While the Great Quarantine of 2020 taught a lot of us music teachers how to teach online lessons, many of us still wonder how to teach group music lessons online. While the principles of teaching group lessons remain the same, there are some special considerations needed when teaching those groups online.
Group Music Lessons: Use What You Know
Group music lessons online are social - During the first few lessons, students are in the “honeymoon phase.” Concentrate on activities that allow them to get to know each other. Many of the standard online “ice breakers” work well when geared toward music. Take, for example, the ice-breaker, “Raise Your Hand”: Raise Your Hand - Get to know each other in a new way. During this icebreaker, the teacher reads a list of statements of varying experiences or values (such as, “raise your hand if you’ve ever played the recorder,” or, “raise your hand if you know the words to the Star-Spangled Banner,” or, “raise your hand if you prefer classical music over pop music,” etc.) If the statement is true of them, participants will raise their hands or use the raise hand button on your virtual platform. Hint: Make your list as varied, light-hearted, and fun as possible.
Students learn to play in front of a group - Allow students to turn OFF their mute and play a short diddy (8 measures or a couple of lines).
Listening builds aural skills - It’s easy for students to “check-out” in a group platform. Build-in challenges that keep students engaged with one another and the lesson plan. Have a student play a note/passage, and then that student challenges another student to play another note/passage that follows a concept covered in your lesson plan.
Light-hearted competition works - Create challenges for the upcoming lesson. Make it short and attainable. “Who can play lines 1-2 without any mistakes next week?”
Incentives are king - Since you’re not in-person to deliver fun prizes like stickers, pencils, or small gift cards, you’ll need to use the mail or your vehicle to deliver the goods. What a surprise when a package of stickers arrives on your hard-working student’s doorstep!
Games are queen - Many music games are suitable for the online format, like The Amazing Keyboard Race for the piano. Send students on a one-minute scavenger hunt for a small item to be used as a marker for their piano. The teacher chooses a flashcard and holds it up to the camera for all to see.
New Considerations for Group Music Lessons Online
Consider the Numbers - For online music lessons, you could certainly pack in the house. The best group size, however, is 3-5 students.
Consider the Ability/Level - Be certain your groups are similar in level and ability. Be hyper-aware of students who are breaking ahead or falling behind the group. Don’t be afraid of moving a student to another online group, if necessary.
Consider grouping students according to specific goals for a season - Do you have a group of students who are ready for an extensive workshop on chords? Why not group them for a semester-long “Chords 101” or an “All About Fake Books” course. Other ideas might include “Thinking About Theory” or preparing for ABRSM or Rockschool exams.
Details, Details, Details - For students, these basic instructions apply when you teach music lessons online; they bear repeating for a group lesson.
- Use a large enough screen to see any details the teacher may share. Larger iPads or laptops are the best. Cell phones just don’t cut it.
- Provide a Lending Hand - Elementary school-aged students may need parent support. Younger students may need help finding measure numbers or to understand what the teacher is asking of them.
- Clear out distractions and/or siblings.
- Mute your mic when you are not talking.
- Use the “chat” box or the “hand raise” icon for questions.
- Clear out external noises: television blaring in the background, mom running the Mix Master in the kitchen--you get the point.
- Get out lesson materials. Print lesson materials the teacher sends before the lesson begins.
- Gather a pencil, highlighter, metronome, and any other doodads needed.
Send them on a Scavenger Hunt - Young students love to hunt for small objects in their home to use during lessons. How fun is it for a second-grader to scavenge microwave popcorn and a Gogurt to illustrate a “popping” staccato and a “smooth” legato! Use your imagination and have fun.
Teacher planning is key when you teach music lessons online - Since it is more difficult to communicate one-on-one, the teacher must be prepared to keep things moving. Have your resources ready physically and digitally. Organize digital files into folders (google docs or another ‘cloud’ storage service) and have them at the ready.
Make online music lesson notes available to group members - You may even wish to email the online recording of the group lesson for your students’ reference while they complete homework assignments.
Use Tonara Studio to Help!
At the end of the group lesson, your student needs to practice what they learned. Some students find this easy; others, not so much. Tonara Studio helps keep even more reluctant students engaged and motivated to practice while allowing you to track all of your students' practice progress. You can even set up a little healthy competition between students in the group; who can collect the most points this week?
It’s easy to create groups based on the piano groups you are teaching. After each lesson, you can send assignments to each group.
As students practice, they earn points and start climbing the leaderboard, leading to a bit of healthy competition. Within Tonara Studio, you can track both your students’ practice and assignment status, making your job as an informed teacher almost seamless.
What have you learned in teaching group music lessons online?