Teaching Rock School and Recording Arts from a Distance

Steve Sainas (Port Coquitlam, BC) talks about getting students engaged with a music production curriculum without access to the school’s equipment.

Hi Music Education Colleagues!

I hope that you’re all doing well and navigating these challenging times successfully. Thank you to Nick Godsoe and the MusiCounts Team for their continued support, and for inviting me to contribute to MusiCounts Learn.

My name is Steve Sainas and I teach at Terry Fox Secondary School in Port Coquitlam, B.C. This semester, I am teaching Guitar 9-12, two sections of Rock School 9-12, and Recording Arts 9-12. In my classroom, all instruments and technology are provided by my music program. Without this music equipment, learning in isolation has been a challenging learning curve for some students.

I am using Microsoft Teams for the delivery of my online lessons, assignments, and resources. Our district strongly discourages live video communication, so I communicate daily with my students in Teams Chat. Instruction times for each one-hour class are Monday to Friday, 10am to 3pm with a noon-hour break. However, I have made myself available as much as possible seven days a week to support my students. Many students are juggling complex schedules with overlapping academic classes, and some are working part-time jobs to support their families who have lost their primary source of income. Therefore, I have committed to being as flexible as possible with my availability to accommodate student schedules.

On day one, I surveyed each student’s personal music equipment though an inventory assignment. I then provided links to tutorials on how students could best use their equipment and supplemented where needed with borrowed school equipment.

Once equipment needs were sorted out, I began to hook students into a daily online check-in with interesting YouTube music assignments worth 5 or 10 marks. I posted rare concert performances, and helpful music education links that would generate class discussion. Within a week, most students were engaged, and I posted the first major assignment for each class. Student assignments are almost always student centered, so the transition from group assignments to individual assignments was not difficult.

In Recording Arts, once all the technical issues were addressed, I assigned the students to arrange or compose a song that has three distinct song parts and provided them with specific production criteria, as well as links to songwriting and production tutorials. Links to many of my instruction resources will be posted by MusiCounts. I teach the recording process in three phases: pre-production, production, and post-production.

In class, we use Logic Pro X, Waves 10, eight input interfaces, and professional quality instruments, backline and mics with which to record and produce in a large music facility with several isolation rooms. Unfortunately, students now have to use whatever equipment and technology they have available, so expectations for production and post-production have been adjusted accordingly. For each assignment phase, students upload an mp3 of their bounced project and they also upload a detailed track sheet that describes their recording process. I am currently exploring the possibility of using the new Sessionwire app to facilitate peer to peer studio quality production for my Recording Arts Students. Sessionwire is a locally developed revolutionary app that is predicted to be the future preferred method of music production.

For guitar class, I assigned Tom Petty’s, “I Won’t Back Down” with links to YouTube tutorials, and tabs. The beginners in the class were required to learn the basic first position chord version, and the intermediate/advanced students were required to learn the barre chord version and guitar solos. Each student captured video of their performance which they uploaded to YouTube with the link set to private. Students then attached the private YouTube link in their secure Teams Assignment folder so that I could assess their performance and reply with a mark and comments.

Consecutively, I assigned another song or guitar exercise, each due in a week, and continued to post daily links to related music resources on the chat page. The simplicity and consistency of this assignment format keeps students challenged, but not overwhelmed, so that they can continue to have fun musically, and also have time to complete their academic assignments.

Rock School assignments are similar in nature to guitar assignments, except that students get to choose their own performance songs to create maximum student interest. For their first song assignment, each student chose a cover song, or an original composition and described how they were going to execute their video performance. Students uploaded to their Teams Assignment folder a YouTube link to the song they had chosen and a word document description of their performance plan. Original composers uploaded a lyric/chord sheet. Most students chose to present a vocal performance accompanied on guitar, piano, or ukulele. Vocalists who don’t play an instrument sang along to Karaoke backing tracks, and instrumentalists who don’t sing either performed to a backing track or performed on their own. I reviewed each student’s song and plan; I then provided them with feedback and resources as needed. The students had one week to submit a video performance of their chosen song for assessment by attaching their private YouTube performance link to their Teams assignment folder. Students are currently working on their second song and in the following weeks will repeat this process for their third song. Almost all students have had great success with their assignments, although several students struggle with meeting deadlines.

My greatest challenge has been chasing students to submit their assignments on time. However, most students meet their deadlines, and almost all late assignments are eventually submitted. The greatest challenge for my students is staying motivated while their concerts are cancelled. For many students, this has crushed their spirits! Performing online doesn’t excite them or me! Also, because of consent requirements, I doubt live stream individual student performances will become commonplace the way professional music and community live stream performances have become popular.

Hopefully, we can all get back to performing on stage sooner rather than later. Until then, let’s stay safe performing at home. Thanks for inviting me to share; I look forward to reading about your online music education experiences!

Steve Sainas teaches guitar and recording arts at Terry Fox Secondary School in Port Coquitlam, BC. He is the 2015 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year.