Better Ways of Teaching Traditional Music Online

Are you teaching traditional music online? Are you loving it? Or are you desperately holding out for the day you slam that laptop shut and forget this pandemic ever happened? 

I’ve heard a lot of frustrations over the past few months: ‘it’s just not the same’… ‘we can’t play together over Zoom’….‘it’s impossible to teach beginners this way.’ 

Change Your Attitude to Teaching Traditional Music Online

Of course we all miss being in the room with our students and simply making music together. But teaching traditional music is like teaching in general. It calls for us to be motivated, positive, and energised in order to do our best work. If we focus on the negatives around teaching online, and regularly lament the things we cannot do, then, of course, we are not going to have the best experience. Which means that neither are our students. 

So, given that this is the only game in town right now, how can we turn this around?

How can we get past feeling that teaching online is (at best) something to be endured or (at worst) suffered, and really embrace it as an opportunity to discover new ways of teaching traditional music. 

What is Different About Teaching Traditional Music Online?

Let’s start by separating out these two words – ‘teaching’ and ‘online’. Most of our frustrations are with the ‘online’ bit. So what can we do to get over that. Here are a few tips to help you:

  1. Take the time to properly familiarise yourself with whatever platforms you are using – or, if you have been doing this for months now, to give yourself a refresher course. There are tons of tutorials available on how to use Zoom or Skype or Facetime. These platforms are changing and developing – so it’s good to keep checking in for these updates on a regular basis. It will be 30 minutes well spent!

  2. If you are not feeling completely confident with using the tech make a checklist of what you need to do, step by step,  and stick it up beside your computer. On Zoom, turn on original sound – check. Turn everyone’s mute button on – check. Any of those little things that you might sometimes forget – and that have the potential to send you off in a spin – write them down and keep them handy.

  3. If you are struggling with how the tech is working for your students why not write up a similar checklist for them, or create a short video guide. It’s in your interests to ensure that they know what the optimum settings are on their end so that the lesson can run smoothly.

  4. Spend time (yes, time in class!) helping your students to get the technology working properly. I’ve seen so many teachers struggle on through a 30 or 40 minute class when the technology is clearly not set up properly – and everyone is frustrated by the end of it! Spend time to figure it out together, and it will make a huge difference. 

  5. Don’t get complacent about seating and positioning in relation to the camera. Make sure that your students position themselves where you can see them AND their instruments fully. And definitely lead by example. Make sure that they can see you fully and clearly. 

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What We Have All Learned About Teaching During the Pandemic

Now let’s look at the ‘teaching’ bit of the equation. What have we learned about teaching traditional music online since the pandemic began? We have realised that ‘teaching’ – as we once knew it – just does not cut it in this new virtual space. Fact! 

We’ve been trying to shoehorn all of our previous teaching practices into this new online environment. So, it’s no wonder that we are stressed, and exhausted, and frustrated. We have learned – through trial and error – that our previous live, in-person approach alone does not work.

How to Change Your Online Teaching Offering

But here’s the great thing…now we know what’s wrong. And therefore we can start doing something about it. Simply teaching online –clinging to our old ways in this new, virtual space – is not the right approach. Instead, we need to create something new and dynamic. We need an online teaching offering that is a freshly imagined, newly crafted version of face-to-face teaching methods. 

A version that is not lesser, diluted or second-best, but one that is just, simply, different

A version that truly suits this new space that we find ourselves in. 

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New Ways of Teaching Traditional Music Online 

Here’s an example. You or your students have poor broadband and the face-to-face zoom classes are wrecking their heads – and yours. What you need is a complete re-think. Perhaps you need to change your synchronous teaching approach -where the teaching and learning happens at the same time. You could replace it  with an asynchronous one – where the teaching and learning happens at different times. Here’s how that might look:

  1. You pre-record your lesson for the week. Then send it along with any other learning materials e.g. notations, links to YouTube clips etc. to your students. You can send it via email, WhatsApp, Dropbox, Padlet – whatever works best for everyone.

  2. Your students follow your learning instructions at their own pace. 

  3. Students record their progress via video, audio, journal and send this to you at an agreed time.

  4. You have a short feedback session/progress report once a week with your students. You can do this via email or as recorded message, or in person by phone.

Blended Learning for Effective Online Teaching

This is a blended learning approach, using instructional videos and direct feedback. Think about it.  it may be completely different from the way you taught before. But that does not mean that it can’t work. It could be a much more viable, enjoyable and productive alternative than trying to work a miracle with broadband. 

So, let’s stop thinking about the limitations, stop lamenting the things that we cannot do. Let’s re-frame the situation and consider this a blank canvas. Let’s embrace this new teaching space that we have been given. Who knows? You might even love this new ‘room’ and new version of your teaching practice even more than your in-person one.

In my next blog I will share some more ideas on how to re-think the teaching part of your online practice. In the meantime, if you are interested in your own professional development as a teacher of traditional music then sign-up here for my teaching traditional music online course or for one-to-one mentoring

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