So much of what makes music fun for us is sharing it with others: playing in ensembles, performing concerts, worshipping with our congregations, and teaching our craft. Unfortunately, many of us have found the usual ways we gather together to share music abruptly curtailed recently. With the help of technology, though, teachers and students alike can access a plethora of opportunities for distance learning through online lessons and rehearsals, practice aids, self-instruction and advancement, and sheer repertoire exploration.
Here’s our guide to navigating distance music learning and instruction. Let us know if you have any tips or pointers, and we’ll be happy to share them with our community!
Moving Lessons & Rehearsals Online
Online lessons work. Not only will they help all of us maintain a sense of normalcy, they allow teachers and ensemble directors an opportunity to see and hear their students differently, which can help point out new areas of weakness and opportunities for improvement.
Unless you’re trying to make online instruction a new permanent part of your pedagogy, you don’t need fancy technical equipment. Just use your computer, tablet or smartphone with a good Internet connection and, if you prefer, maybe headphones or earbuds.
You will need to develop a vision for how these lessons will look, but your considerations can be limited to the following:
- What platform are you going to use?
If you’re more interested in something like a masterclass, lecture or group rehearsal, it might instead be worth checking out Crowdcast to make the experience more user-friendly. Though this is a paid service, there are longer session limits, an integrated chat for students, Q&A features, and the ability to invite students or guests to join on screen.
- How will your setup look on camera?
Make sure you have enough space and lighting, and make sure that the elements that students need to see are easily visible on screen. Do a practice run with a fellow music teacher to check.
- What tools do students have, and what will they need?
If students need to install software or access equipment like music stands and metronomes, let them know how and where they can get these in advance of their lessons or rehearsals.
- What should the student be paying attention to during the lesson?
Some teachers, for instance, advise students to watch the stream of themselves during a one-on-one lesson. The streams acts like a mirror, letting the student see their body alignment and make automatic adjustments.
Expect a couple kinks when you’re getting started, but you’ll be able to iron these out pretty quickly and easily.
Developing a Practice Plan
Many students, especially those who are younger or at earlier stages in their musical education, don’t know how to practice effectively. While this is a challenge for any environment, distance learning requires students to be more self-directed.
When helping students develop a practice plan, consider these ideas:
- Set a specific time and day for practice
- Set specific goals: For instance, play a difficult passage correctly 5 times, rather than playing it correctly only once and moving on, to reinforce getting it right.
- Break down the practice session into timed segments between warm-up, literature/technique study and performance.
Bookending a practice session with comfortable, familiar playing helps students feel good about playing and balance challenges with success.
Online Music Education Resources & Support
Whether you teach individual lessons or lead instrumental or choral ensembles, there are a number of music methods and series that have online tools to support instruction and practice.
- Faber Piano Adventures Player App: For iPhone or iPad, this app provides easy access to interactive play-along orchestra, jazz ensemble and rock band accompaniments for the Faber Piano Adventures method books.
- Kjos Interactive Practice Studio: This downloadable software lets students hear their music with accompaniment, create recordings to send to their teachers, and watch video lessons to help them build new skills. This can be used with Bastien New Traditions and other books from Kjos.
- ABRSM Exams & Assessments: The London-based music examinations board offers a suite of mobile and tablet apps, including music theory, sight-reading and aural trainers, as well as practice apps focused on individual instruments.
- SmartMusic: This web-based suite of music education tools includes play-along accompaniment tracks, melody examples and masterclass videos, as well as enrichment pages with theory, music history and exercises, and access to a vast library of repertoire. Not only is this a supplement to the Suzuki Method and to the Sound Innovations series for both band and orchestra, this is also a powerful versatile platform to aid one-on-one lessons, remote classrooms and rehearsals, and individual practice.
- Essential Elements Interactive: Available with both Essential Elements for Band and Essential Elements for Strings, this set of tools for online learning includes exercise demonstrations and accompaniments, recording features for students to share music with their teacher, and pedagogical videos. Teachers can also upload and share their own materials to customize their online classrooms.
- Essential Elements Music Class: A cloud-based service for elementary music classes, this tool offers recordings and classroom activity videos for hundreds of songs, as well as a comprehensive collection of teaching materials, including interactive activities, games, virtual Orff instruments, listening maps, recorder and ukulele units, custom lesson creation, and more.
- Carus plus for choir: The carus music app contains recordings with amplified individual voice parts, tempo control and a marker feature for following the score to help choral singers learn new music from Carus quickly.
- Noteflight Learn: Free for music educators affected by closures through June 30, this web-based tool lets teachers create sheet music and composition assignments, and also lets students can also listen to, play or record any piece of music in the Noteflight library at any tempo in any key.
- MusicFirst: A comprehensive Learning Management System for K-12 music education, this cloud-based suite of services offers an expansive library of lessons, assessments, content and complete courses to help teachers monitor students’ progress, make lesson plans and create assignments.
- The Shed: This site is full of digestible lessons in theory, notation, rhythm, improvisation and more.
- MetronomeOnline: This mobile app for iOS and Android helps organize and track practice time with time tracking, task lists, goal settings and a metronome.