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Teaching Groups Remotely

Online private lessons are one thing, but online group lessons and rehearsals are a monster of their own. Whether you’re teaching a group, rehearsing an ensemble piece, or trying to get everyone to play along to the same backing track - many of our first questions began with “How?” How do I make sure everyone can hear me? How can I hear each student? We asked some people who have recently gotten settled into their new online group lesson spaces for their advice. Hopefully these tips will help you run your group lessons much more smoothly.

Things to know beforehand:

1. Young students need more teamwork from parents. Require parents to attend the entire lesson with young students. This is for many reasons, from keeping them focused on the lesson to tech support. This is especially important for group lessons when every student needs to smoothly switch tasks to stay on the same page.

2. Trust and check. You won’t be able to listen to or hear everyone, and for ensemble rehearsals you most likely won’t ever hear them sing or play together (we will go over how this works best). You’ll just need to trust that everyone is doing their part (parents will help with that for young students). Better Practice can then help you check and validate their progress. You can see how much each student is practicing and also hear their recordings so that the group lesson is not the only indication of how hard they are working.

3. Expect tech issues. You can’t avoid it. Everyone has differing internet speeds and sometimes things just don’t work out. You will experience lag, and you may have problems with echo if you have more than one person unmuted (which we don’t recommend). Make sure you have other ways to contact your students if someone is disconnected.

4. You’ll win some, you’ll lose some. You will likely be unable to see everyone’s posture or technique very well, but other things will be easier to see such as pronunciation for singers.

Tips for Teaching Groups Remotely

Whether you have 2 students in a group or 200, you will most likely be using one or both of the following methods: teaching and then having students play along with you all together or having students play individually. We’ll go over how these methods work online. The TL;DR version of our tips below is: only have the current person playing unmuted. You should only hear one person at a time - whoever is not playing or speaking, should be muted.

1. Group play-along

This is the method that requires the most trust. You’ll have everyone muted except yourself and students will all play along with you at the same time. If you have everyone unmuted and playing at the same time, the lag and sound issues will be so atrocious you will not be able to play together coherently. Obviously, this method isn’t great for evaluation but works as an exercise. It’s much more fun to play as a group and students can relax a little, trying out what you just taught them.

2. Individual review

When diving a little deeper into each student’s progress, most group classes will go around and have each student play individually. Others will learn from the feedback they receive and wait their turn. This format actually translates very well online - the only thing you need to do is mute everyone except the student who is currently playing. I might even say this format works better online - since everyone else is muted, they can play along with the current student and practice while waiting their turn (given they are still paying attention to the feedback).

The technology landscape for remote lessons is constantly changing and there are advanced features that can help with this. For example, Breakout Rooms in Zoom. This is great for large classes - you can easily split off for voice lessons, ear training, sectionals, etc. to give individual attention in larger groups, then regroup for a final rehearsal.

Many teachers have communicated that they feel overwhelmed with having had to make such big changes at such rapid pace. There are guaranteed to be snags and bumps, and most music teachers are also learning these things from scratch. There are online communities you can turn to for support and advice such as teacher groups on Facebook. Keep in mind that video conferencing technology is evolving and everything should be taken as a learning experience. The advice above is from teachers who have moved to online lessons for the first time, and one has mentioned that there will likely be even more advice to give next week as they are always learning and trying different things.

Better Practice helps you manage groups online with ease. Create groups to manage their assignments, communicate, and track progress.