Anyone using Smart Music? Or other “play-along” ideas?

Joan said: Sep 9, 2008
24 posts

I’ve been hearing a bit about Suzuki teachers using Smart Music with their students. It’s a computer program that students can play the Suzuki repertoire along with. According to the website ( they record themselves playing with the accompaniment, and the program gives instant feedback (rhythm and pitch accuracy, I assume). As a teacher you can give assignments online, check their recordings and give feedback as well. It sounds pretty amazing!

I’ve been encouraging students to get the Suzuki Violin MIDI accompaniments, or use programs available online (The Amazing Slow Downer was recommended but I haven’t tried it myself) to slow down mp3s of their CD recordings to play along, but no one seems to be getting a very good experience from these approaches. (I also have one parent who says there’s a program built into Macs that slows down recordings, just FYI.)

I’m wondering if anyone out there uses Smart Music for their Suzuki studio. Do you require everyone to subscribe? Is it worth the $130 for teachers to subscribe? Any other ideas for practicing with “adjustable tempo” accompaniments are also welcome.

Jennifer Visick said: Sep 10, 2008
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

If you’re an SAA member, don’t you dare pay $130.00. You can get it for $25.00. If you’re an SAA teacher member, your students (who aren’t SAA members) can get it for $25.00 each, too.

I have been using the MIDI accompaniment disks with success during lessons, by plugging the headphone output of my mac laptop into the stereo input of my home speakers. I have NOT had good experience trying to use my desktop PC with it’s computer speakers.

The experience you have with either the MIDI discs or the Smart Music is going to directly depend on how good your equipment is in the studio and on how good your student’s equipment is at home. You (and they) will need good speakers, a decent soundcard on the computer that’s being used, enough space in the computer’s memory to run the program, a good grasp of how to use the program, and, for SmartMusic, a good microphone that works well with the computer being used.

Of course, for the MIDI discs, if you have a keyboard that accepts the disc, that will give you just as good of sound as if Linda Perry (I believe that’s who recorded them?) was sitting at your keyboard playing the accompaniments for you. Even better would be if you had access to a Yamaha Disklavier piano….

Another option for slowed down playback is the Step by Step (Violin) CDs, which have between 3 and four recordings of each piece (Performance tempo with violin, slow practice tempo, sometimes a medium practice tempo, and accompaniment only at performance tempo).


Joan said: Sep 10, 2008
24 posts

Oh wow, thanks Jenny for the tip about the discount. That certainly makes it more palatable to try SmartMusic! Good points, too, about the quality of equipment making a big difference. I wonder if it’s worth it to students to invest in only SmartMusic or the MIDI disks if they have lousy equipment…I’m guessing not.

Do any of you teachers require all of your students to subscribe to and use SmartMusic? It sounds like they may have to make more of an investment in good equipment to really make it work.

I will definitely take a closer look at Step By Step, too. I’ve heard nothing but raves about it, and it might be a good option for my “lower tech” families.

said: Sep 30, 2008
 17 posts

I got smartmusic to help me on some pieces that I’m working on. I really like it, but the website gives you the impression that it grades you. It does grade SOME stuff, but not all. I like working on it for scales, because that grades you, but it just tells you if you played the note in the right place.

It’s a great program, but not as good as the site sounds.


Joan said: Sep 30, 2008
24 posts

Thanks for the feedback, Musicgirl! I’ll try not to have sky-high expectations for it!

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