Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Practicing Just Got Social: Three Services To Help Both Students and Teachers

Remember the days when practicing an instrument required enforced seclusion from everybody else in your life? My early years of practice were rich and rewarding, but I tended to keep all my observations entirely to myself. With a new crop of online services, the inner life of practicing is quickly becoming a highly socialized activity, subtly intertwined with their teacher's agenda, the educational aims of software, and the game-like activity of watching one's own practicing in relation to what others are doing with theirs.

Three services in particular stand out in this niche, each with their own take on the relationship of teacher to student, their take on the pedagogical process, and the degree of social interaction between students. 

Music Teacher's Helper

The most mature of the programs in this space, Music Teacher's Helper has been on the scene for several years now and has had time to branch out from a studio management, marketing, and invoicing service to one that embraces pedagogical tools as well. MTH's practice logging features can be accessed by both the student and teacher, as this tutorial video shows:

I particularly like the bar graph and how it shows consistency (or lack thereof). On the other hand, students' recording of practice on the service is limited to interaction between them and their teacher, and although it gives teachers a clear top-down view of how students are practicing, there isn't yet a way for students to see the practice habits of other students in the studio, nor to interact with them through MTH.


A brand-new service by one of North America's most venerable musical institutions, iScore is the brainchild of a partnership between the Royal Conservatory, Queen's University, and Concordia University, growing out of the ePearl educational suite as an implementation tailored towards music students. iScore's practice-tracking process is a largely student-driven one, which utilizes the specific stages in learning a work to encourage students to both reflect on their practice and share it with others using an array of multimedia tools. Here's a short video about iScore:

iScore is a standalone pedagogical tool, without the other scheduling, marketing, and financial studio management tools that can be found in Music Teacher's Helper. From my initial look at the program a few weeks ago, it looks like teachers on iScore function more in an observational role - the onus is on the students to do both the practicing and spend the time learning the program so that they can engage with its numerous features. Because of its funding and development model, iScore is only available in Canada at present, and once the service gets going, it might provide ample reason for American music teachers to move north of the border.

Compound Time

Another new entry in this space is Michael Haddad's Compound Time (thanks for the heads-up, Erica), which is much closer to the spirit of an open social network such as Facebook. The Compound Time process emphasizes setting time goals and choosing repertoire, then setting a timer as you work on each work. Other users you have friended will also be able to see what you're practicing. Although Compound Time has by far the sparsest feature set of the three, it does have something dear to so many social networkers which the others do not - status updates, with the option to pull your Twitter feed into your profile. You can also use the service as a teacher, invite your students and then track their progress.

Depending on your agenda as a teacher, each of these services can fill a specific need in the potentially lonely life of the practicing student. The difficulty with any of them is that, in addition to motivating your students to practice, you have to make a case that they need to spend additional time logged in to a computer reflecting on their work and/or interacting with others. As the toolkits of these programs become more complex and integrated with the learning process, they require more time to both learn the program and put it into practice so that they can work their magic.

Music teachers: do you use any of these programs or others to track practicing? What rewards have you discovered? What challenges?

Music students: do you use an online service to track your practicing? Do you find it helpful for your process? Do the social aspects help to motivate you?

(Disclaimer: I'm on the faculty of the Royal Conservatory, one of the institutions behind the development of iScore.  I have a Music Teacher's Helper-enabled website, and have also been a member of the MTH blogging team for several years. I'm a member of MTH's affiliate program, and although you'll see affiliate links throughout this site, there are none in this article. I have a Compound Time teacher's account, but am not affiliated with the company in any way.)


  1. This is fascinating! I had not heard of any of these programs before. I am a music student, and usually keep track of my practicing quite diligently (and on paper.) However, some of the additional features in these programs may help me even more. I'm extremely interested in the idea of online music services, and I am keen to try it out :)

  2. I think that any online help while you are practicing is good however my only concern is that this should not become the focal point of any practice session. This is especially true for younger pupils who would probably enjoy spending more time on the computer than practicing. In this instance this could become more of a distraction rather than an aid.