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Teaching Music Online

Guidance for teachers moving over to online lessons during the Coronavirus outbreak

Skype, Zoom and other online solutions make it possible for music teaching to continue when it is not possible for teacher and student to meet in person. Online teaching is not new, and MU members have taught online successfully for many years.

Many schools and music education hubs are already using online teaching solutions to see them through coronavirus, and self-employed teachers are also moving their lessons online.
 
But some schools and local authorities are issuing blanket guidance against online teaching, believing it to be a safeguarding risk. This puts teachers’ livelihoods and children’s music education in jeopardy.
 
There is no need for schools, hubs and local authorities to fear online teaching. The advice that follows covers:

Choosing the correct hardware

Phones and tablets are quick and easy to pick up and use and for teaching, but you are likely to be limited to their built-in cameras and microphones, which can be basic. The small screen size may also be an issue. You can use Skype, FaceTime and other apps on phones and tablets, but note that their user settings may be reduced on these devices.

A laptop or desktop PC or Mac may be preferable. These allow you to use an ethernet cable, which can offer a more stable internet connection than WiFi. Laptops often have a mic and camera built in, while desktop users may need to connect these. Both allow you to benefit from a larger screen or monitor.

Your microphone and speakers will need to work together, so experiment with positioning and levels to avoid feedback. There are two audio settings to adjust – your computer’s basic input level and the app’s own settings.

Headphones (preferably Bluetooth to avoid being tethered by a cable) will eliminate feedback, but they may affect how you hear your own instrument.

Your students may only have access to a phone on WiFi, so if you can make your own set-up as stable as possible, this will only improve the quality for both parties.

If you don’t have access to a sophisticated set-up, use whatever you can. WhatsApp video, for example, may not be ideal, but it does the job within limits and is better than no lesson at all.

Different video calling apps you can use

Many video calling apps offer a basic free service, including group calls with a maximum number of participants that varies between apps.

There have been some concerns about whether certain platforms have the sufficient level of security attached to them. Our advice to is make sure your own online security is as effective as possible and use the highest security settings when teaching to ensure third parties are unable to access your account. Use password protection whenever possible.

Some apps offer payable add-ons, although many teachers manage with the free versions. It is good to have an account with more than one app in case your first choice experiences a glitch.

Zoom is a widely used software that offers a good picture and sound. Its settings allow you to suppress persistent and intermittent background noise and cancel echoes. You may need to experiment with its advanced settings to prevent it trying to suppress non-speaking noises, including musical instruments. Like Skype, its advanced settings are reduced on tablets and phones, so a desktop or laptop may give better results.

Skype has been a tried-and-tested option for online teaching for many years, and like Zoom offers good sound and picture. It also gives you the ability to blur the picture background, which could be helpful for safeguarding purposes (see below), although this may also blur some detail on your instrument.

WhatsApp video and Facebook Messenger offer a more basic functionality. Other apps that you may wish to explore include Microsoft Teams, Adobe Connect, Discord, Google’s Hangout and Duo apps, Slack, and Viber. Over time your preference will become clear, informed by sound and picture quality, ease of use and reliability.

Preparing for and teaching the lesson

Take 15 minutes before the first online lesson with each student to test your set-up. Ask the student to play, and experiment with the sound levels for the best result. A tech-savvy parent can help if needed.

After that first lesson, still allow time before each subsequent lesson for any necessary soundchecks or connection fixes. This extra time will also stop you feeling rushed if there is a technical glitch mid-lesson. For this reason, avoid teaching students back to back if possible.

Both parties need copies of the music. Many publishers offer PDF downloads so that scores can be read on a tablet while you teach via a desktop or laptop. Make notes as you teach so that you can email these to the student after the lesson.

Avoid using the messaging function on your chosen app for sharing lesson notes, as this could normalise social media messaging between teacher and pupil, which should be avoided for safeguarding reasons. Similarly, switch off or mute notifications on all devices being used for the duration of the lesson.

Send lesson reminders via email or through an integrated lesson management software if you use one. If online lessons are new for your students and everyone is at home and distracted, it might be easier than normal for them to forget their lesson times.

At the end of the lesson it is fine to chat to parents and siblings within good safeguarding practice. Online lessons may be a new way of working for you and your students, but they can still be a human experience.

If you are an employed teacher working for a school or music education hub, decisions about software and lesson management may be made for you. It is important that employed teachers follow any guidance given by their employers. If employed teachers are asked to teach online without being given any guidance, they should urgently request it.

Copyright when teaching music online

For copyright guidance covering educational purposes please see the advice on the UK Government website.

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Teachers' Toolkit

T3 Online Teaching contract (PDF 131.29 bytes file opens in new window)