New ways in online music learning

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Currently – because of COVID-19 – there is a lot of focus on how to do online music teaching.

The vast majority is focusing on moving the normal learning situation into a digital environment. That is the synchronous learning situation, where the teacher and student are present at the same time.

However, there is an entirely different group of opportunities in online music education, which we call asynchronous methods. Learning situations, where teacher and student are not simultaneously together. And this is, what this post will be about. It is not a technical review of the various solutions, but an overall description of the possibilities in this approach. We at the Royal Academy of Music, Aarhus have for some years tried different methods and strategies, and the results are very promising.

Central is video sharing, recorded with simple devices, such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Most devices have a good microphone and camera built-in. At the end of this post, I will mention various online resources available.

From the student to the teacher

A simple method is to ask the student to record the piece he or she is working on within a certain deadline. Already here, there is an advantage over normal music lessons: The student has to make a finished presentation of the piece and will have to observe his or her own performance to see if it is good enough to upload. Here is a great potential for reflection and realization of own strengths and weaknesses. And having to actually finish something, instead of just “giving it a shot” in the lesson, also focuses the work at home, especially if the student has difficulty structuring his or her time and setting goals for the practice.

But there are a lot of other possibilities in this student to teacher approach. For example, the teacher can ask the student to record sub-goals, for instance, recording only left hand for pianists, playing without vibrato for strings, singing only on vowels for singers and so on. You can also ask to record in a slow tempo or ask for a specific focus – intonation or musical expression.

If the student needs help with planning the week, one can give even more specific sub-goals, for instance, to upload three short videos every two days with different sections of a piece.

Finally, there is a golden opportunity here to improve the students practicing: The teacher can ask the student to record specific practice methods to see they are understood correctly and can be implemented at home. Or the student can record “live practicing” for a shorter period, to see how it unfolds in time – when does the student stop, how long sections are practiced, are the goals appropriate and evaluated correctly?

From the teacher to the student

If we go to the teacher to student direction, the focus is typically on feedback on the videos sent by the student. This feedback can be mediated by the teacher making a video, with verbal and practical feedback, demonstrations and references to the student’s videos. What was good, what could be improved, what should the student focus on in the future, etc. It is also possible “just” to reply with written comments, but you then miss the sensory integration that lies in the video media. The great advantage of sending a video is also that the student can watch it several times, possibly even each time before a practice session. Here is also a great potential for the teacher: watching yourself giving feedback can really be developing for your teaching

If you have access to an online Learning Management System (LMS) where you can store videos over time, you can also make general instructional videos that can be used by more students. They could address general aspects of practicing, technical elements, artistic behavior, etc. The benefit of having a collection of old videos accessible is also that both the student and the teacher can follow the development over time: How did we work six months ago? Is the trend moving in the right direction? Are there aspects that have received too much focus, etc.

About video sharing options

You can use common messaging apps, like Messenger, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, WeChat and so on. The downside here is limitations on length and quality. A better option is file-sharing services, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and WeTransfer. You can also upload the videos to youtube and select “unlisted”. Then you can share the video as a link – and no one else can see it. A good piece of advice is to reduce the video quality on your recording device. Many phones have this option.

The most powerful is if you have access to an LMS, a Learning Management System. An online teaching environment where you can upload and download videos, files, and more – in a closed digital space. At the Royal Academy of Music, Aarhus we use the one called Moodle, but other institutions use for instance Canvas or Blackboard. If you are not affiliated with an institution that has an LMS, Moodlecloud and Google Classroom are free options.

Here it is most effective to create a course for every student. Then you can then send videos and links back and forth, as well as give assignments, written feedback etc. At our Academy, we have also recorded concerts and masterclasses and linked them into the student’s course. It is a great resource for observation and reflection for both teacher and student.

In conclusion: The video medium is perfectly suited to facilitate knowledge transfer in music education. It captures sensory, motor and emotional aspects, which are normally lost for the student, once the lesson is over. At the same time, a video recording is practically a “mirror in time”, and it opens up a great potential for developing reflection and realizations for both teacher and student. I hope, that you have become interested in exploring these possibilities offered by modern technology.

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