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Practice, 'Smart Music,' Makes Perfect in Hommocks Band

MAMARONECK, N.Y. – When Casey Stern plays an incorrect note on the flute while practicing at home, a software program called Smart Music tells her what she did wrong and how to fix it. The tool also allows band teacher Tom Jordan to do his job more effectively.

Jordan, in his 18th year at Hommocks, which the Mamaroneck Schools Foundation funded through a $4,200 grant in 2009. He gives his students homework assignments through Smart Music, which the Hommocks Middle School band program began using four years ago. The program, Jordan said, is similar to Guitar Hero, except students use actual instruments and are graded on not just accuracy, but rhythm, pitch and every element of their performance.

"It's a very good tool for practicing," Stern said. "It shows you what you did wrong and tells you how to correct it."

Every band student has a subscription to Smart Music, which presents like a Facebook profile when they login. Students have the option to include a photo that appears on the top-left corner of the page, and can see their recent activity and assignments. As they play along to the song they choose from the Smart Music library, the program marks each note on the digital sheet of music either red – for a mistake, or green – for a correct note.

"Now a band student could practice a band part with a full band playing along with them," said Jordan. "When they're home practicing, they're not practicing just by themselves, they can feel how their part fits in with an entire band."

The program grades performance on a zero to 100 scale, and if a student isn't satisfied with their score, they can try again before submitting it for a grade. "I make an assignment here, they open it at home, they look at my instructions about the assignment, and they practice it at home until they've got it to a spot where they either feel that it's perfected, or where they're stuck and can't get any further," Jordan said.

Jordan said he has watched the Hommocks band program grow from around 50 kids in 1993, when he became a band teacher, to now, just under 200 kids.

"The chance of me giving the kind of individualized attention that I use to be able to give, that's gone," he said. "Now I am hearing them like I used to, and I'm finding the little things in their playing to make them a better player. So it actually lets me project my teaching into their practice room at home. It's kind of replaced the in-school lessons that we used to have."

The Smart Music program is also now available at all Mamaroneck district elementary schools through another Mamaroneck Schools Foundation grant to music teachers Katherine Sinsabaugh and Amy Rosen in 2010.

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