MIDI keyboard

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This page is about creating a specific type of exercise. If you are preparing your own exercise, we recommend you read Setup basics first.

SmartMusic can record music played on MIDI keyboard, and assess the performance accuracy immediately after recording. Unlike SmartMusic’s assessment of audio recordings, its assessment of MIDI can process many voices at once. Note that MIDI is not supported in New SmartMusic. The following is a list of the main options for exercise setup:

  • Sight reading can be required, or with multiple takes can be allowed.
  • Students can be required to perform along with an accompaniment.
  • Portions of the music can be hidden so the student must infer what to play.
  • All or part of the music can be left blank, so the student must work out or improvise a solution.
  • Non-standard clefs can be used, with some restrictions.

The above options can be combined in any way. For example, sight reading is possible with or without accompaniment.

171 10b image.png
An accompanied score reading assignment submitted by an oboist at the end of the second semester, Schulich School of Music, McGill University. The computer accompaniment plays the violin parts, so the student hears the complete texture.

Setup

Entering your music

The first step is to create a score in Finale notation software. When exporting the score to a SmartMusic file, select “MIDI keyboard” from the list of SmartMusic instruments. Setup of the score must be done with some care in order for MIDI keyboard to appear on the list of instruments:

  • it must have two staves;
  • the two staves must be grouped together;
  • the top staff must begin in treble clef and the bottom staff must begin in bass clef.

Unlike other types of assessment files, exercises for unaccompanied MIDI keyboard do not need to have a linked part in the notation file. SmartMusic will use the formatting of the score, even if a linked part for MIDI keyboard is present. Exercises for MIDI keyboard with accompaniment work differently; please see #Accompaniment for more information.

Templates

When exporting from Finale, your choices of SmartMusic instruments are saved in the Finale file. Once you have a Finale file that exports to MIDI keyboard the way you want, it can be copied and used as a template for other exercises.

Audio output

The MIDI signal tells SmartMusic which keys are being pressed on the keyboard; it does not contain actual audio. For students to hear what they are playing, workstations must be set up in a way that makes keyboards produce audio as well as MIDI. There are two main ways of doing this.

  • Keyboards with built-in sounds can be used; the sound from these keyboards can be monitored through headphones or built-in speakers, or it can be routed into the computer.
  • SmartMusic’s software sampler can be used. To enable this feature, go into File> Preferences> Foot pedal and MIDI keyboard, and select “Hear MIDI keyboard through speakers.” This will allow users to hear their keyboards when SmartMusic is open.

Audio capture during recording

When recording, SmartMusic appears to capture audio from all sources available. It captures all sounds produced internally by the software, such as the metronome and the keyboard sound produced by SmartMusic’s software sampler. If the workstation setup includes a built-in or external microphone, SmartMusic also captures any audio heard in the room. This feature can be used with play-and-talk exercises.

Assessment

Computer assessment is possible with all of the configurations described above. For the sake of simplicity, the guidelines throughout this page assume that assessment is being used, unless indicated otherwise.


Nota bene: even though the assessment feature demands that a maximum score be designated when an exercise is assigned, the assessment feature need not be used for actually scoring exercises. It can be used just to have performed notes shows up in red (if they do not match the given notation) or green (if they do). This can facilitate assessment and evaluation by the student, instructor, and teaching assistant.

Options

Sight reading vs. multiple takes

By default, multiple takes are allowed in SmartMusic. However, instructors can select several sight reading options when creating an assignment, and make them required. This feature is documented thoroughly in the user manual.

Accompaniment

Audible accompaniment can be included in any MIDI keyboard exercise. The accompanimental instruments are entered in the same score as the parts to be performed/assessed. When the score is exported to SmartMusic, the instructor selects which instruments are for assessment and which ones are for accompaniment. The accompaniment can be turned on and off by the student, but the instructor can specify if it is required, in which case only the takes recorded with the accompaniment can be submitted.

The method of formatting music in Finale changes when adding accompaniment to a MIDI keyboard exercise. SmartMusic will display the formatting of the linked part for MIDI keyboard, not the formatting of the score.

Accompaniment is not shown on screen­: students hear the accompaniment but they only see their own parts. Setup of an exercise that shows a keyboard part and an accompaniment is be similar to setup of a sing & play or other multipart exercise. This type of exercise would record whatever audio was produced by the keyboard (see #Audio output), but would not use MIDI or assessment.

Score reading and clefs

The use of MIDI input requires exercises to be notated in two staves; this imposes a restriction on the type of score reading exercises that are possible. Exercises in reducing music notated in more than two staves would have to be done with audio recording rather than MIDI (see #Workarounds for non-assessment below). MIDI input does, however, provide a good way of working on basic clef-reading proficiency. While examples for MIDI keyboard must begin in treble and bass clef, they may switch to C clefs or any other clef immediately afterwards. To make the very first note of an example appear in one of these clefs, a blank measure in treble or bass clef can be inserted before the music begins. For the sake of efficiency, this measure could replace the count-in.

The addition of #accompaniment parts opens up more possibilities for assignment design. Practicing of a middle part can be more musically satisfying if other parts of the texture are heard in the computer accompaniment; important melodic and harmonic parts are not omitted, and the student is part of a virtual ensemble. The computer can also cover parts that may be too difficult for students to play, especially if keyboard is not their main instrument. This opens up repertoire choices that might not be accessible otherwise.

Hiding music

(main article: Hidden answers)

The scope of MIDI keyboard exercises can be extended by leaving some of the notation blank, i.e., by hiding notes with Staff Styles in Finale’s Staff Tool. This technique forms the basis of several types of exercises, especially sequence continuation, transposition, chord resolution (fill-in-the-blanks) and aural learning.

Workarounds for non-assessment

MIDI input cannot be used with the “solo” type of file as a way of making assignments without assessment. Two different workarounds could be used to make non-assessed assignments for MIDI workstations, although both methods add to the complexity of setup and use.

  • The assessment type of file can be used, with assessment turned off. Note that assessment is on by default each time a student opens an exercise, so the assignment would be confusing if students didn’t realize they were supposed to turn assessment off.
  • Keyboards with built-in sound capabilities (see #Audio output above) can be recorded via audio like acoustic pianos, as described in Multipart exercises. The keyboard is not used as a MIDI keyboard in this method, so the solo type of file is possible.

Additional examples

Please share your examples here.