How to Teach Music Online. What are the benefits and where are the pitfalls?

As the effects of the Coronavirus spread around the world we all face an extended period where meeting face to face could be off the table. However, this doesn’t have to mean the end for your teaching, but it does mean we all might have to think differently about how we teach, or more importantly how students learn.

This blog seeks to set out a few key strategies for online teaching and learning, referencing some good practice and highlighting some of the pitfalls. We interviewed Rockschool Examiner Georg Voros, DIME Online Head of Education Mike Sturgis, and Rockschool Drum Syllabus contributor Pete Riley for their views in using online platforms.

Using the right technology

Skype, Zoom, Whatsapp and the like all provide great services for video calls, however, we are at the mercy of our connection speeds and those of our students.

Rockshool Drum Syllabus contributor Pete Riley has invested in a fully mic’d teaching studio for his online lessons, but even with great technology in his studio he still finds that the student’s environment can create challenges as they may be working with internal microphones built into laptops and phones.

Video conferencing is useful, but not the only technology to rely on. Virtual Learning Environments (also called Learning Management Systems) are an excellent way to set interactive tasks that your students can respond to and most have video conferencing built in.

Click here to find some of the best free tools...

Mike Sturgis, Head of Education from DIME Online uses Canvas for his faculty who teach RSL Awards Vocational Qualifications online. DIME have built a bespoke environment for learners built around tasks that are submitted for assessment online – giving students an individual learning experience.

It doesn’t have to be the same!

For centuries teachers have utilised a mentor/apprentice style of 1-2-1 teaching in music lesson. The challenges regarding online learning mean that it is often not possible to hear the nuances of a performance over video conference, so referencing great recordings and curating well recorded video tutorials is going to really help. For example, RSL Fellow and drum legend Steve White’s YouTube channel has some amazing rudiments that you can set for your students to watch.

Building your lessons around material that learners have already watch/listened to is often referred to as ‘flipped’ learning, making the engagement with students much more valuable. Imagine if you were teaching how to play a song, if the student already knows the song before you start it makes the whole process much easier.

Our good friends and Rockschool public exam centre, Roar Music Academy, moved their teaching services online due to current circumstances. Click here to find their learnings so far...

Time is flexible

The traditional model of 1-2-1 teaching often requires strict lesson times. Online learning can be much more flexible. A 30-minute lesson in person might only contain 6 minutes of talking with the student and lots of demonstrating. In an online model you might stretch the lesson out with several bursts over a few days. Setting a task and asking the student to record themselves for you to review saves both students and teachers time.

Mike Sturgis points out the main advantages to online study are the 24-7 access to the content and the complete flexibility to study your lessons when you want to.

Find the right resources

Part of all teaching is to help guide the learners, and the job of curation is even more implicit when thinking about online learning. We recently helped Music Gurus out with their seminar on Online delivery at the Music and Drama Education Expo. The number one comment from teachers was that it was hard to find resources they could trust.

We spend a lot of our time at RSL creating material that is suitable for different levels of learners. If you haven’t already got the Rockschool books, sign up for our Teach Today, Shape Tomorrow programme that includes books and teaching resources free to teachers.

Replay - interactive sheet music tool

The Replay interactive sheet music tool can be a great way for students to explore the Rockschool repertoire and allows them to loop, slow down, or even change key of the pieces.

The student sets the pace

In other areas of education there has been a long-established movement to place the pace of learning in the hands of the learners. A movement from traditional cognitive models into constructivist models can help learners engage in topics for longer and in more detail. Setting goals and benchmarks with individual learners will give positive reinforcement.

For example, the overall goal for the learner might be to complete their Grade 2 Electric Guitar exam with Rockschool – but to get to that end goal the student will need smaller objectives such as learning part of a piece or technical exercise broken down into tasks. Every time a task is completed there is an opportunity for encouragement.

Online communities

Along with constructivism, social constructivism encourages the idea of learners supporting each other. Learners sharing their progress is a great way to create an environment where all your students support each other. This will help retain the students and support your teaching business. Social media groups are an excellent way to connect all your students together.

Mike Sturgis sees many benefits to working in this way...

“some of our tutorials are allocated for the entire group, so this functions like any conference call that you might have experienced in Zoom or Microsoft Teams. However, it’s the forums where students upload examples of their work where we see a lot of discussion between students and staff.”

Finding Students

Recruiting new students is always tricky, but using platforms like Rockschool’s Teacher Registry can build and online profile. Promoting this through social media is a good way of boosting a profile, and with online learning there is a whole world of students who might be looking for your services.

What do you miss out on?

Pete Riley highlights that the physicality of teaching instruments is challenged when we use online methods, as well as the ability to move around the students to really observe technique from different angles. Of course, extreme situations call for extreme measures and whilst we may never be able to recreate all the features of an in-person lesson, for the time being we may just have to adapt. Currently having a live ensemble jam together is a big challenge for the technology, but perhaps not for long.

Safeguarding

When delivering online lessons, remember that safeguarding and child protection remain paramount and you need to ensure that you have considered this carefully to ensure that you can provide a safe and secure online learning environment for both you and your students. The professional bodies at the MU, ISM and Music Mark have both created some very useful guidance, so we recommend that you check it out:

DIME Online Head of Education, Mike Sturgis’ top 5 tips for online teaching

  • Tip 1: Ensure that the platform you’re using to deliver the course will meet the needs of the student learning experience.
  • Tip 2: Communication surrounding assessments must absolutely clear. This includes how the assessment will take place, what is required from the student, how they need to submit their work and the deadline for this.
  • Tip 3: Opportunities for developmental assessment at key points in the term.
  • Tip 4: Prompt, regular and incisive feedback for students on their work, including 1-2-1 contact time with a tutor at key points in the term.
  • Tip 5: Course content must be of a high standard, preferably with a combination of text, notation, graphics, video, images and audio as appropriate. Also, the presentation of the content needs to be done in a way that is easily navigable and considers diverse learning styles.

Rockschool Examiner Georg Voros’ 5 Tips for teaching Online

  • Tip 1: Connectivity. Without good connectivity you’re dead in the water and this will never work. You may have fantastic connectivity your side, but if the person on the other side hasn’t then this won’t work. So aside from making sure you’re well set up your side, make sure your student has good connectivity before you get started.
  • Tip 2: Audio quality. Very challenging for drum lessons if all that’s being used is a laptop microphone or similar. The result is not always great. As the teacher make sure that YOUR sound is clear and audible. Maybe test this with a friend before starting to teach online. Give suggestions to your student on how to best improve sound quality their side in the most affordable manner.
  • Tip 3: Camera angle. If you’re a guitar teacher or similar, then this is easier as you don’t need a hugely wide shot. If you’re teaching drums or keyboard then you need to angle your camera or cameras to make sure that everything is visible.
  • Tip 4: Lesson content. Be selective in what you can teach. Not everything transfers well online. If part of your lesson is very interactive and works well in a room with a student in front of you, eg. teaching technique and helping to physically implement this somehow, you may want to rethink how you can get this across.
  • Tip 5: Lesson scheduling. It’s all very well wanting to teach someone in a different time zone, but you will need to take into account when they are able to have a lesson. Will 3 am in the morning suit you?


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