Advice for Teaching Music During a Pandemic

By Michael Ricciardi, B.Mus B. Ed OCT, Bandology Education Co-ordinator

As of August 6, 2020

The year 2020 has been a whirlwind for students, parents, educators and society as a whole. Due to COVID-19, graduations have been postponed or cancelled, community music making came to a halt and everyone’s understanding of “normal” has shifted. However, music always has and still does prevail. People were singing from their balconies in Italy, patios became the new concert hall and musicians from around the world collaborated in virtual ensembles.

Those involved with music education began collaborating to make emergency online education meaningful for students and productive for educators. We at Bandology have attended many webinars, spoke with experienced professionals and have first hand experience in running an online Band Camp. With all the resources available, we took the opportunity to learn from them. We thought it would be helpful to share what we have learned and how you can implement the following strategies into your class and life.


General Things To Keep In Mind 💡

#1 → Personal Physical and Mental Health 

New guidelines from health officials, the ministry, school board, principals and department heads are being released too quickly for some and not fast enough for others. As teachers, we like organized chaos, but lately, it feels like only chaos most days. Remember that you are NOT alone, we are all in this together and supports are always in place for you to use.

Here are some activities you can do to help care for your mental and physical health:

  • Meditate and take deep breaths 
  • Eat healthy and exercise 
  • Get at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep
  • Listen to and play music 
  • Go into nature (without looking at your email!)
  • Separate yourself from your devices for a period of time
  • Read a book (for pleasure, not pedagogy related)
  • Talk to those you are close to
  • Enjoy a movie 

#2 → Wealth of Information

There is a ton of new information being released almost daily. Amazing resources have been released by the OMEA, OBA, companies like Conn-Selmer and from teachers around the world sharing what has worked for them. It is great to see the music community come together in such difficult times, but all the information can be overwhelming. Sift through the resources with a critical eye and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will this resource work with the community I am involved in?
  • Has my board greenlighted the technology used in potential lesson plans?
  • Does my school, board and/or community have access to the resources needed to implement any potential lesson plans?
  • Is this resource meaningful to the students I work with, or am I using this simply as a filler? 

These questions, and others like it, will help you narrow your search to ensure that you are discovering resources that will minimize workload and provide meaning learning opportunities for our students.

#3 → Comparisons on Social Media

Teachers on social media have been showing their successes a lot over the last couple of months. It is important to remember that many of these teachers are only showing their successes and not their trials. When you try the resource out, it might not go as planned, but that is OK. If you are a teacher sharing your success stories on social media, be sure to also share the trial and errors that you encountered on the way,  so that teachers learning from you can anticipate how the resource might pan out. Find other music teachers in your area, province, or country. Strength comes in numbers. Remember to keep a growth mindset!

Pedagogy Techniques and Tips 📚

Online Learning Tips:

  • For beginners, show videos of professionals, yourself or senior students demonstrating how to hold, set-up, clean, tune, create an embouchure for and play their instrument 
  • Invite professionals, performers and composers to host masterclasses, speak to the class and give advice
  • Teach students genres of music outside the traditional classical/jazz/concert band repertoire. Examples include pop, electronic, rap, hip-hop, film music and more! 
  • Focus on compositional skills and invite students to perform their own (or their peers’) compositions
    • Students compose music. They get their friends to perform it. The friends who are performing want to do well for their friend (the composer). This is a great incentive for the performers to practice and WANT to do well!
  • Create curriculum booklets for students with minimal to no tech. It is an unfortunate event where these students might miss out on collaboration, social, and digital citizenship skills. However, there are unique ways where your virtual and non-virtual students can still work together by blending these two types of students in pivotal sections.
    • Figure out what limitations your non-virtual students have (do they only have a cell phone (or landline), can they access email, are they comfortable meeting for social distanced collaborations?) 
  • Explicitly teach how to use technology
    • How to log in, submit assignments, use a collaborative document, use the conference calling features, etc.
    • Also teach netiquette (online etiquette) 
  • Try to be consistent with which technologies and applications you require the students to interact with. It can be exhausting for students and families to learn new technologies every week.
  • Be present
    • If possible, show yourself (not just your voice) via video as it adds a sense of normalcy 
    • Try to incorporate current news and pop culture into your class to keep students interested
    • Use the announcement tool on your Learning Management System (LMS) extensively 
    • Use the discussion feature in your LMS to allow students to connect to their peers and the teacher 
    • Individual announcements → Don’t be afraid to send audio/video clips to give a sense of normalcy to your students
    • Dress the part → what you would normally wear in an in-person meeting is what you should wear to conference calls with your students.
    • Show up early→ If the session starts at 2pm, open the link at around 1:50pm
  • Try to keep everything within your LMS by using embed codes. You do not want students overwhelmed by forcing them to learn the content AND the web 2.0 tools
  • Incorporate optional wellness checks, fun activities and choice boards

Benefits Exclusive to Online Rehearsal and Performance

  • Students gain home recording skills
  • They learn about individual accountability 
  • Instruction from world class educators and artists is possible
  • Individual feedback is more direct without embarrassment
  • Solo opportunities arise 
  • Global collaboration and original compositions are possible 
  • Ability to hear individual parts that are part of whole sounds

In-Person Learning Tips:

  • Concert band is typically too large to properly space out each student and yourself due to Covid-19
    • Chamber ensembles however are still possible!
    • A saxophone quartet or a woodwind quintet (for example) is much easier to properly space out and there is no conducting needed
  • Consider taking your class outside to explore “found sound” or have a socially distanced performance for a business that is in walking distance (with your principal’s and the business’ permission)
  • Composers like Cait Nishimura and Brian Balmages are in the process of composing flex-band pieces. Additionally, they are converting full-ensemble pieces to work in flex-band settings. Cait Nishimura is also in the process of composing music where students use “found sound” in nature. Keep an eye out for their works!
  • They are composing flex band music in three levels:
    • Beginner music will be a three part piece (all instruments can be broken into those three parts so that instrumentation doesn’t become an issue)
    • Medium pieces get broken into four parts
    • Harder pieces – John Mackey is already creating music for these groups

Performance Videos:

  • There is no payoff without a performance. This is why this is significant!
  • It is a labour intensive process, but definitely worth it
  • If you are rehearsing your ensembles online; performance videos will be a byproduct of that process
  • These recordings provide students, parents, and admin with an artifact of the ensemble experience when live or live-streaming performances are not possible
  • The process of creating these videos can improve student engagement and lead to an increased ability to achieve higher cognitive functions like evaluation of musical performances 
  • Creating performance videos engages students in a current method of music production and technology
  • The process helps students remember that they are part of a team
  • This methodology works for ensembles with incomplete instrumentation as well

Programs/Technologies

  • BandLab 
    • Upload/record up to 16 tracks
    • You can upload a click track 
    • Similar to Finale, you have the ability to isolate student audio tracks in order to provide feedback. Additionally, you can choose to only listen to a select number of students at one time to hear how they balance with each other
    • Students can visually see where they are rushing or dragging based on their audio line in comparison to the rest of the ensemble or the click track
    • Students can’t hide in the ensemble. It enforces accountability
  • My Choral Coach
    • For choral ensembles 
    • $50 membership fee till December 2020 (with the option for a one-time payment in 2021)
    • Backing track can be built in
    • Zoom lessons are built in as an option
    • Students are able to alter tempo, hear the backing track, and use a tuner
    • The program will assess the student and give a mark and show where they need to work on before submitting the final to the teacher.
  • Flat
    • Composition application 
    • Assess theory and score study 
    • Works with Google Classroom
  • Noteflight Learn 
    • Yearly subscription based application 
    • Students can compose music, record audio into scores, receive assessment
    • Integrates with Google Classroom
  • Flipgrid
    • Students can upload videos/audio of them performing a piece of music or verbally presenting for an assignment.
    • Peers can provide comments on their peers’ work 
  • Edpuzzle 
    • Allows you to take videos and create formative check points
    • Can be embedded into your LMS
  • Breezin Through Theory 
    • Yearly subscription-based application 
    • Track student success
    • Interactive music theory games
  • Chrome Music Lab
    • Free and no login required
    • Makes learning music more accessible through fun hands-on experiments

Note: Just because an application can be integrating into Google Classroom does not mean it is 

           board approved. Always read the user agreement and use professional judgement moving 

           forward.

Frequently Asked Questions 🗣

Where can I find the funding to help pay for new flex band music, technology and more when there are reduced ways to fundraise? 

  • Since typical ensembles are likely not happening in your schools right now, you can redirect your normal budget of instrument repair, traditional printed music, new instruments, etc.
  • Talk to the individual in charge of the school’s technology inventory and see if the music program can use it
  • Check your professional development budget to get more training on how to use digital audio workstations (DAWS)
  • Check with your parent organizations and the community to see how they can support the program their children are so invested in

How can I assess my students in these new situations? 

  • Students’ physical and mental health is of utmost importance. Remain flexible and remember that students, like teachers, are navigating these tough times with often less resources
  • Invite students to explore expressing their learnings in various formats. This may include:
    • Using online applications (like ThingLink) to create interactive posters
    • Creating a physical poster and uploading a photo of it
  • Use Google Forms for assessment of learning
  • Use digital or physical practice logs for assessment as learning
  • Use MentiMeter and/or Padlet for assessment for learning
  • Adjudicating on GarageBand
    • Have students talk over their own performance (self-evaluation, assessment as learning). You can assess their playing AND the quality of their assessment 

I am nervous about recruitment moving forward. What can I do to augment recruitment for the future?

  • Have senior students create promotional videos for incoming potential band students
  • Let them have fun with it to sell their instrument group and the program as a whole
  • Never give up on recruiting:
    • Use social media to advertise your program
    • Create a program website
  • Put up a poster of famous people who played band instruments in your band room and LMS
  • Continue utilizing social events but online! Anything to keep the sense of community strong with the centre focus on music is key!
    • Movie watching nights
    • Virtual game nights
    • Musical council meetings over Zoom

Even with the funding tips I do not have the ability to buy some of the things I need for my program. What can I do?

  • With a low budget, the next best choice to use is the barter system (exchanging goods/services for other goods/services)
  • Have other teachers/professionals come into your class (online or otherwise)
  • “I’ll be a guest in your class if you come to be a guest in mine”
  • “I can let your program borrow our vibraphone for your bassoon”
  • “I can connect with a composer I know to come and work with your class if I can borrow your bari sax”
  • This is a great community building tactic and can be used past COVID-19 

How can I keep instruments clean?

How can I continue professional development (PD) when in-person PD has been suspended?

  • Free webinars are constantly being held by music educators associations, school boards, organizations and educators themselves! If you can’t attend them, ask if colleagues want to attend and take notes to share (which you will reciprocate in the future). Many of these webinars have been recorded (see below for some of the links). Additionally, try to incorporate education in your social media feeds as much as possible. Educators have been posting innovative teaching techniques on Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and others. Save the ones that you think you can incorporate into your class and try them out! Remember to keep that growth mindset. 

List of Resources

Links to Recorded Webinars 🔗

Below are the links to some of the webinars we have attended that have recordings.

Real Solutions for Blended and Online Instruction for Music Educators

OBA In It Together Series

Texas Music Educators’ Association

College Band Directors National Association