21

I am a professional trombone player and private lesson teacher in the DFW area. Everytime I have ever tried to discuss, with a MakeMusic customer rep at midwest or TMEA, why smartmusic does not cater more to the professional player crowd I have always been met with arrogance and dismissal. This "new smartmusic" seems to be more of the same. There is even less quality repertoire on here for trombone, in addition to the quality of the piano parts being garbage. Can someone explain to me why the company that makes Finale, with all of their sound libraries, chooses to use a piano sound that is worse than anything I would use on finale? I am speaking specifically about the Bordogni/Rochut accompaniments. The old Smartmusic sound files had sustains, rubato, and surprise, surprise DYNAMICS. The sounds on this new one are horrible. 

I honestly have no idea why I am leaving this note because band directors will continue to give them money for a horrible product. Nothing will change until someone comes up with something better. 

63 comments

  • Avatar
    Greg Dellera
    Official comment

    Hi everyone, my name is Greg Dell'Era, I'm VP of Product Development at MakeMusic. Thank you very much for your comments. This is a great thread that carries many concerns and questions, and I feel it is important to provide more context and perspective about New SmartMusic. It's pretty lengthy, so thank you in advance for bearing with me :-) 

     

    We share your passion for music

    First of all, the underlying passion for music education is clear when reading each post in this thread. This is a true testimony to your ongoing dedication to the field, and we feel privileged that Vivace and SmartMusic Classic were important tools in your missions. To be clear, the team at MakeMusic share this same level of commitment towards music and music education. At all levels in the organization, we have professional musicians, teachers, professors, composers, and, above all else, music lovers. The choices we're making as a company for our products can be discussed and challenged, but we stand united with you in the passion that animates us all. As for myself, I’m not a professional musician, but I’m a passionate one. I've been trained as a recorder and bassoon player at a Paris Conservatory aged - to 18, and I definitely appreciate your comments about baroque accompaniments, ornaments, 415Hz tuning, etc. I ultimately followed an engineering and business path, with a deep study of math and digital sound processing (including a few patents involving music and audio algorithms). I’ve never forgotten my conservatory training, and my love for music-making has remained a driving force in my career.

     

    The reality for SmartMusic has shifted from a virtual accompanist to a teaching platform

    As most of you are pointing out, SmartMusic's core business has evolved from a pure accompaniment solution with Vivace in 1995, to a teaching and learning platform with SmartMusic Classic from 2005 to 2015. Although we maintained the virtual accompanist content, we added virtually all popular method books (174 of them!), ensemble and choir titles, as well as assignment abilities and gradebook features. Far before the introduction of New SmartMusic, the academic market had become the financial and user-base reality for Classic SmartMusic. 

    In 2015, we decided to move to a web-based version. There is no doubt Classic was still used and loved by certain segments for its original performance features with ‘follow-me’, mp3 upload, high-quality tempo slow-down, and manually crafted MIDI accompaniments. But given New SmartMusic had to start from scratch, with not a single line of code reused (for basic tech stack reasons), we had to be pragmatic and focus on the reality of the market for SmartMusic.

     

    But why a New SmartMusic?

    Now it's legitimate to ask why we went to a web-based version, rather than maintaining Classic. This is simply because 40% of current SmartMusic students use Chromebooks in schools. This massive wave started in 2014: should we have remained focused on Classic, it's likely that SmartMusic would not exist today. The music practice market is a niche industry, and we cannot afford to ignore such a large segment.

    Unfortunately, it is not possible to maintain Classic and New altogether. Building from scratch, improving, and maintaining new SmartMusic requires a lot of resources. MakeMusic is a relatively small company, and we're just not in a position to support two products on two very different tech stacks. 

    With this new product, we made a bold choice and commitment to make SmartMusic accessible to the widest audience possible: in terms of technology with a web-based version compatible with many more devices, but also in terms of pricing. Classic used to be $40 and $140 for Premium subscriptions. We're now at $20 and $40 for students and teachers respectively. We even have a $10 subscription for a full year (!) that requires the teacher to assign. As noted in one of the comments, students cannot explore freely with this Tier, though a method book can be pinned to a class for unlimited use. Access to the whole catalog is $20 a year, which equates to  $1.70 a month. Most audio or video streaming platforms start at $7 a month, basically to only display content. We offer a deep catalog, a notation engine, a sight-reading builder, and assessment features for less than $2 a month.

    We stand strong in our choice of focusing on the web. The dramatic current pandemic confirmed our choice. With a web-based platform, we've been able to offer literally thousands of music titles for free to millions of musicians worldwide who would not have been able to continue their practicing otherwise. 

     

    So what does the future look like?

    Now that we have focused on our core K-12 market for the last 4 years (and we'll keep improving, stay tuned), does it mean we cannot address the more advanced market? Certainly not. But I want to share some constraints with you that have been mentioned apropos in the comments. They can be seen as regressions for some compared to SmartMusic Classic, but in the longrun they will become strengths. These constraints are about music display, device compatibility, and audio playback.

    First, our goal is to always display the music. Many, many titles in Classic were just accompaniments, without music on screen. We have renegotiated deals with publishers to ensure we can offer music on screen. Which requires engraving, and thus time. We are still lacking accompaniments that used to be in Classic. But we have migrated many of them, and we keep doing so—all of them now have sheet music. Additionally, we currently maintain the largest subscription music catalog of any major educational practice platform on the market, and we’ll continue to see this catalog grow significantly in the coming years.

    Next, as mentioned earlier, we have to work on Chromebooks. Classic was an installed software, directly leveraging the machine’s resources to perform assessment tasks or score following (‘follow-me’) tasks. New SmartMusic works within a browser, which for many users is running on a $150 Chromebook. 

    Lastly, as a reminder, we have rebuilt all of our technical components from scratch. We developed a MusicXML-based display engine as SmartMusic Classic used to leverage the Finale viewer, but it is not compliant with web technologies. We had to convert every single title from the SmartMusic catalog: notation, metadata, assessment setup, etc. One very challenging piece of work was to build an audio playback engine. I hear and understand your concerns about the audio quality, and without disclosing too much, we are fully committed to significantly improving the playback quality of our titles. One important thing to understand is that SmartMusic’s catalog can be broken down into 2 buckets: 

    • The largest section of our catalog is using mp3. We're playing back the audio file provided by the publisher, most always a very nice recording of a professional orchestra. At default tempo, it plays perfectly in New SmartMusic. When you slow down the tempo, you have to apply what is called a time-stretching algorithm. It is relatively computationally intensive. Not a big deal for an installed software like Classic. But when running in a browser, on top of audio recording, real-time assessment, real-time engraving (display) of the sheet music MusicXML, it adds up quickly, especially on low-end devices. We currently have to make some compromises. But we're constantly re-evaluating our algorithm, and when the majority of our users are on more robust devices that support it, we will upgrade it. 
    • We have a small catalog of titles that rely on MIDI files for the accompaniment. Most of the comments are referring to this subset of the catalog: a set of advanced, often public domain titles for committed amateur performers. These comments are right—we are not yet matching the quality that was offered by Classic. Classic was relying on a nice MIDI SoundFont and a playback engine that has been tuned over decades since the release of Vivace (the cartridge-based, $2,000 ancestor of SmartMusic). But New SmartMusic has a much more powerful foundation to surpass it. On the one hand, we are now relying on the whole Garritan library to playback MIDI accompaniments and My Part. Those are high quality, real instrument samples. But to get the most out of them, it requires a strong playback engine that will understand the context of the score (dynamics, ornaments, tempi, rubato, etc.) and manipulate the samples (layers, humanization, envelopes) to sound realistic. We are currently working on this, intensively. But it is a multi-year effort, and to be honest, we will not be able to deliver just yet. But we definitely will do so in the mid-term, and as a recorder and bassoon player, I can't wait to see more depth and life in the Vivaldi or Telemann titles that we currently have in SmartMusic.

    One recurring comment is about the ‘follow-me’ feature. We don't have any plan in the short term to support this in New SmartMusic, simply because we are not yet at a point where we can confidently offer this feature to our users. Yet the long term ambition is clear: offering follow-me on every title—even the ones using mp3 as a playback track—not just MIDI titles. We have recent patents that prepare for this. However, in all transparency, we're first focusing on other, more critical components for our core market, which will also be relevant for all musicians: playlists, sharing of created music, integration with Finale, expansion of our catalog, and critically, a brand new feature coming this August (which I simply can’t disclose yet, but is a huge effort on our part to help school budgets, teachers and students during these uncertain times with in-person and remote teaching!). So please stay tuned!

    SmartMusic Classic is retiring at the end of August 2020. The web-based version will now be SmartMusic. It has powerful, though still young, foundations, that are well-suited for the challenging times the music practice community is facing right now. SmartMusic is certainly different from the original intent in 1995, and its current incarnation can’t yet match all expectations from all musicians. We certainly understand that some of you might say goodbye to SmartMusic as a result of sunsetting Classic SmartMusic, but we trust that it will only be an au revoir and not a permanent departure. In the meantime, SmartMusic will continue to evolve, adapt, enrich, and continue to serve and support the millions of music-makers and music teachers, globally, in the best way our committed team knows how!

  • Avatar
    Margie Dally
    12

    Agree completely. I don't know why they are eliminating the Classic when so many comments in the feature requests show that most do not like the web-based version. I cannot ask my students to practice at a slow tempo when the solo instrument sound generated is really unbearable. I'm done when my subscription ends, unless Classic is brought back. 

  • Avatar
    Mark Ziegler
    13

    YES YES YES!!!!  WHAT HAPPENED TO SMARTMUSIC!  The features that Classic offered like: Follow Me, Recording, and many others are no longer available.  As a band director, my students used Smartmusic as accompaniments for solo & ensemble festival.  I have now realized that many of the solos are no longer available.  I will not renewing my subscription.  I am looking for other options for accompaniments.  

     

  • Avatar
    Kathryn Younger
    8

    I am extremely disappointed as an oboe performer and teacher that my playlist of classical repertoire from the public domain has completely disappeared in favour of method books! I need the SmartMusic Classic playlist back or I'm not going to renew my subscription. Why fix what wasn't broken in the first place? Bring back SmartMusic Classic before all of your classical customers are gone!

     

     

  • Avatar
    CHRIS MICHEALS
    6

    I am not a fan of the new web-based SmartMusic.  Most of the music that I had access to on the previous platform is no longer available on the new.  Very frustrating when you are trying to prepare kids for contest and you are not a piano player.  

  • Avatar
    Sue Mark
    8

    COMPLETELY AGREE! I paid over $2240 for my students (280) to use the new SM and it has been a nightmare! It's impossible for teachers to use, too. You can not just create a list of music to practice without ASSIGNING it - very inconvenient. A lot of my kids have signed up (in front of me to make sure they did it right) and the classroom they chose won't show up on their page. So they can't even participate. If a student submits an assignment but just wants to practice it again (or re-do it), they CAN'T! Ridiculous. You have to go back in and re-assign it to individuals. And the list goes on. Right now, not even half of my kids can use it and I am getting no help... Dear SmartMusic, Please fix this or I certainly will NOT be buying it next year! 

  • Avatar
    Sue Mark
    7

    Oh, and I forgot to mention the worse part - it STINKS for percussionists. I never had a problem with percussion in the classic SM. But the cloud-based version is awful! Most of the percussion parts are set to hear pitched notes - duh! So when they play a snare drum or pad, they get all RED. A lot of the percussion music actually uses TREBLE CLEF! So they told me to put it on clapping mode - but that doesn't work. Look at the Alfred's Drum Method Complete. All of it is in treble. If you play a C, you get a perfect score. If you play on a pad or snare, you get a zero! What the heck? I've contacted them multiple times about this and they say it works for them. Um - we don't care if it works for them. I have 35 drummers and they can't use SM at all. 

  • Avatar
    Michael Perkins
    8

    So many people saying exactly what I've been thinking. I've been a customer with Finale since 1996 and Smart Music since it came out. I play many dates where I don't have an adequate accompanist and so I've built a library of over 200 titles from Finale. I'd sooner use a human accompanist, but Smart Music has been a good second, when I need it.

    I'm another customer who will soon be a former customer. Does anyone know of a good accompaniment program I buy as an alternative? I'll be in Hawaii later this week and will be doing several performances relying on Smart Music. HELP! HELP! HELP!

  • Avatar
    Margie Dally
    0

    Michael, perhaps Band-in-a-Box would work for your uses? I haven't used it, but I'm also keeping my ears open for a good replacement for Classic.

     

  • Avatar
    Tabby Debraski
    4

    I am a student who has to use Smartmusic for school. I take my grading on the app very seriously as the score I get on the app impacts my report card. It's hard to explain. Anyway, I played a piece and did very well. There were 24 notes. I got 2 wrong and one timing issue. My score was a 47! In what world does 3 out of 24 wrong equal less than half?! I know the app is called Smartmusic but they could at least get their math right! I know I sound very rude right now, but I'm just really upset with my score. I am also very upset since I tend to do very poorly on Smartmusics, and I got 3 out of 24 wrong, which according to my phone is an 87.5%. Not a 47.

  • Avatar
    Tabby Debraski
    2

    I forgot to mention that even on those rare occasions that my trumpet makes a beautiful noise, I'll listen to my recording and it'll sound like a 30,000 lb truck just hit another 18 wheeler (awful screeching). I don't know if this is because of my microphone, or the app, so please tell me your expeirience with the microphone.

  • Avatar
    Jack Gepson
    7

    Bring back the INTELLIGENT ACCOMPANIMENT feature!

    As a high school band director in a rural area, I have found that reliable accompanists are not always easy to find.  While I prefer live accompanists, there have been times in the past that a piano accompaniment was a little too difficult for the local piano player and I relied on SmartMusic (now the "classic" version) to fill this void.  I did this as early as 2004 and it worked great.  

    The new "improved" version however, has removed the "intelligent accompaniment" feature of the product, meaning that it is essentially useless for a performance situation.  Essentially, a new product cannot do what the old version could do in the 1990's.  I don't see this as progress.

    In Minnesota it is within the rules to use Smart Music as an accompaniment. The rules currently state: "A computer-generated accompaniment system, such as the "Smartmusic" system, may be used for solo events if the "intelligent accompaniment" feature is enabled." 

    I would suspect that all 50 states have a similar rule.

    Since this feature is no longer part of the program, either 50 states are going to need to change their rules, or lots of musicians are not going to be be able to perform at contest.

    The decision to take a 25 year leap into the past is going to hurt music education--rural areas are going to be hit especially hard. 

    Please put the "Intelligent" back in to "Smart" Music!

    Edited by Jack Gepson
  • Avatar
    Neil Heymink
    4

    Interested to see the comments here. As the owner of a new iPad and former user of Smartmusic Classic I was about to sign up for the New Smartmusic via the app, as a hobbyist/player. Unfortunately all of the “good stuff” mentioned here is why I was using it in the first place: a small but useful range of classical music accompaniments for each of the woodwinds that I am interested in (and lots of functionality to adapt). In particular, I am remembering the lovely harpsichord and continuo bass sounds. If the new version is omitting repertoire and using substandard sound-sets and accompaniments (nothing worse than an unmusical, hammered-out, four-square piano accompaniment!!!)... then I am definitely not interested. Ironically the signing up for the “New Smartmusic”, through many platforms, browsers and the app itself, has met with nothing but error messages. Maybe I have dodged disappointment... On a positive note I really hope the company can offer something like the old smartmusic “classic” on an ongoing basis..even if it is aimed solely at the classical/hobbyist player market!

  • Avatar
    THOMAS BLAHNIK
    7

    I had used Smart Music from its inception with the old antiquated disks. The reason I felt it was “smart” was it’s ability to follow and interact with the performer. I was retired but am now back teaching in a program where my kids could benefit from the interactive program of the past. Being away from it for some years, I thought the company would have a lot more bells and whistles attached to the software but unfortunately it pales in comparison with the old version.  Please let me know if it is possible to download the old version or if there are plans of updating your current version to follow me.

  • Avatar
    Michael Shimshak
    3

    I am extremely disappointed in the New Smart Music, which should be called dumb music. Gone are the baroque style accompaniments. I can't believe the rendering of the trills in the Bach flute sonatas. The synth sounds are worse than music minus one from 1980. Even a Rolland MT32 sounds better than the web version.

    Please restore the classic, or perhaps someone competitor can come up with a similar product. Huge mistake to abandon the classic. I wish I would have checked the details before renewing my subscription. Only forty dollars or I'd be asking for a refund. I cannot recommend anyone buy the new version. Instead, I recommend against it.

    One used to be able to use it without internet, which is common in China. I cannot express my disappointment deeply enough.

  • Avatar
    JEANINE BEAHAN
    7

    Thank you one and all! I thought I was just suddenly being inept at using Smart Music! I too started using SM when they sent the disks to put in your computer. I am a performer and teacher (seems to be a trend based on the above comments) and have used SM "Classic" since the '90s. Very little of the repertoire I use/teach is on the new SM. I would NEVER have renewed my subscription had I realized that all the formerly available accompaniments are no longer accessible.  PLEASE!! Bring back the features and literature from the Classic version.  I will absolutely NOT renew my subscription unless the repertoire from classic is restored. The "new" version is of no use to me at all.

  • Avatar
    Peggy Jernigan
    7

    I am going to go back and read all the posts but it seems we all agree. I am SOOOO disappointed in this new smart music product. Glitches galore! I want the old smart music back. IT WORKED!!!

  • Avatar
    Kathy Brown
    5

    I am also disappointed in the repertoire and the quality of the sounds.  When I slow something down it sounds like an bad cassette recording!  I was really hoping the the "new" version was going to work for me.  I can't make any kind of playlist so if I want a student to play a scale then a piece from the book then a solo, I have to search each one separately and wait for it to download - a waste of lesson time.

  • Avatar
    Michael Perkins
    5

    I hope my English teacher will forgive me, but SmartMusic just ain’t smart anymore. Bring back the smart (intelligent) accompaniment features.

  • Avatar
    JEANINE BEAHAN
    7

    I recently called SM to see if my current subscription could at least be transferred over to the old Classic until they take it offline (understanding that it will no longer be available as of August). They told me that was not possible. I then explained how disappointing the new version is and that it is no longer useful to me at all. The gentleman was very polite and understanding. He acknowledged that there were "a few" users who did not care for the new version. To which I suggested that, based on the blog I was reading,  it was MORE than a few of us. In any event, he indicated that, at least as far as the repertoire was concerned, copywrite issues were part of the stumbling block now that the music is in the cloud. Perhaps, if more of us made calls into the company to  voice our concerns, the makers of SM might realize that their original product is far more useful than the current one. Just a thought....

  • Avatar
    John Wright
    2

    SmartMusic has always been focused more on instrumentalists than vocalists, but with the Classic version I could make it work to create practice tracks for my choral students with music I had imported in, which was a godsend. I had the ability in real time to choose individual parts to play at the same time, so my Sopranos and Baritones could practice a phrase together, then Sop and Alto, then Alto and Baritone, etc. With this new monstrosity, that function has been completely removed. You must choose a single part to display, then your only two options on playback are "My part" and "Accompaniment" (which is everything else). You can't pull out individual parts. So it is even less user-friendly for vocalists than it was before.

    Also, I am trying to edit a part and add in a ritard (I do like the ability to edit parts directly in SmartMusic, which wasn't an option with Classic), but no matter what I do it completely fails. The app just can't handle a tempo alteration properly. 

  • Avatar
    Libor Sima
    3

     I will cancel my actual subscription ... the "new" version is unfortunately ruined (see above). TOO BAD!!!

  • Avatar
    Brian Reichenbach
    1

    I had no idea that the new version would dispense with a ton of helpful repertoire for me and my students!

  • Avatar
    STEPHEN ZIMMERMAN
    1

    First, I'm hugely appreciative of the free offer they've extended to schools during the COVID-19 crisis! That said, I'm a long-time classic user and have waited until this moment to switch my students over. I am hopeful that the new version will improve and fix all the accompaniment, sound, scoring, and other issues once they're not supporting two different platforms. It's got to be expensive and difficult to run "New" and "Classic" at the same time. Fingers crossed!!! 

  • Avatar
    Alex Carpenter
    7

    I am a professor and grade school band and choir director. I used Classic SmartMusic during my graduate studies and found it INCREDIBLY helpful. It had all kinds of difficult repertoire on there and I was able to be more prepared for my rehearsals with my pianist. Now that I am a collegiate educator, I thought getting a SmartMusic subscription would be worthwhile. I was SEVERELY mistaken. All of those amazing Grade 1 solo accompaniments are no longer on there. The French conservatory pieces, the Hindemith Sonata, Jolivet's Chant de Linos, and the Martin Ballade are all ones that were on Classic SmartMusic that are no longer included in the new SmartMusic. There are only a handful of substantial solos on here for flute. (Copland Duo, Mozart G Major Concerto, Reinecke Undine Sonata, Prokofiev Sonata, and Bach sonatas) I also cannot turn off the "My Part" sometimes, even if I turn it all the way down. This new SmartMusic is a HUGE disappointment and waste of money. I hope they update it, or else I WILL NOT be renewing my subscription.

    Edited by Alex Carpenter
  • Avatar
    David Olson
    7

    The original Smartmusic was GENIUS.  The New Smartmusic has removed the best things.  It is slow, relying on downloading each selection every time you use it.  There is no way to take accompaniments with you.  Browser based?  Terrible.  What in the world were they thinking?

  • Avatar
    Charyl Schmidt
    2

    I absolutely agree as well...I have used CLassic for years and it was awesome! It was much more user friendly to kiddos and I could get them all signed up. PLEASE BRING IT BACK!

     

     

     

  • Avatar
    Sue Mark
    3

    I have been BEGGING SmartMusic to fix the percussion issues that did NOT exist in the Classic version. To this day, after MONTHS of contacting them, the percussion parts do not register the kids' work. They can not get accurate feedback. The percussion parts are set to hear NOTES and not percussion sounds like drum pad or snare. If you play a concert C on any other instrument, the snare drum parts are recognized and geet scroed accurately, but NOT if you play the snare drum. The Classic version NEVER did this. They keep telling me to set it on clapping mode (and it's MY PROBLEM NOT THEIRS), which I do. IT DOES NOT WORK! So the 30 drummers I bought access for can't use it correctly. They get no feedback. They have to send me grades of 1% and then I have to listen to grade them (and they are usually 90-100% correct). I've tried all of the percussion stuff on my own and it doesn't work. COMPLETELY INEFFECTIVE! Again, I have been in email communication with them about this since October and they've done nothing but pass the back to me and the kids. I went to a state conference last month and attended a few sessions for a NEW program just like SmartMusic that works better and doesn't have these issues and it's cheaper. I will DEF be switching over next year! 

  • Avatar
    Melanie Marshall
    3

    I am a longtime subscriber to Smart Music. I have always used the "Classic" version and have often bragged about how wonderful it is (was) and suggested that others subscribe.

    That's over now. The web-based version is horrendous. No library. No playlists. No mp3 upload. No way to practice when the Internet is down. I guess it's ok for kids and teachers, but for serious musicians it is just a toy and a very aggravating toy, at that. 

    I will enjoy using SM Classic for the next few months, but when it is no longer supported in August, I can't see any reason to resubscribe. It's sad. Very sad.

  • Avatar
    Sebastian Cole
    3

    The classic version was awesome! I've used it for about 4-5 years. I hate how they are moving to more educational based. I am a University Music Performance major who plays in multiple professional ensembles, and I've used the classic smart music for accompaniment when practicing solos. I know tons of people that also did. I've noticed with the new smart music the piano accompaniment parts don't sound as good and the dynamics are terrible. The classic smart music piano accompaniment felt semi realistic. Also, they got rid of rep! Solo pieces esp that I've learned is disappeared with the new smart music and songs that have remained, they don't have real versions of it from real publishers, they're like fake versions of the song. Also, for mozarts clarinet concerto esp, it is originally in the key of A major for an A clarinet, and the only option they give me is Bb clarinet. Nobody performs it on Bb and they don't have the option to transpose!! This is SO frustrating. The classic smart music had the option to transpose to ANY KEY!! It was fantastic. They took away so many features. Why not keep old good features, and add new ones. The new smart music is babyish, and is not for an aspiring/ professional musician. I would love to be able to rehearse solos with a piano background when I can't be with my pianist, or for recording purposes. I will NOT be buying the new smartmusic anytime soon without old features designed for professionals. Why would they take away features meant for a large pool of their customers.

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