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3 Tips for Teaching Music Online, From Teachers College, Columbia University

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of education for all disciplines, but it has presented unique challenges for music teachers. In addition to dealing with increased stress, we have had to navigate unique logistical challenges, like figuring out how to teach, rehearse and perform in a virtual environment.

Faculty and alumni from Teachers College, Columbia University recently discussed how they came together to create an entirely virtual ensemble, and they shared some highlights from their experience, as well as advice for how to overcome some of the challenges presented by teaching music online.

1. Prepare to Adapt Your Pedagogy

Jeanne Goffi-Fynn, ED.D., oversees performances at Teachers College. She explained that when TC first tried to create its virtual ensemble, they faced some challenges. Initially, the plan was to have students submit individual video performances to one compilation person, so the individual clips could be put all together.

However, this quickly overloaded the compiler’s computer. According to Dr. Goffi-Fynn, this experience helped to drive home the importance of adaptability. Teachers may not be able to replicate the exact same lessons that they would teach in person, but they can make adjustments to achieve the same results.

“When looking at material versus pedagogy and comparing online to in-person classes, the pedagogy is truly what’s changing,” Goffi-Fynn said. “We can’t have 25 people singing at the same time. But the content is still the same. We can still do warm-ups, we still want to understand how the voice works, and we still want to have good teaching strategies that promote engagement and a community mindset.”

2. Try Your Own Lessons First

For Professor Drew Coles, who teaches digital arranging, keyboard and music entrepreneurship at Teachers College, the best way to iron out the flaws when your lessons need to change is to put yourself in your students’ shoes.

“Try everything yourself,” Coles said. “Anything that you make your students do, you should do first. Get a group of friends together and walk through the process. By bringing the project from beginning to end, you’ll learn a lot about how to run it in the classroom. If you don’t work through things on your own, you’ll have no idea what hurdles your students face or how to address them.”

3. Use Music to Connect With Each Other

Although you’ll no doubt face challenges as you create virtual learning experiences, the end result can be transformative for both you and your students. For Natalie Fabian, who recently graduated from TC’s music education master’s program, practicing together and collaborating on performance provided a sense of normalcy and offered a way to connect with other musicians when it wasn’t feasible to meet in person.

“The most rewarding part of this was watching the finished product and finally seeing the work come together,” Fabian said. “Music is a great way for people to heal, especially in challenging times. In this respect, the rehearsals became very grounding. For myself and for others who I’ve spoken with, the rehearsals were often a highlight of the week. And then, at the end of the semester, we were presented with beautiful videos of everyone singing simultaneously, a symbol of the hard work coming to fruition.”

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