When we were plunged into lockdown in mid-March 2020, we all had to change and adapt fast, music teachers included.
One year on, I wanted to reflect on some of the things I’ve learnt from teaching online and having to adapt to life in varying degrees of lockdown.
I can cope with change, and even enjoy the challenge
I keep a line-a-day diary. coming round to a year on from the lockdown in 2020, I can see the entries about how I’m exploring new set-ups for teaching online. Although I was scared, I knew people already taught music online, and I was up for the challenge.
Those who were already used to teaching online regularly, or occasionally for snow days, shared videos and articles online about the different options, settings and equipment they used, which helped immensely.
I remember it that working on my set up felt exciting against a backdrop of uncertainty.
Living in Scotland, the rules have remained strict around singing and face-to-face tuition so I’ve taught entirely online for the last year and a bit. And I have enjoyed the process of fine-tuning my set-up. I bought a great mic early on, but it took me ages to invest in a ring light (something I wish I’d bought sooner). Zoom keeps changing their settings so now I teach with headphones on which has made the process different again.
Audio delay means my students work harder
I don’t think it can have escaped many people that online video calling has a lag that means you can’t sing (or do anything much else) exactly in time with each other.
When I taught in person, I played exercises for my students on the piano and they sung along. Now they have to listen and repeat – it’s making them work harder! I’ve really noticed an improvement in their tuning and memory over the last year.
They’re also getting pretty good at body percussion, cup games and singing second in canon with me. No clapping games, but we can still do loads of fun activities while we sing.
My students are also learning just how fiddly it is to cue up the backing tracks!
But there are lots of creative tools available
Sure, I can’t sing along with my students, but online lessons means I can use more tools than I would have done with my musicianship classes.
Normally, we meet in a school where I only have a whiteboard. Now, I can use powerpoint, video and audio recordings to enhance our lessons. I have yet to brave jamboard, or other interactive tools, but I may yet need to find new ways of exploring ideas.
The psychological distance has made me more confident
Since we locked down and moved online, the slight sense of distance you get from video call has worked in my favour sometimes. I’ve become more confident at getting my students to do physical warm-up (something that was awkward in person) and had the confidence to introduce more mindfulness practices in my lessons. Now, each lesson includes at least three to five minutes of focus like mindful breathing or mindful movement.
I’m also finding I am more confident to direct my students and ask them to do “silly” things that might have felt odd to to in person.
I really hope that I keep the confidence flowing when I can move back to offering face to face lessons too.
I don’t completely hate recording myself
One of the ways I volunteer my time as a singer is to work with our church worship team. When church was cancelled, we wanted to keep contributing to the music, so I had to learn how to record myself for our audio team to edit for the service.
Now, I hate recording myself. Listening to myself speak or sing is weird! But now I don’t hate it so much. I’m used to listening back for duff notes and lyrical mistakes. I’ve even taken a small foray into doing a few YouTube videos with songs and exercises my students have requested.
Once lockdowns are fully lifted, I hope I will keep the confidence to record myself when I practice, and even to submit some piano exams…
Exams don’t matter very much
I already knew this to an extent, but with the shambles that is the attempt by all the major exam boards to pull together online exam submissions, I haven’t bothered pushing anyone towards exams. And now I feel so free!
I still have students who are working for exams eventually, but having a year where there have been no exams really has been delightfully freeing in terms of repertoire and technique work.
I’ll definitely hold this truth close to my heart!
It’s really hard to practice when you have nowhere to go
Kudos to my students who have kept up the practice all year. I hope that’s because my lessons are encouraging, not because they’re afraid not to!
On the other hand, my practice has fallen off what was already a very crumbly cliff. With no performing, no exams and no community music, I have found it really hard to practice. My own singing has really suffered, and my piano playing is firmly stuck at mediocre.
When it’s your job to do the thing you love, it’s surprising how hard it is to do the thing you love.
I don’t have an answer for this one, but I hope that as things look up, I will find more motivation to enjoy music for its own sake.
I love, love, love CPD
Ok, not actually something I learnt so much as something I’m indulging in. Since last summer, the opportunities to hear great teachers and researchers give lectures has exploded because they’re all online!
The music education world is a very dispersed community – we are everywhere, but it’s rare to find us gathering together. Prior to 2020, most of the music education CPD involved travelling to conferences which came with all kinds of additional costs.
Now, I can listen to talks on musicals by an expert in France, study Kodály methodology with a leading teacher in Australia and learn about singing practice psychology from an academic in the USA from the comfort of my own home. I have gone MAD for it!
Between the start of the pandemic and the end of this year, I hope to have qualified as a Vocal Health First Aider, hold the first level of the British Kodály Certificate of Professional Practice (Secondary) and be trained as a Singing for Lung Health leader. I couldn’t have imagined such opportunities would come my way just a few years ago.
I really, really, really, really, really miss singing
You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, right?
I can’t believe that as I write this it’s been over a year since I sung with anyone but my husband and kids. It’s been over a year since I was in a theatre or a church.
And it’s broken my heart over and over again to know it’s going to be a long time yet.
I will probably cry so much when I get the chance to sing with others again that I won’t actually be able to sing!
I am never going to take singing for granted ever again.
What about you? What have you learnt about yourself or your music practice in the last year?