Conducting music classes over Zoom

Classes look different this year, especially for music teachers and students. Josh Thompson and his class work hard to continue practicing over Zoom.

Photo by and used with permission of Josh Thompson

Classes look different this year, especially for music teachers and students. Josh Thompson and his class work hard to continue practicing over Zoom.

The new school year has everyone off-kilter, but for music students and teachers, the inability to collaborate has everyone trying to fine-tune 2020’s sour notes.

“I’ve tried to maintain things as normal as possible. We’re still trying to sync together so I’m singing or playing the piano and everyone else is muted,” Nick Juknelis, vocal music teacher, said.  “But we [still] don’t get a lot of [the synchronization], so now I’m relying on the students to report back to me on what they think should change.”

The music students had to have a certain level of communication in learning their parts even before e-learning, but now Hannah Pratt, junior choir student, notices that “you don’t hear anyone else, so it’s up to you to hold yourself accountable and learn your part”, as well as staying positive.

“A big part of [choir] for the time I’ve been in it has been having a positive environment and a strong sense of unity, and it’s a lot more difficult to establish those things without seeing each other or being in the same space,” Pratt said. “I make sure to show up to our choir zooms with an open and positive mindset so I can be ready for whatever we have planned for that day. I also make sure that I’m being an active participant in class to ensure I’m getting the most out of the class.”

That positive mindset Pratt refers to also benefits the teachers. According to Josh Thompson, band teacher, it can help teachers “do better and make teaching easier”, and transfers into the goals teachers make.

“My goal in all of this is to make sure that kids are still playing because I know that most of them signed up for band because they enjoy playing their instruments [and trying new] things with them,” Thompson said. “When I first started I really wasn’t sure how Zoom worked but I knew it [wasn’t going to] work as well when rehearsing so [I use] an app that’s called Soundtrap. And Soundtrap is basically a lot like GarageBand, except that it allows for student collaboration, and for me to kind of oversee it all.”

Music apps such as Soundtrap and GarageBand give teachers and their students ways to collaborate together by allowing them to make videos or soundtracks and share them with each other. These apps are also an option for what the music teachers will use for concerts.

“We’re going to do a digital concert. We’ll have students play and everyone will submit a recording of themselves [using] an app [or] a normal video,” Nathan Sackschwesky, orchestra director, said.  “It takes a lot of work on the back end because when students submit the recording, they go and make something that works and [I have to] make something that looks good and sounds good [from what they give me].”

The digital options are making teaching easier according to Thompson, but he still thinks the students are missing out on some things they would normally get.

“I’m looking forward to when this is over and to get back to normal life. We’re getting through [this] but this is not why I’m a teacher. I love being in class with other students,” Thompson said. “They’re missing out on band camp and all the different things that you do when you’re in high school. I feel so sad for them. I know that the world is not ready for us to be back, but I’m ready.”