When Remote Learning meets Music Theory and Keyboard Proficiency - Pros, Cons, and Outcomes
The swift shift into remote teaching (and learning) has caught most academic institutions by surprise, despite global precedents. In just a few days, the situation required staff members across the board to transfer the entire schedule and all learning tasks online. Looking back at the last few months, it’s clear that as a whole, higher education institutes coped with the shift admirably. Even so, music studies do have unique characteristics and challenges which are more often than not overlooked by the standard e-learning solutions, as they are built for more common learning subjects.
How Music Professors Dealt with the Shift
From a series of conversations conducted by Musician Pro with a large sample of music educators, rises a clear and concise answer: It’s been difficult, it’s been challenging, but deploying creativity, musicians, too, have successfully shifted to e-learning. Here are two key lessons learned from our interviews:
Finding the Right Digital Toolset
The very first step gearing towards teaching music remotely was finding the digital tools best-suited for conducting lessons to complement mainstream video conferencing tools (such as Zoom, Skype, etc) meant to resemble a class environment as much as possible. The complementary digital toolset is varied and very much based on the course subject, the syllabus and learning material, and lastly, the nature of the class. For music theory courses, the heavy lifting was done by notation software programs (such as Sibelius and Finale); In practical courses, however, the tools used were a combination of digital piano software, notation software and other commercial e-learning solutions which were mostly built to address the needs of non-musical education. On private, one-on-one lessons, much of the communication is conducted asynchronously, in order to overcome the video-conferencing tools’ poor quality of sound.
Overcoming the Challenge Accessing Pianos
Another challenge arising from the shift to teaching music online and closing academic campuses, was the immediate lack of access to pianos for musicians in general, and to rehearsal rooms for performing artists. Many students’ living conditions don’t allow for enough rehearsal time. Moreover, many of the non-pianists don’t own or have at their disposal a piano keyboard - even though most musicians are required to take keyboard proficiency as part of their degree.
Intitutions varied in their approach to coping with the situation. Some universities acquired or rented electronic pianos or midi keyboards for their students. Some schools went a step further and shipped upright pianos to students of the piano department who didn’t have a piano at home; Other schools allowed substituting a digital piano tool for the physical piano.
Some institutes allowed students to rehearse at school with their own instruments to overcome conditions preventing them from rehearsing at home. This solution, of course, benefited only students living relatively close by, and not students who had to return to their faraway parents’ homes following the dorms’ lockdown. Other teachers reported that students rehearse in their cars, garage, or open spaces outside their homes. No doubt, these are less than optimal solutions. An ideal solution for this problem is yet to be found.
In conclusion, while teachers and students are still facing challenges, the field as a whole has admirably adapted to remote learning. As the quest for better solutions continues, the industry is riper for innovative ideas than ever before.