Teaching music online

Recently there has been a lot of discussion around music teaching online and the best way to do this. Teaching music online can be more cost-effective and convenient but it’s very different from teaching in person.

Some people worry this is the beginning of taking individual lessons with teachers out of the equation completely. Developers are creating software that lightens the load on teachers, while appearing to making it cheaper to learn musical instruments. There are still lots of areas where a human teacher is vital, at all stages. Last week, I came across this article in The Economist which discusses the use of digital music tools in music education.

Software and practice

Music teachers are often looking for ways to get their students to do more practice. This is the tried and tested “practice makes perfect” that we’ve all grown up with. Some software creators see this a different way and are looking for ways to help learners who have limited time but still want to gain results. This isn’t to say that they’re discouraging students from practising completely, but they are trying to find ways to make this more efficient for some.

The Economist article mentioned above begins with the notion that practice is just about playing “… scales, chords and patterns over and over in hopes of developing muscle memory…”. This simplified description of practice can turn some people off playing altogether in the early stages. Although these are important in music education, there is a lot more to it. Any good teacher would be adding more to this, at all levels.

Teaching online

Online learning has grown rapidly over the past few years. Some music educators have taken full advantage of this and started developing their own materials. Courses in various musical styles have been produced by larger education companies like Coursera, Alison and the BBC as well as more specialised individual organisations. These range from live video classes and recordings covering the basics to backing tracks, detailed resources and printouts for students to learn in detail.

Using video

Lessons

With a good internet connection, streaming live sessions can be the next best thing to learning in person. Skype, Google Hangouts or other video conferencing software is great for individual or small group tuition. Over long distances, you can easily interact with students as you would with traditional lessons. Using cameras means that as well as hearing everything in real time, you can also see and demonstrate things like hand positions or posture. This can be especially useful when a student needs some last-minute help but you’re not able to get to them. If you record sessions, anyone who missed it or wants to see it again can watch at another time.

Demonstrations

For lessons or events where you will be demonstrating or lecturing, webinar software is really useful. GoToMeeting, Citrix and Adobe Connect allow people to log in and see you (via your camera) or your screen. Interaction is usually typed in through a chat box or via online polls and you can decide if this is available throughout the demo or at set points e.g. the end. Usually, this is much easier if you have someone to help you so you can concentrate on your presentation. The downside if that this can be quite expensive if you aren’t doing this through an organisation that already has a licence.

YouTube Live (formerly Hangouts on Air) is used for live concerts and allows for some interactivity, especially through polls and questions. The main YouTube platform is generally used as a place for people to share recordings of their own performances. There are also thousands of music tutorials in various styles. These can be a great way of demonstrating new techniques but if you haven’t uploaded them yourself, you’ll need to check the videos yourself very carefully before recommending to students. Some videos can contain questionable content and the demonstrations themselves may not be performed correctly.

What works best for you?

The examples above are all extensions and variations of the traditional music lesson where teacher and students are all in the same room. To make these work, you will need to experiment and see what works best with your style of teaching. Some things will be more useful than others but it all depends on what you need. You could think about combining teaching music online with other digital tools. For example, you might want to make your resources available before the lesson in a Dropbox or Google Drive folder instead of emailing them out individually. This would save time and make sure that everyone has the latest versions.

I’d be really interested in hearing how you have been teaching music online so far, good or bad. Is there anything that has really helped your or that you’d like to warn people about? Let us know in the comments below or send me a message!

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