The effects of using SmartMusic during Home Practice on Intonation, Tone Quality, Rhythm and Articulation in Middle School String Students Essay


The purpose of the study is to measure quantitatively the effect of SmartMusic technology on the intonation accuracy, tone quality, articulation and rhythm in Middle School string students who practice at home.  The study will answer the major research question; – what is the quality rate on the accuracy of intonation, tone quality, rhythm and articulation of Middle School string students when SmartMusic technology is used for practice at home?  A 10-week period study will be conducted to observe and measure the influence of SmartMusic technology on three groups of Middle School string students in Fairbanks North Star Borough School district.

The first group will be made up of students who frequently use SmartMusic technology for practice at home and also at school.  The second group will be represented by students who use the software on a periodic basis at school, while the third group will be represented by students who t use the SmartMusic technology for practice in private instruction and at school.   A random sampling procedure will be conducted to determine the sample population who will represent the entire population.

Data collection methods will involve structured questionnaires in which the items will demonstrate the participants’ experiences as well as give a recording of their performance before and after the 10-week period. The recordings will be measured against the National Federation High School Association Adjudication form for assessing musical performance scores.  The data will be analyzed through appropriate methods suitable for analyzing factors under the study.  Previous studies have concentrated on the influence of music practice software from a qualitative approach; this study will measure the same influence from a quantitative approach as well as focus on the updated music practice software.  The study is based on the rationale that frequent use of SmartMusic software for home practice significantly improves the tone quality and intonation accuracy of the student as compared to school or private instruction.  Implications, limitations and recommendations of the study are stated, and key words in the context are defined.

1.0.  Introduction

SmartMusic is interactive music software that provides an ideal practice environment as well as performance improvement in a shorter period of time as compared to cases in which the technology is not applied (SmartMusic, 2010).  The software’s credibility is assured from the fact that SmartMusic is an awarded technology and provides access to accompaniment library containing numerous pieces of music that suits all ability levels in terms of age and skills.  Moreover, SmartMusic is an improvement of previous versions of music practice software.  Buying and using the software for home practice can enable the students to improve the various musical dimensions effectively and within a shorter time period.  The SmartMusic creation enables the student to view the assessed performance on screen and through interactive features the student can control the tempo, tuner, key, practice loops and other features.  SmartMusic is offered at Fairbanks School District where parents are asked to purchase the software on home subscription.  This research will therefore evaluate how effective the SmartMusic program is, when used in home practice as compared to school and private instruction practices.

1.1. Aim

The aim of the study is to provide an efficient and effective solution to the music practice needs of Middle School string students and thus assist students, parents and teachers to save the resources of time and money in the pursue of skills in stringed-music performance.

1.2. Research problem statement

            The purpose of the study is to measure the effect of SmartMusic technology on the intonation accuracy, tone quality, articulation and rhythm in Middle School string students.

Substantial studies show that software-aided practice greatly improves the tone quality, intonation, articulation and rhythm of music students. However, software updates continue to occur and the use extends from school to home and private instruction.

1.3. Research Question

Does the use of SmartMusic for home-practice produce better outcomes when compared to school and private instruction practices?
1.4. Sub-questions

a)      How does home-use of SmartMusic software impact tone quality?

b)      How does home-use of SmartMusic software impact intonation?

c)      How does home-use of SmartMusic software impact rhythm?

d)     How does home-use of SmartMusic software impact articulation?

1.5. Hypothesis

There is a significant difference on tone quality, intonation accuracy, rhythm and articulation when SmartMusic is used for home practice by Middle School students as compared to when the software is used in school or private instruction.

1.6. Background

Many new technologies for music practice are offered in various school systems.  However, there is need to evaluate the technologies systematically in order to determine their efficacy in meeting the standards of not only the school but local and state levels.  SmartMusic is an example of such technology and is put to practice in the school system of Fairbanks School district.  Music practice can take place at school, home, or with private instructors.  Substantial studies focus on the efficacy of music software for practice but none of the studies has measured or compared the amount of efficacy in different environment such as home school and private instructor premises.

This study will establish whether the outcome of performance is better when SmartMusic is used in home practice as compared to school and private instruction practice.  The study will provide teachers, parents and students with knowledge on how to achieve better performance outcomes in music.  With the foundation of knowledge, teachers will enable the students to perform better and also reduce the time wasted for repeat sessions.  Moreover, the school’s performances will improve at both county and state levels.  Parents will also be at peace knowing that their students are performing well in music classes and this will reduce confrontation associated with students’ poor performance between parents and the school.  Students will benefit from acquiring better musical schools and this will improve their overall academic performance.  This research should be conducted early enough because the findings will determine whether parents and teachers need to invest in SmartMusic to enhance the musical performance of students.

1.7. Significance/Need for Study

SmartMusic is widely marketed music-practice software for individual use at the current age and there is need to establish whether its use at home by school students will improve performance on tone quality, intonation accuracy, rhythm and articulation.  Previous studies have focused on a qualitative exploration of VIVACE (now SmartMusic), on the various music qualities but a quantitative perspective that determines the extent of home practice against school and private instruction is lacking.  There is need to quantitative research that will explore the effects of SmartMusic use by students at home practice.  This study’s necessity will focus on two parameters; – first, that a quantitative research lacks on the efficacy of software use in home practice, and second; that SmartMusic is most updated or advanced music practice software and thus there is limited research on the latest technology of SmartMusic.

2.0 Literature Review

2.1. Previous studies

Substantial studies show that for students to achieve success in music lessons, practice is mandatory (Kinney, 2008).  Unlike theoretical lessons, music awareness is achieved through practical lessons (Madsen, 2004).  Nevertheless, Ingle (2008) shows that some students have superior skills  than other when  performing music but the author assures that a systematic and well define practice session can enable any student to perform well musically. Hewitt (2005) conducted a study to evaluate differences that exist on self-evaluation on grade level and music performance parameters such as tone, intonation and melody by comparing Middle and High school students.  The findings showed that in terms of self-evaluation, high school students were more accurate in the parameters except in evaluating melody and rhythm.  On the other hand, the self-evaluation of Middle School students showed greater correlation with that of the judges.  This study recommends the development of self-evaluation skills, but the limitation that has been highlighted is that not all students will be able to evaluate themselves accurately.  Therefore there is need to use a systematic and standardized self-evaluation techniques, like what   SmartMusic offers because the correct evaluation is important in assisting the student achieve musical success.

Music practice procedures have been around from time immemorial but it is the methods of practice that keep changing.  Currently, there is widely publicized and marketed software for music practice referred to as SmartMusic. This technology is put in practice in Fairbanks District Schools in Alaska and the practice can take place in school, with private instructors or at home.  Fehr (2007) investigated the impact of music education training programs on the performance of students.  Low quality programs lead to poor performance and vice-versa.  This study shows that there is need for students, teachers and parents to invest in quality musical programs that will enhance the performance of the students.  Previous studies have measured the efficacy of VIVACE, the earlier version of SmartMusic on the improvement score of the student and the software was shown to have good efficacy (Snap, 1997).  This definitely shows that the much updated version of SmartMusic can only make matters better with the availability of a self-assessment technology and the provision of an opportunity to rectify mistakes and improve performance.

Leon-Guerrero (2008) studied the individual music practice and concluded that it is a vital aspect of the student’s musical development.  The study further reviews that expert music performers usually utilize systematic approaches and substantial planning to the practice sessions.  This includes the identification, strategic planning and evaluation of the problems encountered and these are aspects of self-regulated thinking.  In accordance with SmartMusic marketers, self-regulated thinking can be obtained through the use of SmartMusic technology (SmartMusic, 2010).  The interactive software is made in such a way that a huge repertoire library is available in which students can practice songs to complete assignments. While the student plays, the intelligent accompaniment built in the system follows and responds the student’s.  The student is able to control the key, tempo, practice loops and tuner among other features.  The performance of the students is then assessed on the SmartMusic screen. The student is also able to record the performance and assessment and thus email the outcome of the performance to the teacher, researcher or an assessment panel.

Madsen, (2004) measured the duration of time against the level of performance on different kind of musicians.  The findings revealed that the relationship between practice time and level of performance was not significant despite what most people believe.  It is the quality of the practice session that matters rather than the duration of time that one spends on practice.  SmartMusic is user-assistance software that ensures a quality practice session during musical performance.

Various studies have been done to measure the efficacy of VIVACE-the initial name for SmartMusic-on playing skills attitude and musical performance of Middle school students.  A study by Tseng (19976) used a qualitative approach to investigate the interaction of 10 college flute students with the Vivace software. The study centered aro8nd the problem of past performance experiences and interaction with computers.  The study therefore wanted to establish the effect of Vivace on practice and the reaction to Vivace as a teaching tool.  The methods of data collection included observation, audio and videotaping, and open-ended interviews.  The case studies comprising of both teachers and students showed interest in using software technology to teach the composition and understanding of music.  The subjects agreed that software-aided musical learning enhanced performance preparation, intonation and stage presence.  The Vivace has now undergone various updates and it is expected that the efficacy of the software in music learning is better.  This study will seek to establish similar findings concerning the efficacy of SmartMusic-the updated Vivace software-but a quantitative approach will be used to measure the rate of efficacy in home-based practice. This will be compared to school-based practice and private tutor-practice.

2.2. SmartMusic Literature

SmartMusic is musical software designed to help music students to practice.  The software was developed by Make Music, Inc, and was released in 1994 as VIVACE (SmartMusic, 2010).  The software operates in various versions of Windows and Mac systems and is available in English language. The service is commercial based and users are charged a subscription fees (SmartMusic, 2010).  Students can practice the music assignment at home or at school or at private instruction by playing along with the accompaniment. SmartMusic indicated the notes that were played incorrectly in rhythm and pitch and then provides the student wit a score (SmartMusic, 2010).  Advanced technologies, lime the SmartMusic (2010) are thus important for practice and assessment because of high levels of accuracy and standardized measurement procedures.

2.3. Literature Gap

Several studies have shown the importance of practice for the purpose of achieving success in musical performance.  Moreover, most of these studies have indicated the importance of self-evaluation techniques as a way to effectively improve success.  Most studies have focused on Music practice at school and outlined factors that teachers need to consider while administering practical lessons to students.  However, the research gap that needs to be filled is the use of updated software on music practice at home.  This research will be based on the argument that a home environment provides the space and conditions for the student to critically evaluate and assess their performance.  This can only be enabled by technologies like SmartMusic which contains a library of music pieces that the student and practice from.  The interactive nature enables the student to evaluate the performance during play and create strategies to correct mistakes and improve.  SmartMusic has Gradebook software in which the music teachers can send assignments to students while the students return the recordings to the teacher (SmartMusic, 2010).

This study will evaluate the home-use effect of SmartMusic on intonation, tone quality, rhythm and articulation.

3.0 Methodology

3.1. Design

The National Federation High School Association Adjudication form will be used to assess the performance of string Middle School students against questionnaires that will be presented to judges and students.  This is a case study that will investigate the effect of SmartMusic on various groups of string Middle School students from Fairbanks School district.

3.2. Participants/Subjects

The participants for the study will be Middle School string students from Fairbanks School district.  Fairbanks was chosen because the schools in the district offer and recommends SmartMusic technology for music practice at school and home.  The subject to be tested will fall into three categories; first, students who have access to SmartMusic for practice at home and school.  Second; students with access to SmartMusic for practice at school only, and third; students with access to SmartMusic for practice at private instruction and school.  Random sampling will be used to select the sample respondents that will present the entire population.

3.3. Instruments

Structured questionnaires will be used to collect data for the research on the subjects.  Structured questionnaires are ideal for the study because it will enable the researcher to collect information from as many participants as possible.  The questionnaires that will be given to students will require them to indicate their performance levels on tone, rhythm, intonation and articulation prior the study.  Another questionnaire will be administered after the 10-week period of study for the students to indicate their score levels on the same.  This is after the judge’s assessment against the National Federation High School Association Adjudication form.

 Questionnaires are effective as far as time and cost is concerned and where the participants to be surveyed are from a large population, like in this case in which survey involves district schools.  Structured questionnaires with close-ended questions offer precise questions that are easy to answer and thus will enable most participants to complete filling the questionnaires.  The reliability and validity of data will be checked through the use of the National Federation High School Association Adjudication form which gives a standard measure on the performance recordings by eliminating biasness.

3.4. Procedure

A string of students from the three different Middle schools in Fairbanks will be selected according to the categories regarding access to SmartMusic as stated above. The students will be instructed to practice according to the category in which they fall for a rate of 2 hours every week.  The student’s repertoire will be recorded at the beginning and end of the 10 week period.  The recordings, musical scores and adjudication sheets will be submitted to 3 expert judges for rating.  The judges’ ratings regarding the players’ ability on intonation, tone quality, rhythm and articulation will be compiled in comparison to the National Federation High School Association Adjudication form.

3.5. Analysis

The data will proceed to analysis in which statistical inferences will be used to establish relationships of the performance on tone, intonation, rhythm and articulation among players with home practice, school practice and private instruction practice.

4.0  Discussion

This research is expected to show the value of SmartMusic with home practice especially because of the interactive nature of the technology. The home environment also provides an ample environment for the student to conduct the practice session.  The study will also show the relative merit of SmartMusic when used in private instruction. Several studies have already showed the merit of predecessor technology is school.  This research will provide information on whether schools need to recommend SmartMusic practice including a home subscription to the software.  The research will obtain this by showing the efficacy of SmartMusic in the improvement of intonation, tone quality, rhythm and articulation.  This will be relative to conventional methods of music practice.

5.0  Assumptions of the study

This study will assume that all the students will abide to the 2-hour per week practice schedule. Another assumption is that all the students have equal ability on musical performance prior the study.

6.0  Limitations of the study

The study will be limited by the method in which variations in practice time of students may lead to false results. Another limitation is that students who have higher or lower skill ability in the groups will record inconsistent results than what was expected from the study.

The sample size can also be too small and too confined to represent findings for other student populations.

7.0  Definition of Key Words

Tone quality refers to the quality of the sound produced (Bousted, 2003).

Intonation refers to pitch’s accuracy in playing (Bousted, 2003).

Rhythm refers to the performer’s ability to adhere to the conventional accepted note durations within a given tempo (Kanno, 2003).

Articulation refers to the clarity in the production of successive notes (Kanno, 2003).


Bousted, D. (2003). “An empirical study of quarter-tone intonation,” Contemporary Music        Review, 22(1/2): 53-85.

Fehr, R. (2007). “Examining quality music education,” Music Educators Journal, 94(2): 10

Hewitt, M. 2005. “Self-evaluation among High School and Middle school instrumentalists,”      Journal of research in Music Education, 53(2): 148-161.

Ingle, G. (2008). “Practice, practice, practice,” American Music Teacher, 57(5): 2-3.

Kanno, M. (2003). “Thoughts on how to play in tune: Pitch and intonation,” Contemporary       Music Review, 22 (1/2): 35-52

Kinney, D. (2008). “Selected demographic variables, school music participation and       achievement test scores of urban middle school students,” Journal of Research in    Music Education, 56(2): 145-161.

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Madsen, C. (2004). “A 30-year follow-up study of actual applied music practice versus estimated practice,” Journal of Research in Music Education, 52(1): 77-88.

SmartMusic. (2010). “Interactive music software for band, orchestra, and voice,” SmartMusic. Web. Accessed August 20, 2010, from

Snap, D. (1997). The uses and effectiveness of the VIVACE (SmartMusic) Intelligent        Accompanist system in K-12 instrumental music programs. Colorado: University of          Northern Colorado.

Tseng, S. (1996). Solo accompaniment in instrumental music education: The impact of the          computer-controlled Vivace on flute student practice. (Doctoral dissertation).            University of Illinois. Dissertation Abstracts International, 57, 1536A.