Managing Distance Music Teaching During COVID-19 Shutdowns (Updated Mar. 25)

Many of you are or will be experiencing long-term school closures du to the Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic. Many school districts are closing schools and asking teachers to teach online or prepare lessons students can take online for the duration of these closures, which typically are at least two weeks. For many music teachers, this will be the first time they have done this type of teaching. In this article, I will describe how music teachers can hold class using YouTube.

I have been pleased to see trusted online resources respond to the need for k-12 remote learning. One website that I had success using for my middle school students is TeachRock.org. Beginning March 25, they have unrolled distance learning activities. These activities involve content that upper elementary and middle school students are naturally interested in and are motivated to learn, presented in a format that students can work with from home. Distance learning – Teach Rock contains lessons for elementary through high school, and include designing and electric guitar, sampling, drawing to music, and design a distortion pedal.

For students who have guitars, keyboards, drums, and/or bass guitars at home, Little Kids Rock is a great resource. Select the “for kids” menu, and your students can learn a song from the vast library of charts, watch video tutorials, or build technique with “skill builders.” Once students have learned a part, they can record it using the techniques I describe below, and submit it to you for assessment. Using a group chat app like Houseparty, students may even be able to form a band online.

For a simple and free way to facilitate performance distance learning, YouTube can be a valuable resource. It allows for video and audio communication, and accommodates comments which can be used for class discussions. The simplest way to begin is to create a video using your own YouTube channel. This can be a powerpoint, a lecture, demonstration, or music video. Once you have created the video, designate it as “private” so that only your students can view it. Here’s how.

Private videos and playlists can only be seen by you and the people you choose. Your private videos won’t appear to others who visit the “Videos” tab of your channel page. They also won’t show up in YouTube’s search results. 

To share a private video:

  1. Go to your Video Manager in Creator Studio Classic.
  2. Find the video you want to share, then select Edit.
  3. Beneath the “Privacy Settings” drop-down menu, select Share.
  4. Enter the email addresses of people you’d like to share your video with, then select OK.

Comments are not available on private videos. If you want to allow comments on a video that’s not publicly available, change the privacy setting to unlisted. But a better solution is to have students make comments or any other response you are requesting by email. By setting up a dedicated e-mail account for your online lessons, students can submit their work via that e-mail account in the form of written work or even audio files.

For a more sophisticated and detailed platform but still using YouTube, I suggest using EdPuzzle. This platform allows you to select videos from several sources, including YouTube, (and including your own videos on YouTube) and insert notes and questions directly into the video. The platform also allows students to make written comments and answers to questions. For instructions on how to use EdPuzzle, click here.

Music teachers will want their students to practice solo and ensemble parts while at home, and have a way of monitoring their progress. Students can record their own performances of assigned parts, then submit them to you via that e-mail account, or through the cloud using dropbox, iCloud, or a similar platform. Be sure to be specific as to what you want submitted. Keep assignments short so that sound files do not become difficult to share. Specify what portion of the part is to be recorded, and at what tempo. Also specific what criteria you will use to assess their work, be it note accuracy, expressiveness, tone, or what have you. Apple users can use Garage Band to record, and to convert to MP3 format before uploading. PC users can use Audacity. For directions on how to convert to MP3 format using Audacity, click here.

Dropbox, iCloud, and other cloud platforms also afford the opportunity to get written assignments, worksheets, etc. into your students hands. For Dropbox, place these files into the public folder, and then click on the share dropdown menu. Select copy link, and then share the link on the YouTube video, or by group email that goes out to all members of your class. When students have completed the written work, they can upload it to the dropbox folder, or submit it as an e-mail attachment.

Thus far, I have discussed ways of teaching classes where you want to reach a group of students at once. You may also want to give one-on-one instruction, especially in areas of applied lessons or extra help. For this, Skype, Face Time, or video Messenger, are the most convenient ways to go. Simply arrange a lesson time, connect via smart phone, and teach the lesson. For follow-up, the same submission arrangements for practice monitoring discussed for ensemble parts practice can be made. The private student records an assessment excerpt on specified days and submits them on a deadline according to specific criteria. You would then listen to the audio file and return feedback to the student to guide further practice until the next scheduled lesson. Additional meetings can be arranged between scheduled classes as needed. You can also encourage students to arrange online sessions with each other. Depending on wi-fi speeds, it may be possible for students to play in online ensembles live using the chat platforms or, failing that, sharing their practice recordings with each other, and then playing with those recordings in their own home practice. This would enable two students to each learn one part of a duet, and then practice with the other’s recording of the other part.

I am certain that I have only scratched the surface of what is possible for distance learning during these difficult times of school closures. Please share your wisdom on this subject in the comments below, and please practice every precaution to keep yourself and your family healthy.

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