How music class is moving online during school closures

Social-emotional learning in music class helps students cope with isolation and anxiety
By: | April 15, 2020
Music teachers shifting classes to online learning should have students explore new styles of music and focus on composing their own pieces, experts say.Music teachers shifting classes to online learning should have students explore new styles of music and focus on composing their own pieces, experts say.

While school music classes rely deeply on students being able to play their instruments together—in-person—that doesn’t mean instruction has shut down during the shift to online learning.

“We’re teaching in very much the same ways that somebody walking into a band or choir room back in 1910 would recognize,” says Peter Perry, instrumental music director at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing because there are proven teaching concepts and traditions, which makes it difficult to add technology.”

But Perry, whose school is a part of Montgomery County Public Schools, is a big proponent of bringing technology to K-12 music classes.

For one thing, today’s students are extremely comfortable with technology, and ed tech can make music class more relevant.

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For another, the music business has moved almost entirely into the online and digital worlds, Perry says.

While the coronavirus keeps schools closed, music teachers can be showing students how to use digital tools to record themselves, and then edit and mix their performances.

This will help students develop the skills needed on the engineering side of the music business, Perry says.

“They can use the knowledge they have about music and ensembles, and apply it to create what they believe is a good recording,” Perry says.

Teachers can also assign musical excerpts that students can listen to and then record themselves playing the piece—all on their smartphones. The recording can then be submitted for feedback.

This technique could also be used for individual student assessments once schools reopen. That would give teachers and their ensembles more time to devote to full performances, which, Perry says, his students are missing deeply while schools are closed

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“Ensemble classes contain some of the highest levels of interpersonal communication—you’re making split-second decisions with other people without saying anything to make a piece of art more beautiful,” Perry says. “One of the big takeaways from being quarantined and locked down is that technology is a very powerful tool, but it doesn’t beat human interaction.”

Social-emotional learning in online music classes

Music can play a major social-emotional role in helping students cope with school closures and other coronavirus disruptions, says professor Scott N. Edgar, director of bands and music education chair at Lake Forest College outside Chicago.

“The social web our students cling to has been ripped away from them and it’s our job to keep them as connected as possible,” Edgar says. “We have to continue to make art very personal for students to help build the skills to encounter trauma and isolation.”

But replicating full orchestra or choir performances online takes an advanced level of know-how, technology and time that a high school class might not be able to achieve.

Music teachers should instead focus on having students respond to, connect to, and create music.

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“This is going to require offering many more opportunities for students to have voice and choice in the artistic process,” Edgar says. “They will take a more active role in creating their own work.”

This shift should include allowing students to explore more diverse styles of music and examine the historic environments in which that music was made.

“If we can widen our perspectives and allow students to have more ownership of their own artistic education, this is an opportunity for students to receive more personalized education when we get back,” Edgar says. “And teachers are going to have students who are insanely motivated to come together and make art again.”

DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.

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