MakeMusic, after much hype, delay, and then more hype, has finally released SmartMusic 10 in April. This is really what the program should have been from the get go. There are a lot of great Concert Band, and String Orchestra music on the screen selections. There are a few Jazz Band ones as well. The program is Universal Binary for Macintosh, meaning it is really responsive.
The short review of this is to get it. If you can get it for the $25 a year subscription price, it is a huge value. There are tons of great tunes, exercises, and other things in there.
However, the promised “60 New Titles A Month” has not materialized as of yet. And there are some bugs need to be addressed….
The New Stuff
In the previous version of SmartMusic a lot of the arrangements were installed when you installed the program. Now, SmartMusic downloads what it needs. For people with fast internet connections, that is great. For people on Dialup….you have my sympathies. Though, on the flip side, once you have them, you don’t need to download them again.
This is also true of the Pro Audio backgrounds. One of the new features of SmartMusic 10 is the inclusion of professional background recordings. So, instead of a midi rendition of a Jazz piece, you now get a great sounding real version of the song. But…..you need to download it. For dialup users…..well, that could be a time consuming thing. Once you download them, the recordings seem to be stored in a SQLlite database as MP3s. I’ve tried out a lot of the Concert band and Jazz Ensemble ones. Very nice. Recording quality is excellent. You can also select whatever part you want to play. So, you can play Oboe parts, or Clarinet 2, or Bass Clarinet, or Drums. Very cool and fun stuff.
Music on the screen. The previous version of SmartMusic had a very limited amount of music on the screen. There were a dozen or so classical pieces, the Alfred Jazz stuff, Wynton Jazz stuff, and the exercises. SmartMusic 10 has a ton of music on the screen. ALL the pro audio selections have music on the screen.
There are some things to track student assignments and stuff. I really am not interested in that, so, I did not try it.
The Bad Stuff
First, content. MakeMusic is promising at least 60 new titles every month. I hope so. It is now been way over a month, and there has been nothing new released. If they live up to this promise, this program will really make waves. I would like to see, obviously, more Jazz Ensemble pieces, and harder Concert Band pieces. I love those Grainger pieces, and the Sousa Pieces.
Second, when using the pro audio accompaniments, there needs to be a way to keep all the audio accompaniments at the same audio level. iTunes has a Sound Check feature. SmartMusic should as well.
Third, there needs to be a way to adjust the lag when you use the pro audio accompaniments. The green line is consistently behind using the built in audio. There seems to be no way to adjust it, yet you can adjust it when using the Midi accompaniments. Why? Using a FireWire interface (MOTU 828) tends to be better, but SmartMusic frequently “forgets” it (ie: stops sending audio to it) and I have to either quit the program or turn the 828 on and off to get sound again from SmartMusic. No other program, even iTunes, does that with the FireWire device.
Fourth, interface/customizations. I have said it before, but the interface for picking songs is terrible. I don’t know who designed it, but they need to be sacked. What is needed is the ability to make playlists. Multiple playlists. I should be able to create a playlist for James, and drag whatever James is working on to that playlist, say the 1st Alto part of Thurtson’s Frontier. Then, I can make a playlist for Connor, and do the same thing, except drag the 1st clarinet part over.
There needs to be a way to make our own rating for the songs. A lot of the songs are not rated. Why can’t the SmartMusic user rate it? MakeMusic, it’s simple. Go to Apple.com, and download iTunes, and borrow (*cough* steal) how they do things there. That is really what you need in the interface. 90% of students have iPods, and if you had an iTunes like interface it would make more sense and make the program more usable. We need to be able to star ones we like, and maybe add comments, or, at the very least, if it is not rated, we should be able to rate it.
Fifth, sorting does not work at all when you are selecting user created files (on Macintosh at least). Plus, it does not show the Composer at all in User Created files even though I did tag them when I created them. Bug. Needs to be fixed.
Sixth, audio slowdown quality. You can slow down audio in SmartMusic now, however, it sucks compared to Transcribe or The Amazing Slow downer. I really think MakeMusic should have done a little more on this. The Amazing Slow Downer keeps improving on it’s slow down quality, as does Transcribe. SmartMusic seems to have missed the boat. When you start getting things about 20 clicks slower, you hear a substantial loss in audio quality. If they could improve the quality of the slowed down audio, that would be a huge plus. As it is now, I’d stick to either Transcribe or The Amazing Slow Downer.
Seventh, Audio Input Support. I went to the Forums at MakeMusic to see if I could use a Firewire audio interface for Microphone input for SmartMusic. The Apologists there gave me the run around. Basically, there are three arguments. SmartMusic is not a “Pro” application, it is a consumer application and should not be expected to work with such a device. The second argument is that the target market is high school, middle school, and band teachers. The third argument is that my device is too expensive to be supported by SmartMusic (basically citing argument one that SmartMusic isn’t a Pro application). All are stupid. Garageband, bundled with Macintosh computers, works fine with any audio interfaces, USB or Firewire. I can’t seem to find any freeware or shareware audio related programs that cannot take advantage of the FireWire device I have (Amadeus, AudioHijack, etc). Seems silly that MakeMusic requires you to use their $30 Griffin iMic and $10 microphone when a number of students could have an USB adapter already that they use with Garageband. It really should not matter what people use.
Plus, on my iMac, the microphone that came with SmartMusic does not work. I have it in the input, and it doesn’t work.
Eighth, there are no provisions for purging songs that you don’t like. So, potentially, you could run into a space issue in the future. On a desktop, I don’t see a big problem, but on Laptops….that might be a big issue to have a several gigabyte SQLlite database of songs taking up space (MP3 songs downloaded are stored in a SQLlite database). I believe my database file is over 500 megabytes now.
Ninth, support for dual monitors. It would be a great addition to be able to have SmartMusic be able to use two monitors better. Finale does. It remembers that you opened a song on the spanned monitor, but SmartMusic doesn’t. I don’t know how hard that would be, but it would be cool.
Tenth, fix the random crashes. SmartMusic crashes a LOT on my iMac. Just quits for no reason. Most programs will give you the option of sending a bug report to the developer, like Mozilla Firefox for example, but SmartMusic…..nope. The quits/crashes are never in the same place either. Just random.
Eleventh, better midi sounds. There seems to be a little (key word is LITTLE) progress in making the built in sounds that SmartMusic makes better, but not much. The horn sounds are still 1990 Nintendo quality. Clarinet, oboe, saxophone sounds are terrible. Why not give us support for using GPO? It’s bundled with Finale 2007. If SmartMusic detects it, then it uses it. Then I can have a GOOD piano sound, and a flute that sound like a flute, etc.
Twelfth, the ability to transpose the music on the screen that uses the ProAudio stuff. It would be very valuable to perhaps take a clarinet part from the concert band area, and transpose it for something else. Maybe Alto sax?
SmartMusic has a lot of potential, but there are a lot of stupid little issues that need to be addressed. The biggest are the lag, interface, sorting/composer bug, and purging. The other things would be great to have to make it a stellar product.
I still think for $25, this is a great program. It just needs a little more TLC from MakeMusic to make it a stellar program.
Update: 06/10 08:33 GMT by E :Added 11 and 12 to the mix. Forgot about that stuff. There will probably be other things I’ll add to the list…..
Update: 06/27 03:52 GMT by E :The other day, I posed a question on the MakeMusic forums about when we could expect bug fixes and the new content. I was greeted with messages by some unnamed individual who goes by the handle “SmartTeacher”. At first, this person sounded like a 8 year old, with replies like “U R Stupid”. Anyhow, one of the SmartMusic staff warned me about use of language (what?) and engaging something else. James Anderson
SmartMusic Product Specialist was the guys name. Any how, I asked him about the new content. No answer.
In light of this, I would be a little wary of SmartMusic. The support forum is terrible, and the support staff seems not to want to answer questions. I’m a little concerned about this. Mr. Anderson……………care to answer in my lifetime???