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Indian River High School uses technology to improve music skills

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PHILADELPHIA — Kammikia M. Barnes stood in front of a flat-screen television with the flute poised at her lips.

Although she was alone, the sound of a full band enveloped the room as she played the notes on the screen.

The 15-year-old Indian River High School ninth-grader was using Smart Music, a computer program the school purchased for band and orchestra students to allow them to practice whenever and wherever they choose.

It doesn’t just make practice fun, Kammikia said. It has also improved her skills.

“I’ve progressed so much since I started using it,” she said.

The program, which costs about $45 per student, records the student’s music with a microphone.

“Sheet music” appears on the computer or monitor and the student is graded based on whether he or she hits the correct note.

Band Director Charles R. Heck said he had a few subscriptions for Smart Music in the past, but this is the first year the district bought every student a subscription.

He made the program mandatory for the students and frequently sends assignments via Smart Music.

“Right now, we’re not even halfway through the season,” he said. “Because of Smart Music, we are better prepared and can play much harder music.”

Students can learn concert music more quickly. With a large military population, the high school’s enrollment fluctuates daily.

If a band or orchestra student enrolls just weeks shy of a concert, he or she can get up to speed and play on stage.

“I remember specifically of a kid moving just a few weeks before a show,” Mr. Heck said. “Normally, a kid in that position wouldn’t be able to sit in on the concert.”

Although practicing with Smart Music is mandatory, students want to practice. It is not unusual, he said, for students to line up at one of the five practice rooms in the morning or during free periods.

“Sometimes, it’s hard to make students practice, and this makes it fun,” he said.

Senior Brandon R. Hartlaub, 17, said whether he is at school or at home, he is almost always using the program.

“It’s better than having sheet music in front of you and trying to figure out how it sounds,” he said as he prepared to play “Catch the Wind” by Paul Clark on his trombone before class started.

The program can also slow the tempo so students can learn the piece at their own speed.

And it’s not just the students who get excited about the program.

As the students continue to improve their skills, teachers are, too.

“It’s so nice,” said orchestra teacher Andrea Erdman. “The kids are always on task. Always. They know their music when they walk in the door.”

Mr. Heck, who has taught music at the high school for 33 years, agreed.

“It’s almost like I have a new lease on teaching,” Mr. Heck said. “I’m excited for the technology and for the kids.”

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