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  • Wendy Higdon

PracticeFirst’s Robust Performance Assessment Software Helps Students Achieve More

Performance assessment software has been a valuable tool in my band classroom for many years. I find that the specific feedback provided to students is helpful as they practice at home, and the accountability of submitting an assignment is a strong motivator in the learning process. Use of software of this type helps me guide the practice process that happens at home rather than simply leaving students to “figure things out on their own.”


Once I began using PracticeFirst performance assessment software I quickly discovered the benefits of a robust assessment tool that goes beyond what other “red note/ green note” software offers. With PracticeFirst, students get specific feedback in these areas:


  • Pitch

  • Rhythm

  • Intonation

  • Duration


The first level of feedback provided to students takes the form of a colored line below the music. Pitch is indicated by the color of the line, while rhythm, tempo, and duration are shown by the angle of the line. A flawless performance would be indicated by a straight green line below the music.


By hovering the cursor over various locations in the assessment, more specific feedback is provided.


In the assessment below, the student can see that they have played a C# rather than the written D, and released the dotted half note earlier than expected.



Here, in measure 2, we can see that the pitches were accurate (as indicated by the green color), but the rhythm was incorrect.


PracticeFirst can also evaluate intonation.


When students receive their final score, pitch and rhythm are evaluated separately to further assist both student and teacher in pinpointing issues that need addressed.

An overall score is calculated based on the pitch and rhythm scores, as well as the percentage of the assignment that was performed. Students then have the option to redo the assessment, utilizing the feedback provided.


As the teacher, you can also set the rigor of each assessment to best fit the ability level of your students, allowing PracticeFirst to be more lenient with less experienced students, and increasing the expectation as your students gain skill.


A few ways that I incorporate performance assessment software include:


● Giving practice assignments over a difficult passage and requiring students to submit at a slow tempo. By requiring a slow tempo, students are forced to resist the temptation to rush through an assignment. Mistakes are more easily identified and corrected. Subsequent assignments can be given that gradually increase the required tempo.

● Incorporate assignments that require a specific level of mastery to submit. For example, when learning a new piece of music, I find it advantageous to give assignments that require students to learn 85% of the notes and rhythms (often at a slower tempo) within the first few days of passing out a new piece. When students submit by the due date and earn 85% or higher, they receive 100% in the grade book. This is a strong motivator for students to get the majority of notes and rhythms down quickly and results in much more productive rehearsals at school.

● Pass Off/ Achievement System/ Band Karate: These types of systems are called by a variety of names, but are a great way to motivate students while allowing them to work at their own pace. I find that using software to run these systems saves a great deal of time, both in the classroom and out. Typically, I will set up levels with increasingly challenging exercises for the students to master. Once the student can earn the required score (typically 95 or 100%), the students submit the assignment. Weekly recognition of student achievement helps to motivate all students to continue to work at their own speed through the levels.

● Intonation Work: Give students a simple exercise, such as a Remington Study that focuses on intervals. PracticeFirst will assess the tuning of each interval as it is performed, allowing students to gain personalized knowledge of problematic intervals or notes on their instrument, so that tuning can be addressed.


PracticeFirst can have many applications and benefits for your classroom and your students’ musicianship that go far beyond a simple playing assignment. Its robust and varied assessment features provide support for both teacher and student throughout the learning process. I hope you find that it enhances your teaching and learning environment as much as I have!


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