Timothy Smyth

Timothy Smyth“My students and I have only worked with one piece of gear so far,  the Superscope PSD450. The reason is simple... TIME!!!"

Customer Experience

During my time at Superscope Technologies, I was fortunate to be a member of the design teams that produced the PSD340, Elevation software, and the PSD400 series recorders. Before arriving at the feature set for a new Superscope product, our engineers would review years’ worth of customer feedback from musicians and music educators. Phone conversations, emails, face-to-face meetings at trade shows… we tried to listen to it all.(“As a choir director, I really need this feature...” ”When I have a classroom full of students in front of me, I don’t have time for all those steps...”)

At the end of the day, you can only hope that you got it right. After all, engineers spend most of their day in front of computers, reviewing schematics, testing prototypes, etc. It doesn’t leave much time for actually using the products in the field playing and teaching music.

I’ve since moved on to other ventures, which I’m happy to say include a return to teaching music. I’ve been giving guitar lessons for the past several months, and my list of students is steadily growing. This experience has given me a fresh perspective on the Superscope music practice products we worked so hard to produce, and even though I can never be 100% objective, I’m starting to feel that our design philosophy for the PSD 400 series was right on. Let me explain…

Being a guitar player on the more technical end of the spectrum, I’ve always been deeply interested in audio gadgetry. Microphones, guitar stomp boxes, audio recording/music production software, modular synthesis gear… you name it, I collect it.

When I began teaching guitar, I naturally felt that I would utilize my technical background by exposing students to sound recording equipment and guitar gear in addition to teaching the basics of the instrument. It turns out that my students and I have only worked with one piece of gear so far, and that’s the Superscope PSD450. The reason for this is simple. It’s the same mantra that music educators have been repeating to Superscope for years: TIME!!!

That’s right! I have a house full of state-of-the-art recording equipment ready to share with the tech-savvy youth of today, and there’s simply no time for any of it. When I see young students raised on video games, Twitter, and constant texting, I assume they have a natural inclination towards all things technical, and that they can’t wait to dive into all the music software and new apps available today. The truth is they came to me to learn the guitar, and during our precious ½ hour lesson time, we need to spend as much time as possible with fingers on the fretboard. No time! Honestly, a half hour lesson flies by, and I sometimes feel guilty even stopping to write musical examples in a student’s manuscript book.

When it comes to learning the guitar, you could argue that not much has changed in the last several decades. There are no shortcuts when it comes to developing your ear and coordinating your fingers. You need to actually play music, regularly and with good habits. And that’s why I feel the PSD450 stands out in the current sea of technology. It makes no attempt to reinvent music learning. It’s just a Swiss Army knife of practical tools designed to assist with music lessons, the way they’ve been taught for years.

Let’s start with the basics. Every guitar lesson begins with tuning and even though young students must learn to tune their instrument by ear, there’s only so much time you want to spend matching pitches and listening for beats. Remember, we only have half an hour. That’s why it’s helpful to have a digital chromatic tuner handy. Now that I teach with the PSD450, there’s no need to clutter up the lesson space with any additional tuning devices. The PSD450 has a chromatic tuner and adjustable 440Hz tuning tone built in.

During a typical lesson, there eventually comes a time when the student has mastered the correct fingering for a given exercise or song, but the notes are being played whenever the student can comfortably play them. This is when we turn to the metronome to reinforce the importance of playing in time. Once again, I’m grateful that the PSD450 consolidates all the music utilities I need. In addition to the tuning tools, the PSD450 boasts , an onboard metronome with accent beat control.

Students are always bringing in their favorite song to learn. These days however, you can never assume what format a student will use to deliver his or her music. Some students will bring in a CD, while others will play the song from their phone. Sometimes I’ll need to go to iTunes to download the music for the student. Regardless of how the material arrives, the PSD450 has got us covered. Since the PSD450 comes equipped with a built-in CD-RW drive, playing a student’s CD is straightforward. With the help of a simple adapter cable, I can also connect a student’s phone or iPod headphone output directly to the PSD450 and record along with the music in real time. It’s easy to overlook the fact that the PSD450 is a digital recorder at heart, and letting a student hear himself play over his favorite song is a great way to provide constructive feedback and energize the learning process at the same time. Lastly, any material downloaded from the iTunes Store is easily converted to WAV format within iTunes and dropped onto the PSD450. Just connect the unit to the computer with the included USB cable, and drag files from the computer’s hard drive to the PSD450.

On several occasions I have acquired audio examples and accompanying sheet music for a student only to discover that the artist recorded the song using an alternate tuning. This is very common in the popular guitar canon. Just the other day, one of my students was learning The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel. Prior to the lesson, the student practiced the song using a basic chord chart notated in the key of C. During our lesson, I mentioned that I had a copy of the song on the PSD450 and thought he should try playing along. I connected the student’s guitar directly to the PSD450, cued up the track, and pressed PLAY. What resulted was a polychord that would make Schoenberg proud, Paul Simon’s recorded guitar sounding B major over my student’s C major. As you can guess by now, there’s no time to retune. There is time however to turn the PSD450’s Key control up one semitone. What a lesson saver! I should mention that we also get regular use out of the Tempo control. It’s rare that a student is ready to play along with his or her favorite song at the full tempo on the first try.

There’s a piece of gear I own by Lexicon that stands out as one of my favorites. The reason is simple. Every time I question whether the unit can perform a certain task or whether it’s compatible with a certain format, you name it, the answer is always YES! The product is incredibly sophisticated and well thought out. I’m proud to say that the PSD450 is performing the same way in the lesson studio. I’ve yet to find a situation where a lesson was slowed down due to a limitation of the product. I’ve yet to find a situation where a lesson was hampered by a limitation of the product. On the contrary, the PSD450 has provided solutions for a number of everyday teaching situations, making my lessons more effective. Teaching music for the last several months has confirmed that Superscope takes their customer’s requests seriously, and if you’re serious about your private teaching, this may be the one piece of gear that makes your life a lot easier.


Timothy Smyth worked for Superscope Technologies for over 10 years, helping to develop the PSD340, Elevation software, and the PSD400 series recorders. Tim can now be found teaching and composing music in and around Chicago, IL. To reach Tim, contact Superscope Technologies or email smythtimothy@yahoo.com.

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