Five Reasons Why You Should Use Practice First with Your Ensembles

PracticeFirst, powered by the amazing assessment algorithm created by MatchMySound, is a music learning application that gives teachers and students the tools they need to improve their performance skills. It is perfect for ANY performance ensemble: band, chorus, orchestra, modern band, jazz ensemble, Mariachi band, and more. PracticeFirst uses AI to provide immediate and intuitive practice feedback, assessing rhythm, pitch, intonation, and duration. The assessment rigor can be easily adjusted from “Easy” to “Hard,” so you’re challenged but never frustrated.  At MusicFirst we are often asked how PracticeFirst compares to another performance assessment product. The following five reasons should provide you with all you need to consider adopting PracticeFirst into your music program:

REASON #1 – ACCURACY 

This might sound heretical, but the notion of a piece of software judging the musicality of a student – especially younger students – is kind of scary to me. That said, the idea of a music teacher effectively assessing over a hundred students in a performance ensemble with meaningful feedback without technology is almost impossible. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day. So, I ask the question: Is the accuracy of the assessment important to you? To your student? I would argue STRONGLY the answer is YES. The last thing you want is for a student to get discouraged about music making because the accuracy of a piece of software is questionable. One of the most amazing things about PracticeFirst is it is VERY accurate and provides WAY more useful feedback to a student after they have finished playing an exercise or singing a piece of repertoire.

I used another well-known assessment product with my band students when I taught middle school, and the accuracy simply wasn’t anywhere near reliable enough for me to make the grades they received meaningful. In fact, I ignored them altogether. Here’s why: if a student speeds up during their performance, EVERY NOTE was marked wrong after they started speeding up. Have you ever taught an ensemble that didn’t speed up? If a student speeds up, even a little, during their performance, isn’t it better for the software to note that they speed up, but continue judging pitch, rhythm, and intonation? Of course! PracticeFirst does that. 

What about note length/duration? One of the things that used to drive me crazy when my students used other products was that if they played the beginning of a note at the correct time, it didn’t matter how long they held the note. Isn’t it important to have students play a whole, half, or dotted note for its full value? Of course it is! PracticeFirst does that. 

What about intonation? With beginners and younger students, intonation just might not be everything you’d hope for. Getting students to make a beautiful sound on their instruments or with their voice takes lots of practice and time. Fully supporting a note with their breath doesn’t just happen overnight. Wouldn’t it be great if the software was able to let the students know that they were out of tune on a note without marking them as incorrect? If a young clarinetist is practicing getting over the break, isn’t it important that the software rewards them for making it, even if they were a little flat? Of course! PracticeFirst does that. 

Lastly, after a student plays or sings their assignment, their score is broken down into three scores: Length Played, Pitch and Rhythmic Accuracy. If a student plays all the pitches correctly but their tempo is all over the place, PracticeFirst lets them know. If they perform a piece rhythmically perfect but their intonation is “a little pitchy,” PracticeFirst lets them know. If they only play the first half of the exercise and stop, PracticeFirst lets them know how they did, but suggests they finish, or their score will be pro-rated. This type of functionality is critical in my opinion. 

REASON #2 – ACCESS

Do you know how most students in K-12 schools access curricular materials outside of the classroom? What types of devices do they spend 10-12 hours a day on? Their phones! If you have a child, you know I’m right. Both of my daughters received Chromebooks from their school districts and they use them throughout the school day. The moment they got home, those Chromebooks almost always stayed in their bookbags. They did their homework on their phones. Even though I found this impractical, have you ever seen a kid text? It’s incredible! They can type really fast. Phones are like an extra appendage for most kids today. With that in mind, we made accessibility on phones possible from the very beginning. I cannot overstate how important this is when you consider how much the software will be used by students. We know more than 80% of student users of PracticeFirst access it on their phones daily. Isn’t it important to meet your students where they are – on their phones? Of course it is!

REASON #3 – CUSTOMIZABILITY

No two school music programs are alike. Every performance ensemble in the world has their own culture, scheduling challenges, strengths, and weaknesses. Most music teachers have precious little time to do anything other than teach during the day, so when you bring a piece of assessment software into any music program, it MUST be flexible and customizable enough to fit the very specific needs of that ensemble. PracticeFirst does that. Here are just a few of the features that allow you to customize assignments for your students:

Upload Your Own Scores – PracticeFirst makes it very easy to upload your own scores for assessment. It allows you to upload any MusicXML file or a native MuseScore file. You can also import any musical score directly from Flat by clicking on the Export to PracticeFirst button in the Export menu. The process is very simple and you can customize numerous aspects of the score easily.

Depending on the experience level of your students, you can choose the level of rigor for the assessment – Easy, Medium, or Hard. I always recommend using the Easy option because the point of assigning students exercises in PracticeFirst is to get them to practice!

Audio Only Exercises – this amazing and unique feature allows you to simply record a student performing a section of a piece or an entire exercise and then using that recording as the reference for an assignment for the rest of the section. This is a great option if you don’t have access to sheet music. What a great thing to make it the responsibility of the leader of each section to record the concert repertoire and have every other student in that section be assessed against it?

Video Recording – want to see your students’ posture or embouchure while they are performing? All you need to do is click on the Enable Video Recording and the students can record themselves so you can see everything they are doing.

Score Goals – this unique feature is a perfect way to scaffold your assignments and avoid students always trying to get a score of 100% – which is very difficult to do in any software program. Instead of asking your students to get a 100% the first time they are playing something, why not lower the score goal to 80%? This allows the students to grow over time and feel good about getting 80% of the piece correct on their first pass. 

Generic Assignments – this amazing feature allows you to create a Task and have the students select the piece they will be assessed on. Although this doesn’t sound like a big deal – it is! This feature allows teachers to assign their ensemble a Task and then individualize what each section works on – rather than creating multiple assignments. A HUGE time saver.

Polyphonic Assessment – what about guitar players, ukulele, and piano players in your music program? PracticeFirst offers polyphonic assessment and it’s truly amazing.

Tempo Goals – this unique feature is a great way to allow your students to slow down the metronome when they are trying to accurately play or sing something without it affecting their score. By setting the tempo goal to 85% you are allowing students to slow down the metronome slower than the original tempo without being marked down for it. When they are learning something, isn’t that important?

Special Exercises – another unique feature of PracticeFirst is the ability to have any exercise be either a sight-reading exercise or an exercise that requires them to memorize it. In the Advanced Options when creating a task in PracticeFirst, you can select Sight Reading or Memorization from the Special Type dropdown menu. Very cool.

Limit Attempts – this unique feature allows you to choose how many attempts your students get on any assessment. Sometimes you want the students to try a piece until they get it right (and yes, students can choose from any of the recorded attempts they make for submission to the teacher) and sometimes you just want to give the students one shot. When we built PracticeFirst we took all of this into mind and built the features we know teachers want and need.

Color Blind and Greyscale Feedback – believe it or not, the fundamental “red note green note” assessment style doesn’t work for quite a few students and teachers. We built in a color blind and greyscale option under the user settings menu so every student (and teacher) can understand the feedback PracticeFirst provides.

REASON #4 – CONTENT

There are currently more than 30,000 individual pieces of assessable music from over 35 different music publishers in PracticeFirst. They also have a unique way of presenting content – specifically method books. Unlike any other product, you can create complete courses based on a method book by assigning any page or exercise from a particular method book by dragging it to an intuitive class calendar. Whenever I show this feature to teachers they gasp. It makes assigning content very simple and fast. No other product does that. This content also has extra features such as embedded videos, images, audio recording tasks, video recording tasks, and even quizzes and written assignments. With PracticeFirst ,you get a complete and comprehensive assessment platform that does way more than color note heads.

REASON #5 – SUPPORT

One of the MANY reasons I love my job is from the very beginning we implemented lifetime free technical support for all our customers, delivered by musicians and educators who know exactly what our customers are going through. I don’t think this can be overemphasized. Whenever teachers use technology as a part of their instruction, it must work. Occasionally, it is possible you can run into problems, and even the smallest problems can be huge when you’re teaching in front of students. Because PracticeFirst has been on the market for over ten years now and has been used by millions of students and their teachers, we are confident the MusicFirst Support Team has made the PracticeFirst user experience as issue-free as possible and if by some chance things go wrong, we are there to help.

MusicFirst.com

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