in SmartMusic, teachers have many more avenues to connect with their students. With the practice analysis, we can find out what motivates our students, and we can praise them for how much they have practiced. With the comment sections, we can send messages of encouragement to our students, and they can send messages in return. With the opportunities to individualize instruction we can show our students that we care for their needs. We can inspire them to love music by having them listen to the beautiful recordings on SmartMusic. Love and connection—the ultimate tools for success.

Watch the SmartMusic Connect Session

The post Advocating for SmartMusic in Your Classroom appeared first on SmartMusic.

How to Create a Virtual Choir Performance Video Fri, 23 Oct 2020 14:36:39 +0000 When school shut down in March, I was blindsided. In an effort to connect with my students at home and […]

The post How to Create a Virtual Choir Performance Video appeared first on SmartMusic.

When school shut down in March, I was blindsided. In an effort to connect with my students at home and continue making meaningful music from a distance, I found myself searching “how to create a virtual choir performance” online. There wasn’t much…

After much trial and error, I’ve figured out a process that works for me, and I’ll continue to fine tune it and improve the overall quality of my virtual performances if (when) we end up rehearsing and performing remotely again this fall. Here are my tips for creating a virtual choir performance with your own students:

1. Start with a single, short performance.

Armed with a handful of tips from Eric Whitacre’s website and some very basic knowledge of audio and video editing software, I made an initial attempt with a one-minute excerpt of Carly Simon’s Let the River Run, arranged by Jay Althouse. This is a song that my kids sing at the end of every spring concert, so they knew it forwards and backwards. It still took many of them multiple takes and took me about a week to put their one-minute videos into a polished performance. Now that I know what I’m doing, I can move much faster.

View suggested titles for virtual choirs >>

2. Prep your guide track.

If you and your students have SmartMusic subscriptions, students can play along with the included accompaniments, and record and download their takes all from within the program. Otherwise, you will either have to buy an accompaniment track, record the piano accompaniment, or engrave the piece in a music software program, such as Finale, and export the audio. Even if the piece is a cappella, you will need a guide track of the parts being sung or played. Your students will be singing along with this track when they make their recordings, so make sure there is a clear count-off at the beginning of the track and be very clear and obvious about entrances, transitions, tempo changes, etc. I engraved my pieces and added a click track, similar to what would be used in a studio session, so that they could hear the subdivision of the beat during transitions and tempo changes.

3. Plan your performance.

What will your students wear? Should they be standing or sitting? Should they position themselves in front of a plain background? You might not care about this for your first trial performance, but eventually you’ll want to set some performance standards, just as you would for an in-person concert.

4. Set clear recordings guidelines for your students.

What is obvious to you may not be obvious to them! Here are the guidelines I posted on my website:

  1. Record with your cell phone. There’s no need to buy fancy equipment.
  2. No a cappella singing. You must absolutely use the accompaniment track, to ensure that everyone is singing in the same key and at the same tempo.
  3. Cleary clap directly in front of the camera on the specified beat before singing. This will serve as an audio and visual marker when lining up the videos. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!
  4. Position the camera horizontally and keep your head in the middle of the video. You don’t have to stare directly into the camera the entire time, but you should remain facing forward.
  5. Listen to the track with headphones in just one ear, so that you can hear both the accompaniment track and yourself, but only your voice is recorded.
  6. Make the highest quality video you can. Then put the file in your Google Drive and then share the link with me. Don’t email or text it, as that may compress the file.

5. Edit and mix your audio and video separately.

This will give you the highest quality result. There are many, many programs that can be used to do this. Don’t overthink it. I recommend just choosing the two that you are most comfortable with and start there. I mixed my audio with Soundtrap and have used iMovie, ClipChamp, and the app PicPlayPost to combine my videos together in different ways. The band director in my district got really good at ProTools over the course of the spring, and we may invest in that to use going forward.

6. Plan your layout.

The classic grid is a great place to start. The app PicPlayPost will allow you to make a grid fairly easily, but will limit you to nine videos at a time. To include more, just make several grids, save them to your device, and then combine those saved grids together in one master grid as your final product. Once you have a finished video, you’ll need to upload your audio and make sure everything is lined up. This is where the clap will help you. I keep the clap in until the very end, and then trim the beginning of the video to remove it.

7. Post the performance.

Your kids will want to see the results of their hard work and share it with the world! It’s important to note that before posting the video online and sharing publicly to seek permission from the publisher or copyright holder for sync rights, in addition to students and their parents. With permission, upload your video to YouTube, post it on your school’s social media accounts, email the link out to parents and school staff, etc.

Venture into larger territory.

With one virtual choir performance under my belt, I moved on to creating a full concert in collaboration with my colleague, our high school’s band director. Together we put together a 45-minute spring concert featuring one virtual performance by each of our high school ensembles. Was it as good as an in-person concert? No, but it came pretty close. It was our attempt at replacing the irreplaceable—the magic of making music with other people. We premiered the video on YouTube at a designated time to make it an “event.” Nearly all of our students and parents tuned in, as did many administrators, other teachers, and students’ relatives who live far away. In this way, we actually reached more people than we would have with a regular in-person concert, which was a lovely positive in the midst of this stressful time.

Article originally published on

The post How to Create a Virtual Choir Performance Video appeared first on SmartMusic.

Quick Tips for Using SmartMusic with Zoom Thu, 03 Sep 2020 15:57:08 +0000 Many music educators who have been thrust into a virtual setting this fall probably share the same feelings of having […]

The post Quick Tips for Using SmartMusic with Zoom appeared first on SmartMusic.

Many music educators who have been thrust into a virtual setting this fall probably share the same feelings of having to reinvent class expectations and procedures for your ensemble. In a traditional setting, we would be playing together, hosting sectionals and rehearsals outside of class time, and preparing for ensemble performances, whether they are on the field or on the stage. This guide isn’t meant to solve all of those issues you are facing, but rather to give you another educator’s perspective on how they operate their virtual music classroom. I hope something here helps you in your journey this fall! 

Tip #1: Select Your Gear

Let’s talk about gear for teaching music over Zoom. You don’t need hundreds of dollars in tech to make this work, although I’m sure there are some with audio setups that rival the best recording studios! Last spring, I found this Blue Yeti USB Microphone on sale for only $99 and decided to grab it. There are other highly recommended USB mics out there, but this was a great deal. I had only been using my MacBook Pro’s internal mic for Zoom conferencing and lessons, so I figured this would be a great upgrade. The Blue Yeti has 4 condenser pick up patterns; cardioid, omni, bi-directional and stereo modes. This makes it very versatile for different settings. I usually use the stereo mode for speaking and the cardioid mode for live demonstrations to my classes on my trombone. 

*Quick note: If you choose to use a traditional XLR mic, you will need a USB interface similar to this popular Focusrite Scarlett Solo. This is also a good option if you have a decent XLR microphone and cable as it will allow you more freedom in changing out mics in the future but the interface itself can set you back over $100, so opting to go the USB mic route made more sense for me. 

I purchased an affordable boom arm option that could mount to a nearby shelf. This allows me the flexibility to move it around, if needed. I have found this mic to be more than adequate for my virtual teaching. 

There are also ways for you to integrate other tools directly into Zoom that you may have access to at your campus or at home already. For Music Theory and for demonstrations using a piano, I brought home an unused synthesizer from school (an old Korg TR Music Workstation). I have that and an iPad Air I already owned plugged into my MacBook Pro. By running MainStage 3 and sharing the iPad’s screen as a document camera, I have an overhead shot of the keyboard and sound channeling directly into the Zoom meeting, rather than relying on the mic to pick it up. This is especially helpful when I’m assisting other instruments with their music that I won’t (or shouldn’t!) demo on my trombone. (Looking at you, flutes and clarinets!) 

Tip #2: Update Zoom Audio Settings

Zoom has default settings that suppress background noise, which is great for standard video conferencing, especially with 2 young children running around the house! However, these settings are not great for live acoustic music. However, early on in my experience with Zoom, I could tell some of the audio settings clipped or cut out when I demonstrated sustained or long tones passages for my students. I heard this when they played for me, as well. Here are some ways to improve your sound quality when playing:

  1. Click on the gear in the upper right corner in the Zoom app’s home screen. 
  2. In the settings panel, click on “Audio.”
    zoom zoom settings
  3. Uncheck the box labeled “Automatically adjust microphone volume.” This will prevent Zoom from changing your mic levels when you demo on your instrument.
  4. Click on the button in the bottom right corner labeled “Advanced.”
  5. Make sure both boxes here are checked. One enables your button for original sound in a meeting and the other allows you to use stereo audio. 
  6. In your meetings, click the button in the top left corner labeled “Turn On Original Sound” to enable your microphone’s true settings.

You should share these settings with your students so when they play for you, they have the best chance at sounding great! Even on a school-issued Chromebook or an iPad, these settings have drastically improved students’ audio quality over Zoom! 

*Quick note: These settings have CHANGED with a recent Zoom update. These screenshots and tips are taken from Zoom version 5.2.1. You can learn more from Zoom’s support page here. 

Tip #3: Use with SmartMusic Smartly! 

In Zoom conferences with my band students, I usually start with a review of how to navigate SmartMusic, show them where the controls and settings are, and how to access their music I have either uploaded for them or assigned them from the library. Once they select the piece or warm up we are to go through together, I share my screen and sound. I give instructions on what to do and we play! Here are a few steps that make this possible. 

  • Encourage students to find a quiet room to play in that is free from distractions.
  • It is helpful to remind students to have access to a tuner and metronome during class. I encourage them to use a device other than the one they are using for Zoom, or a dedicated tuner/metronome. Students can also access SmartMusic’s revamped tuner from a smartphone by visiting
  • Change the count-off to 8 beats to give the students plenty of time to be set and ready to play. 
  • Demo along with SmartMusic while everyone else plays along on mute. 
  • Choose a volunteer to demo live for the group while everyone else listens. Try having a student lead the group by having them play live while everyone else plays along on mute.
  • Whenever choosing a student to demo live for the group, have them use their own audible metronome on their end rather than trying to provide a metronome for them to sync with on your end. 
  • Make sure you reinforce how to submit a recording assignment before class is over. Students new to the SmartMusic interface may benefit from more repetition of these steps. 

*Quick note: Of course, these are very easy steps to successfully use SmartMusic in your virtual classroom. There are many other factors, some out of our control, such as internet reliability, condition of the students device, etc.

Another very useful resource available through SmartMusic is the SmartMusic Academy. This collection of helpful videos, how-to’s, and blogs have expanded my knowledge and confidence in fully maximizing the potential SmartMusic has. This is a “must-bookmark” page for me! Take it slow, and realize that you can’t reinvent the wheel over Zoom! Tempering your expectations to what you CAN do is the first step to success in this environment. Different doesn’t have to mean worse! Hopefully these quick tips will make your next Zoom music class a little bit smoother! What are some ideas you have? Have you found other ways to utilize SmartMusic over Zoom? Do you have questions about how to maximize your setup with the resources you have? Feel free to email me at

The post Quick Tips for Using SmartMusic with Zoom appeared first on SmartMusic.

Music Ed Mentor Podcast #78: The Secret to Happiness if You’re Struggling with Online Learning Tue, 11 Aug 2020 14:21:02 +0000 The secret to happiness can be hard to uncover amidst the uncertainty of this back to school season. So for […]

The post Music Ed Mentor Podcast #78: The Secret to Happiness if You’re Struggling with Online Learning appeared first on SmartMusic.

The secret to happiness can be hard to uncover amidst the uncertainty of this back to school season. So for this episode, I sat down for a candid, casual conversation with my good friend Michelle Rose to talk about just that. We’ll not only be discussing our philosophies of online teaching, and the paradigm shift that teachers are feeling today, but we also want to discuss things teachers can do to feel joyful, calm, and happy this fall—no matter the situation you’re faced with.

You can also follow Michelle’s blog at, where she shares wonderful insights about being teaching music online, which she is about to enter her 4th year of doing!

This Episode Is Also Available On:

Additional Resources:

Liked this podcast? Check out more Music Ed Mentor Podcasts.

The post Music Ed Mentor Podcast #78: The Secret to Happiness if You’re Struggling with Online Learning appeared first on SmartMusic.

Reflections on Remote Teaching: We’re in this Together, We Experienced this Together Wed, 10 Jun 2020 19:03:35 +0000 To all my fellow orchestra, band, chorus and music teacher colleagues, How are you all? It’s crazy to think that […]

The post Reflections on Remote Teaching: We’re in this Together, We Experienced this Together appeared first on SmartMusic.

To all my fellow orchestra, band, chorus and music teacher colleagues,

How are you all? It’s crazy to think that it’s June! If I’m being honest, I never thought I’d still be teaching middle school orchestra from my living room. Now that it’s getting nicer out, I can at least go outside and teach in the sun. Have there been pros to this experience, to teaching virtually? Absolutely! Are there cons? Obviously. But let’s focus on the positives.

What Have I Done?

My kids gave a sigh of relief at our first virtual Google Hangout lesson. I showed them my pets, they showed me theirs. Their hair was messy, and I didn’t tell them I was wearing pajama pants. We got right back into it like school had not ended, and I continued to teach them what I could. There was a sort of unspoken agreement between us during those lessons: this was real, and we were all in it together.

FlipGrid Videos

I needed to get creative. I held a competition for students to submit a video of them practicing a piece of music in the strangest, funniest, most creative spots their little minds could think up. They played pieces in the key of A major, not even realizing I was using it to monitor their progress and understanding of this brand-new key signature. Kids went all out! Here’s just a sampling of what I received, and boy did it make me laugh:

  • Playing the violin while floating in a pool on a raft
  • Hanging upside down on the monkey bars playing a viola (this one actually made me scream a little, but he got parental permission)
  • Ziplining in the air while playing the violin
  • Rollerblading and playing the violin
  • Playing in a Porta Potty—not even going to comment on this one!
  • Laying down with his bass in the tub…he plucked the piece because he couldn’t bow
  • Playing the cello with two parrots on her head

Winners will soon be announced and musical prizes ranging from snark tuners to magic rosin will be delivered in the mail to the winners. All in all, the participation was OUTSTANDING.

Teaching Sixteenth Notes

We want our students to continue to progress! For some of these kids, these music lessons are their only chance at accessing your district’s curriculum so they can continue to progress on their instruments. Please check out Mr. Phil Tulga’s website, Reading Rhythms. He offers a free version that is perfect for budget-tight programs. My kids and I were DYING with laughter as we made rhythms together and pressed the playback button to hear a virtual voice say the rhythms back with the correct number counts. We nicknamed this scary (albeit funny) voice “Garfield” and students composed original rhythms. The rules were simple:

  •         Create a four-bar rhythmic melody and use some sixteenth notes
  •         Play your rhythms on an open string
  •         Count the tune with Garfield…yes, with him
  •         Count the tune without Garfield
  •         Share your screen and show us what you created
  •         Print or email your original rhythm to yourself

What did we do next? Usually in school, I tie (pun intended!) things together and have the students study a solo with sixteenth notes. Please check out the Learning Together aeries by Winifred Crock, William Dick, and Laurie Scott. I used scanned versions of “Cripple Creek,” a jaunty and fun sixteenth-note-based melody to reinforce skills learned in previous lessons. Sometimes I would ask, “Hey, how do we count that rhythm?” The response? “Mr. Granata, can we ask the creepy voice thingy for help?”

Finally, to top off our unit on sixteenth notes, I had students transfer those four-bar rhythmic melodies they created into a notation program, add notes, and then perform their original melodies. I was able to work with each student in real time and access their compositions. It was incredible! The kids could hear their melodies performed by a wonderful sounding virtual cello. The results were wonderful, and the kids didn’t want to stop at four measures.

I have an array of hundreds of original tunes written by my students that I can now compile into a virtual folder and share with parents at the conclusion of this year.

What was Virtual Orchestra?

For my students, virtual orchestra was a break. It was their moment to let go, have some fun, and enjoy music. Of course learning happened, but that’s not the only thing that was important to me. I wanted them to know I was still there for them and that I cared about them!

To the 30% of kids that dropped off and I never heard from, I continued reaching out. Hey, I miss you! I hope you’re doing okay. If you ever want to pop on and say hi, I would love to see you. Sometimes, they just need to know that we’re thinking of them.

Anyway, thank you all for everything you’ve done for your kids. We’re not done yet, but believe me, these kids will remember this year because we went through it together. In twenty years, I can’t wait for these to come back and say, “Mr. Granata, remember that year when we were quarantined, and you made a bet with us that if we got more students on for virtual lessons, you’d shave your head?” Needless to say, I shaved my head. Not my proudest moment, but I got more kids, I got more laughs, and…my head was a lot cooler.

Please stay safe, and in the meantime, enjoy the beautiful weather that is hopefully coming very soon!

Musically yours, 

Anthony Granata

The post Reflections on Remote Teaching: We’re in this Together, We Experienced this Together appeared first on SmartMusic.

Staying Social Through Silent Rehearsals: Opportunities for Adults to Make Music Online Mon, 11 May 2020 20:55:28 +0000 “If there’s anything that I have learned in my many years on this planet, it’s that people matter the most. […]

The post Staying Social Through Silent Rehearsals: Opportunities for Adults to Make Music Online appeared first on SmartMusic.

“If there’s anything that I have learned in my many years on this planet, it’s that people matter the most. And my hope is that if you’re looking to stay connected to other people, and to music, and to have a little joy in your life—if you want to come make music with us, feel free. That would be wonderful!”—Amanda Schlegel, Director of the Congaree New Horizons Program in Columbia, SC. 

The New Horizons Music Program provides entry points to music making for adults, including those with no musical experience at all and also those who were active in school music programs but have been inactive for a long period. While K-12 schools and universities have taken to remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, adults and senior citizens who are also under stay-at-home mandates are finding meaningful opportunities to engage in remote rehearsals through Amanda Schlegel’s Congaree New Horizons Program based in Columbia, South Carolina. 

These silent rehearsals are held weekly and are conducted using Zoom web conferencing and SmartMusic. That’s right—silent rehearsals. By now, all music teachers can attest to the reality that online ensemble rehearsals make it nearly impossible for players to hear each other. In essence, these virtual rehearsals are supervised group practice. Each player in attendance is muted, so they are only able to hear their own performance, plus the teacher. Members rely on the SmartMusic accompaniment tracks to hear all parts of the piece the group is working on. One benefit of this setup is that musicians are forced to rely on their own ears and musical intuitions as they relate to accuracy in their playing. Additionally, because players can only hear their own practice, each member can customize the tempo at which they are rehearsing, allowing them to personalize their learning and remain in a social setting.

Because members of other New Horizons programs were faced with the possibility of having no opportunities to play and interact with each other, Amanda invited members of other New Horizons band programs to join the Congaree New Horizons members in these online silent rehearsals. Currently, the members from two other New Horizons band programs—Central Savannah River Area New Horizons Band from Aiken, South Carolina, and the Tucson New Horizons Band from Tucson, Arizona—gather online for concert and jazz band rehearsals on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Though they can’t hear each other play, members report a surprisingly fun and joyful experience from participating.

To learn more about how to attend these silent online rehearsals, visit the Congaree New Horizons Band Facebook page or email Amanda Schlegel at, and watch the video below where Amanda demonstrates how rehearsals are conducted. 

The post Staying Social Through Silent Rehearsals: Opportunities for Adults to Make Music Online appeared first on SmartMusic.

A New Way of Learning: Appreciation for Teachers During Remote Instruction Mon, 04 May 2020 21:35:25 +0000 With the current teaching situation, educators are using their computers to make videos for explaining assignments, demonstrations, and notes of […]

The post A New Way of Learning: Appreciation for Teachers During Remote Instruction appeared first on SmartMusic.

With the current teaching situation, educators are using their computers to make videos for explaining assignments, demonstrations, and notes of encouragement. How do you feel when you hit that record button? Do you feel a wave of anxiety? Are you trying to remember all of your talking points? Do you have to record yourself 20 times before you are happy with how it came out? Imagine how that feels for a student who is recording and submitting their work to you. Recording yourself is hard. 

I have noticed with my own kids, who have outwardly been adapting quite well to at-home instruction, that when they have to record themselves to upload for an assignment (music or other class), things change. Their demeanor changes. They go from happily sharing their exciting thoughts and comments about what they are learning, to a more concerned and worried feeling, not sharing their real selves. When the ‘record’ button is pushed their inner perfectionist shines through and the cycle of “do it again” begins. The cycle consists of deciding if this recording was better than the last one, or if it is just, good enough. Sometimes, these assignments turn into a true source of frustration for them and they sometimes feel defeated by a seemingly innocuous assignment. Actually, the assignments are fantastic and given with the best of intentions and many of them go off without a hitch. But then there are those few that make me remember, this isn’t easy. 

Video assignments are a relatively new way of learning. Something we all need to keep in mind is how our students (and our own children) are feeling as they approach this type of learning. If they were nervous before about class presentations or public speaking, remember this form of public speaking may heighten those feelings. We have to remember that for the student who wants to get it right, the word or note they fumbled on might truly ruin their day or bring them to tears. Just like before, teachers and parents are partners and a team in educating the whole child. I will continue to support our teachers in their amazing work and I will support my children as they go through the ups and downs, successes, and defeats of their learning. We talk through these challenges with our kids and make video assignments a learning experience to grow from where they can learn how to accept imperfection as well as understanding the content of the assignment itself. That sounds a lot like what we teach kids through music, doesn’t it? Yes, we teach them notes, rhythms, musicality, beauty, and humanity. But we also teach them how to learn and grow as people who have to learn to navigate ‘life.’

I want to applaud all of the teachers in our local school district—they have been amazing in their preparation and delivery of meaningful instruction. It is incredible to witness and they will forever have our support and thankfulness. With almost no notice they moved all online and have truly kept in close contact with our kids through their thoughtful messages, notes, video chats, and even a teacher parade of cars passing by the house. Yes, we all cried together. I know that my own community is just a snapshot of the greater picture of all educators far and wide. Now, more than ever, I hope you feel appreciated—because you are. To all teachers, on behalf of parents everywhere, I say THANK YOU. I am very hopeful that your feeling of support continues to grow and that the partnership in learning becomes even stronger as parents support the hard work you do every single day.

The post A New Way of Learning: Appreciation for Teachers During Remote Instruction appeared first on SmartMusic.

Maintaining Your Practice: Tips for Teaching and Outreaching from a Distance Tue, 28 Apr 2020 20:54:01 +0000 For the last month, people have had to adjust and readjust, holding onto any semblance of normalcy that they can. […]

The post Maintaining Your Practice: Tips for Teaching and Outreaching from a Distance appeared first on SmartMusic.

For the last month, people have had to adjust and readjust, holding onto any semblance of normalcy that they can. Many have also found themselves with more time on their hands, and are in need of new tasks and hobbies for themselves and/or their children. Fortunately, musicians and music teachers have a lot to offer for both of these groups of people, and technology allows for us to provide virtual musical instruction to current and new clients.

In an effort to serve our clients and provide some normalcy for them, we can continue weekly lessons. Most live chat services have a calendar function that can be shared with clients so they can be reminded of when lessons are coming up—and given the current circumstances with quarantine and self isolation, a lot of people understandably lose track of what day it is. This also helps us keep track of our own schedules. 

While teaching lessons virtually, here are a few helpful things to keep in mind:

Make the Most of Remote Music

Have a Visual

Perhaps the most important issue is making sure we have a visual on how our students are playing, to address issues with technique as well as any confusion they may be having. If necessary, ask parents to help their children set up the device on their end, so that you can see your students’ hands as they play. Additionally, set up your own device so that students can see your hands (whether on a keyboard or fretboard) while you play your instrument; this will ensure that your students can see the correct notes and technique. There are a number of different phone tripod stands available that can help us angle the cameras in our phones correctly.

Have the Same Music

We can also minimize the potential for error by looking at the same music as our students. This is so easy to overlook, but as teachers, we need to be sure that any criticism or encouragement we give is warranted and accurate. So, if you don’t already have a copy of a piece that your student is studying, you can have them or their parents email or text you a picture of the piece until you have your own copy, and follow along while they play/sing.

Be Prepared to Adjust

As you’ve likely already noticed, there is inevitably going to be a slight delay during virtual lessons, so if you normally like to play or sing along with your students (like I do), be prepared to make some adjustments. I’ll often play the musical section in question for my student, and then have the student play by him or herself while I listen and offer help when needed.

Practice Your Marketing

While the economy has definitely slowed down, musicians and music teachers are not at an absolute loss. This is an opportune season to work on marketing. Here are a few ideas:

Build Up Referrals

The best marketing strategy a music instructor has is the experience and success of his or her students. We can build clientele by offering free lessons to current students when they refer new students to us. Example: when a newly referred student has taken lessons for a month, give the referring student their free lesson.

Refine Your Own Craft

Use the extra time to practice more and further refine your own craft. This is also a good time to record videos and audio samples for social media or your own website. In essence, this is a way for us to expand our resumes for prospective students and/or contacts for future work. The more content we generate, the more opportunities there are for new students to discover us and inquire about our services.

I hope some of the points here are useful to you as you continue to serve your current clients and to build more clientele. Happy music making!

The post Maintaining Your Practice: Tips for Teaching and Outreaching from a Distance appeared first on SmartMusic.

Music Listening Activity: The Bracket Challenge Sat, 18 Apr 2020 17:00:15 +0000 Here’s a project your students can complete while at home that will introduce them to new music literature. This activity […]

The post Music Listening Activity: The Bracket Challenge appeared first on SmartMusic.

Here’s a project your students can complete while at home that will introduce them to new music literature. This activity addresses the “Responding” national standard by asking students to select, evaluate, and analyze music.


I have to give credit to my two sons for this idea; John, who is a high school band director in Waconia, MN, and Joel, who is the band director in Pierz, MN. Together they came up with the list of songs based upon their own personal likes and pieces that they thought would be interesting to the students. I edited the list slightly to include some of my favorite pieces and some I thought were more geared towards college students.

As we all know, band is a social activity as well as a “class,” and although we can’t have live rehearsals right now, we can still have live interactions with each other. When students submit their choices for the second round, I plan to host break-out sessions via Zoom where groups of students can interact with each other about choosing the set of pieces that will advance to the next round. It is my hope that as we progress to the “final four” that students have collectively chosen pieces to use as program material for the fall. I believe that students can have meaningful and interesting discussions about the pieces and be able to connect with each other during this strangest of times.


Open the Google Doc to access the bracket. Click on a title to see and listen. For each competing pair of songs, choose your favorite to move to the next round. Write a paragraph about each of the Final Four titles and why you chose them, then explain why you chose the “winning” piece (What did you like about the songs? What makes them “good” pieces? What did you not like about the other songs?).

Variations and Extensions

  • Before beginning the project, have students develop their own rubric or criteria that they will use to evaluate each piece.
  • Assign the bracket as a group project. The group will debate and negotiate together to decide which piece moves forward.
  • Pair up students who had different “winners” to discuss what led them to choose the winning piece.
  • Find multiple versions of the “winning” song and analyze the differences in the performances.
  • Extend the activity by having students learn more about the composer or arranger of the winning piece. Students can create a mock Facebook or LinkedIn profile that reflects what they learned about the composer.
  • Use this exercise as a way for you to gauge the interests of your students. Did you notice any patterns in the pieces they chose? Did their choices surprise you?

The post Music Listening Activity: The Bracket Challenge appeared first on SmartMusic.