Teaching music online during the pandemic has yielded some creative surprises, like mixing “Blob Opera” and beatboxing

Learning to make music is a complete activity for mind and body. Whether learning to play a musical instrument or to sing, teachers rely on learners’ physical cues to help them progress – cues that are often masked either by looking at someone on a screen or by listening through a microphone. As a music teacher, I would risk that few music teachers in schools choose to teach their students remotely.

However, as many teachers and students have discovered over the past two years of on-and-off virtual schooling, music lessons during the pandemic have revealed some pleasant surprises.

Going online has forced music educators to adapt existing ideas or adopt existing technologies to discover, invent, and share ways to reach students to keep music education alive.

Music without instrument

During the pandemic, most school music teachers have faced the challenge that elementary school students do not have access to instruments at home. This often leaves online tools the default. As school budgets are always stretched, it is important that programs are very inexpensive or preferably free.

At the elementary level, students can enjoy and learn from apps such as Incredibox, where students can explore beatboxing, combining beats and sound effects to create unique pieces. Beatbox musicians who create complete musical works by manipulating their breath, mouth and throat inspired the development of this tool.

Or teachers can introduce students to choral exploration in Blob Opera, a “machine learning model trained on the voices of four opera singers,” developed by Google and AI artist David Li. In Blob Opera, students manipulate four operatic blobs – a soprano, alto, tenor and bass quartet – and can have them sing a variety of pieces on world stages. Students can “take the blobs on tour” where they could sing a Korean folk song in Seoul, or a piece by composer Erik Satie in Paris.

“Making Blob Opera with David Li”, video from Google Arts & Culture.

On various platforms, students can share their creations live with teachers and classmates. I’ve found that when we introduce technology to students, they often take it in unexpected directions. A student I was teaching set up a beat on Incredibox and left that window open and played to accompany a Blob Opera set: not an obvious musical couple but a wonderfully creative couple.

Learn from home with instruments

Even before the pandemic, some music researchers wanted to help educators overcome the barriers of teaching instrumental music online and how online lessons could benefit children in rural areas. However, singing and playing instruments online comes with its own set of technological problems, the biggest of which is time lag – what some of my students call “glitchiness”.

Technological issues can create frustrations with virtual instrumental music teaching.

However, research conducted during the pandemic suggests that teaching students how to play instruments online may offer music teachers the opportunity to redefine the curriculum, set new goals for students, and consider new benchmarks. Evaluation.

For students who have access to instruments at home, music teachers can use a flexible companion app like SmartMusic. Without altering the pitch (an essential ability), students can alter playback speeds, manipulate the nature of the accompaniment they hear, activate a metronome, and even click on individual notes in a score to view fingering and timing. note sound for specific instruments.

This program costs money, but schools can purchase site licenses, making the resource accessible to more students.

Read more: Investing in Technology for Student Learning: 4 Principles School Boards and Parents Should Consider

Sound exploration

Google’s Chrome Music Lab suite offers learning for K-8 students. Younger children can explore rhythm, or teachers and students can explore melody, harmony, form, duration, rhythm, timbre, and tempo to compose relatively complex electronics, record projects, and submit for evaluation.

At the secondary level, teachers can encourage students to explore and collaborate on Bandlab, a program similar to Apple’s Garageband. Students can compose pieces using standard western notation on the web Noteflight – particularly accessible as it requires no downloads or sharing of personal information.

Some online offers promote healthy movements at home. Ollie Tunmer, British body percussionist and former STOMP cast member, organizes professional trainings for teachers and short lessons for children.

Body percussionist Ollie Tunmer leads an online lesson.

Other teachers have posted clips exploring form and movement in music, based on techniques from an approach to teaching rhythmic movement, listening and embodied musical intuition known as Dalcroze. Eurythmics and later work by early childhood music educator John Feierabend.

Make music education more inclusive

In addition to making music at home accessible to many students, online learning that focuses more on pop music, electronica, and rhythmic music tends to shift the focus of the curriculum away from art music. predominantly Western like the “classical” genres.

Music scholar Margaret Walker examines how music education in the West has traditionally advanced European exceptionalism and cultural superiority. Walker is one of many music teachers promoting a music education that reflects the cultural diversity of learners. Music education researcher Lucy Green has found that students who have more choice about their own repertoires do better and stay with music longer.

Revising music curricula to be more inclusive can involve both the introduction of new forms of music, but also the repositioning of canonical artists like Mozart and Bach within a broader musical context to allow entry and the success of a greater number of learners.

Read more: Handel’s ‘Messiah’ today: How classical music is coping with its colonial past and present

music learning

The music program not only calls manufacturing music but also the learning of music. Online read-alouds — stories told accompanied by music — existed before the pandemic, but have likely become even more useful in remote settings. My student favorites include Sergei Prokofiev’s 1936 composition Pierre and the Wolf and the 2015 children’s book Trombone shorts by Troy Andrews.

Actor Angela Bassett reads ‘Trombone Shorty.’

Music teachers and students also benefit from isolation-inspired composite-style videos such as the performance of Cold Play’s “Viva La Vida” by the Kingston Youth Orchestra, especially when students currently cannot attend live performances.

For the youngest, Evan Mitchell, conductor of the Kingston Symphony Orchestra, launched an online music series for children, Harmon in space! The series sees Harmon, a fuzzy dog ​​puppet, isolated on a spaceship. Harmon’s limited social contacts are through online chats with fellow musicians – members of the Kingston Symphony Orchestra. The first episode has over 11,000 views on YouTube. When I interviewed Mitchell, he said he had received many letters from children concerned about Harmon’s safe return to Earth.

No one wants remote music education to become the norm for most students. But the creative minds that made it doable, fun, and often productive gave us unexpected gifts and welcomed strains of beauty amid the global noise.

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