Tom Ionescu (MMus, BEd) is a Toronto-based musician currently playing and having played with Jane’s Party, Shad, Dwayne Gretzky, and Ferraro among many others. For the past 16 years he’s been sharing his on-stage and in-studio musical experience with his private music students of all ages.
Teaching music has changed so much in the last two months. I’ve been fortunate to move my lessons online. Though not without hurdles, it has been a fun and ultimately rewarding experience. I am going to share a few tips and resources I’ve discovered during this process.
The biggest challenge of switching to online lessons was not being able to rely on some of the same strategies that before would only work in person. ‘Jamming’ and performing songs together are some of the most fun and rewarding parts of taking instrument lessons and I used to love incorporating these into my lessons. However, due to technical issues, it is just not possible to incorporate these strategies for online learning. Instead, I’ve spent some time researching and developing a new curriculum based on the vast amount of resources available. Here are some that I have come across that helped me not only migrate my earlier practice to online, but which have also enriched and diversified my teaching in general.
With every new piece I present to students, I now include a YouTube how-to video, music video, play-along video, etc. from the vast number of videos already available out there. YouTube also has the ability to slow down videos (from the settings wheel), so students are able to practice their chords and solos at more manageable tempos for learning. I’ve also taken to incorporating a sort of analysis segment to learning certain pieces, by finding a live video of the artist performing the given piece and with the student discuss articulation, technique, phrasing, dynamics, song form, etc. in the context of an actual professional performance.
Note Taking & Accountability
I make great use of Zoom’s whiteboard feature. I also strongly recommend some sort of drawing tablet to go along with it (I have a Wacom tablet I also use for Photoshop work). This was a HUGE game changer for me when I began to implement it. It obviously takes the place of writing notes in a student’s workbook, but I take a minute or two at the end of the lesson to send all notes from the class to the student or parent via email. Before, I would frequently have to rely on my students remembering to bring their books to class, and keep their work organized. Via email, all work is ensured to reach parents, creating a clear log of what was covered for both parents and students.
Finally, one realm which I have been increasingly inspired to explore for my students has been that of recording. Because we are all using a machine which has the ability to capture our speaking voice, we are also able to then record our instruments with the same hardware. I have been encouraging students to use free software to record their song ideas, backing tracks to practice to, or performances of their assigned piece. Response has been all over the map, with some kids enthralled by the creative potential of this, while others intimidated or confused. As with all learning, a differentiated approach needs to be taken here to ensure that each student can find their way in the vast world of sound recording. Students have submitted amazing work and are continuing to get inspired in this new medium.
I look forward to exploring and discovering more apps, websites, and platforms to enhance my teaching. The students seem more excited than ever, and I’ve found motivation in the challenge that these times have presented.