Tag Archives: virtual music classes

Tips for Conducting a Virtual Music Class to Children

For many teachers across the country and the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has required that they embrace technology in a way like never before. Whether they were already tech-savvy or tech averse, teaching virtually has become a necessary reality for educators. This is no exception for many children’s music teachers and music studio owners. While many of the hurdles are the same for all teachers, virtual children’s music instruction poses its own set of challenges to studio owners. Here are a few tips to help you and your students/parents get the most out of your virtual music class:

  • Explore your virtual learning technology – There are various ways to produce a virtual learning class, and which one you select is more up to your taste and comfort level than one “best” solution. The two most popular formats are live or pre-recorded. Live technologies offer teachers a more interactive solution with their students and or parents, while pre-recorded allows more production options for those who want a more polished output. Virtual live classes can also be recorded for future use. Keep in mind that there are hundreds of software and app solutions available out there for virtual teaching, both paid and free. A search on Google will give you a myriad of choices, so think about what is going to be easiest and best fits your needs. More importantly, however, is to keep in mind what technology your students will have available to participate. If you already have a children’s music curriculum, then you may not need the features offered by many of the available solutions. If you have already been teaching children’s music in a classroom setting, then all you may need is a digital camera and a way to serve your videos such as YouTube.
  • Don’t worry about being perfect, just jump in! Once you have chosen a technology to serve your virtual classes, start teaching! Everyone understands that this is a challenge for teachers, so don’t be afraid to dive in and learn alongside your parents and kids. You know that one of the best ways to learn is by doing, and you will find that each and every class will be better than the last as you absorb both the technology and how to leverage it to mimic your desired classroom environment. Keep in mind while it’s never going to be perfect, video and audio quality are important for a music class. However, most newer smart phones, tablets, and laptops have decent video and audio output.
  • With younger children, keep in mind that its music AND movement – In many virtual classes, all that you will see is a “talking head” and perhaps some screen shots of notes and diagrams.In children’s music classes, movement is very important. Therefore, be sure that your screen frame shows your entire body so that you can demonstrate the movements while you teach. Imagine that your audience is in a live class with you, and what you do and would like for them to see and hear. Usually this requires that the camera is set back far enough to show your entire body in the screen, with enough space on all sides to allow room for movement.
  • Encourage and interact with your entire audience – Whether you areperforming a live virtual class or recording a video, be sure to address the camera just as it was your students. Offer encouragement before, after, and during your activities. Imagine you are in your live, in-person class, complete with asking questions and call and response activities, leaving time after each for your audience to respond at home. Lastly, if parents are involved in the class, don’t forget to provide helpful instruction and encouragement to them as well.

While pivoting from a live classroom environment to a virtual online environment may be scary, keep in mind that great teaching skills will serve you well online. Everything you already know will still be with you in a virtual world, so have confidence that you can do this! Lots of children’s music teachers and studio owners who were not previously offering online classes are now doing so. Watch how they have overcome the technical challenges and apply that knowledge to your own production. Remember that they were once as apprehensive as you may be now, so you will become ever more comfortable as you go along.

Virtual Music Classes: One Parent’s (and Music Teacher’s) Cautionary Tale, Part 2

This is the second part of a two-part account from a children’s music instructor and mother concerning the comparison of virtual to in-person children’s music classes. It continues our discussions with children’s music professionals on important industry topics.

Rebecca Simonfalvi Cauthron is a certified Musikgarten teacher providing instruction at East Dallas Children’s Music. She has been teaching the Musikgarten curriculum for twenty-two years, becoming trained and certified in every level of instruction in the program. As a result, Rebecca has been honored with the coveted Musikgarten Achievement Award. She has a Bachelor’s in Flute Performance from the University of Texas and a Masters in the Art of Teaching with a focus in Early Childhood Music and Flute from Texas Woman’s University. She is adjunct flute professor at Mountain View College and has taught flute for 25 years. She is also the mother of a two-year-old son. 

Below is a summary of my experience with my son for a virtual music class.

I had just instructed the same class a few days prior to this class.  I knew the lesson plans and was able to gather my make-shift materials ahead of time, which included sticks, recordings for sounds of the workshop, and a box for “Jack in theBox;” so many of these little details the parent would not think of and it would be a lot of work for the teacher to make sure that the parent was prepared for success:  It would be essential for the parent to make sure all materials were accessible before class began.  The listening samples would need to be cued up on a device that would not interfere with the streaming of the class.  Providing the lesson plans would be helpful to the parent so they would be sure to know the songs well enough to sing along, because the distant voices of the class would not be heard clearly enough simply as a result of poor audio streaming. I also cleared a corner of my house in order to provide an area that was large enough to move around, but would contain little-to-no distractions.

To stream the class, the teacher and I decided to place the phone up high and out of view so as to not distract the children in the classroom with a screen.  We used Facetime.  I muted my end, because of the slight delay.  Class began.  He rarely observed the class on the screen; we used it as a guide for interaction between us. My son was included in the Hello Song, rocking and bouncing went well, and he echoed the patterns given to another child who ran up to sing into the “microphone.”  While the other children took their turns and a transition occurred to get ready for the next song, he began to move about the room.

I felt a great urge to keep him in my lap in front of the screen, but I allowed him to do his work!

He did a few laps around the room and when it was time to do the workshop, he became extremely engaged.  Then it was time for focused listening for the workshop.  We could faintly hear the sounds, but more so what was missing was not being with his friends against his spot on the wall with his little hand on the knee of the teacher. He gains great comfort from this. 

There is a distinct and irreplaceable human element to what we do.

“Jack in the Box” went well, as he had been playing that game with a box we had at the house all week long.  A new song was introduced and he was less inclined to participate.  He distracted himself with something and moved around, but I knew he was still listening. Many times throughout the class, he left the area.  A home has so many distractions which would not be found in the classroom. He also hit the screen with a stick and pretended to type on the keyboard, which could have turned off the whole class and they would have never known, because I would not want to call back and distract the class further.  Regardless, he participated with every song.  For the final circle song, his Dad came in and we did it together, which was sweet.  Just a few days ago, many months after this one music class, he pretended to have music class with me in the area of the house that I had created for that one virtual class. 

One of the most important values missed out on in virtual classes are the guiding moments of affirmation and education we spontaneously give to parents based on the behavior of their child in class. At home, there were a few times that I was able to redirect my son, but I fear that many parents would resort to punishment, bribery, etc. that they wouldn’t necessarily have to resort to in a live class which might set-up behaviors, tensions, or cues that would be brought back to class that were unnecessarily developed due to the home environment.

I felt a great disconnect that I had to compensate for; it was strange.

He was engaged, but he wasn’t. We were doing it together, but not with the class. He heard the teacher, but it wasn’t really her correct timbre. We weren’t in the circle to see the other children’s faces. He observes so much of what is going on when he is in the class. During transition times, we did the song again, as I felt he lacked direction because he couldn’t go get the sticks from the basket while manipulating the crowd of children; go to the listening corner; or hear some of the conversations that were going on between the teacher and some of the other toddlers.

Sometimes it was just commotion and noise, even though what was happening was beautiful organized wonder.

We missed out on the love, the hugs, the smiles. The music and activities were fun and engaging and I am so glad we did this, but I would not recommend it to families. I had to act as co-teacher to get this to work, although we are all co-teachers when we, as moms, take our children home and engage with them in musical activities. That is what we strive to make of our parents!

My final thought: Eye-contact with the individual child on their level is one of the most important human elements that cannot be replicated through an on-line class experience along with exploring the boundaries of the music room environment, the feeling of space being taken up by other children and parents, and the warm gentle hug initiated by the toddler on the teacher’s legs to offer their gratitude and love.  If there is a forced quarantine, value your class enough to delay your classes, offer a voucher for the summer, send your parents a weekly video guide with your ideas for singing and playing with their child at home, how to make your own instruments, other non-musical activities they could do with their child to help ease the cabin-fever, and so much more.  You will be the most wonderful gem in your families’ lives by making the effort to engage with them to continue your instruction in the most positive manner. 

Editor’s Note: As often is the case, adoption of technology for technology’s sake seems to present more difficulties than advantages in our society. While virtual attendance to events is often a good idea in certain situations, physical social interaction with both instructor and peers cannot be overemphasized when teaching children’s music. As our lives become more and more influenced and molded by technology, our hopes are that virtual music lessons continue to be more the exception than the rule.

Virtual Music Classes: One Parent’s (and Music Teacher’s) Cautionary Tale, Part 1

We are continuing our series highlighting the knowledge and advice of children’s music industry professionals and participants. Below is an actual account provided by a children’s music studio teacher, but also the parent of a two year old child. This is part 1 of a 2 part series.

Rebecca Simonfalvi Cauthron is a certified Musikgarten teacher providing instruction at East Dallas Children’s Music. She has been teaching the Musikgarten curriculum for twenty-two years, becoming trained and certified in every level of instruction in the program. As a result, Rebecca has been honored with the coveted Musikgarten Achievement Award. She has a Bachelor’s in Flute Performance from the University of Texas and a Masters in the Art of Teaching with a focus in Early Childhood Music and Flute from Texas Woman’s University. She is adjunct flute professor at Mountain View College and has taught flute for 25 years. She is also the mother of a two-year-old son.  

My family was quarantined for a week with HFM, but I wanted my son to have the experience of attending his music class, so we tried a virtual approach.  It didn’t fail, but I had to work very hard to make it engaging, fun, productive, and positive for my two year old.  So many things happened that required my twenty years of knowledge and study in the early childhood field, that I strongly believe that parents without that background could end up unintentionally negatively affecting their child’s experience upon their return to music class, especially after several weeks in a row. 

Is it better than nothing for one week or even a few weeks?

The parents would be better off watching the class and then engaging their child with the activities spread throughout the week to “keep them up-to-pace” with the class.  A virtual music class is not a replacement temporarily or permanently for the what the original intention of Musikgarten was founded upon.  We are not just educating the child in music, we are growing a child with roots cemented in engagement, comfort, love, the bravery of separation, the joy in the return, and surrounding them with feeling of the tambour of a room full of voices singing together.  You cannot feel all of that through a screen; those feelings create our musical experiences that engage, nurture, and grow the child. 

Social connectivity is the essence of musical bonding; without it, we lose the togetherness, which is too often overlooked for the sake of learning.  The idealism of a parent’s virtual experience is a fanciful rendering of an adult who might remember how Mr. Roger’s captured their heart every week as they learned and felt they were a part of his community. Expectations viewed through this idealistic filter will have negative effects on the outcome of a virtual music class. 

The reality is that early childhood music teachers are engaging, effective, and revered by the children because we value eye contact, personalized directional singing, visiting different parts of the room with our friends, moving away from the grown-up to put away instruments or hug the helper doll, etc. 

Without the teacher and other students present in the room, the virtual music experience becomes a time for the parent to be distracted by one idea:  To keep the child actively participating while looking at a class on a screen. 

Speaking from experience, it is stressful and not nearly as engaging for the young child as it is for the adult.  A parent might argue that their child watches hour long movies with no problem, surely a thirty minute class that they have experienced would be appealing and easy; but it is not and here is why: 

You can’t have a camera in the corner of your class and have it feel immersive.  Scene changes, jump cuts, etc. provide a narrative by cutting to only scenes that matter to aid the story. Most people don’t understand how much work goes into composing an engaging and meaningful scene. You can’t edit a live feed.  The only way a virtual class can work is if it composed to be a virtual class, meaning playing to the camera as if it were the child and having every movement planned with appropriate camera angles, cuts, and viewpoint changes. The audio feed should also be considered, as many times audio from live streaming are not able to isolate the sounds that are important to replicating a face-to-face experience.  If you have one locale for the microphone, but your voice is coming from many different parts of the room and music is being played from a speaker elsewhere, there are dynamic inconsistencies that are exacerbated by the noise cancelling feature on many devices as well as the reality that most recordings are done with multiple microphones that amplify each individual source and then are edited together to give an accurate representation of a live environment.  (Thank you David Cauthron, CTO, sound and lighting engineer for your expertise!)

The reason why Mr. Rogers was so effective at enchanting the child for an hour with a nowadays relatively slow program pace, was not only the camera and audio detailing, but:

Key to the success of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, was Roger’s iron insistence upon meeting the highest standards without qualification. Former producer Margaret Whitmer observes, “Our show wasn’t a director’s dream.  Fred had a lot of rules about showing the whole body, not just hands.  When actors or puppets were reading something, Fred wanted the kids to see the words, even if viewers literally couldn’t read them. The camera moves left to right, because you read left to right.  All those little tiny details were really important to Fred.”

-The Good Neighbor, The Life and Works of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King (2018)

Most teachers are not equipped with the technology, equipment, personnel, and know-how to create what we imagine in our heads and want our virtual class to be.  Many of us have extremely high standards for the “production” of our live classroom which, for all of the reasons listed above, is impossible to replicate on a stream.

Editor’s Note: With the internet and Wi-fi devices so prevalent in today’s society, it seems logical that many programs that were conducted in person would be just as effective being provided online. But as the experience above explains, this is not always the case with virtual music classes. Childhood music curriculum is often based on social connectivity and personal interaction, both with the teacher as well as other students. Even with the best technology and the most attentive and well prepared parent, physical group interaction simply makes the in-person music class much more immersive. Whether it is eye contact and facial expressions, the resonance of singing with others, or the fun of collaborative movement, the physical children’s music classroom experience is extremely hard to replicate online.

Stay tuned for the next installment to hear a step by step recap of the experience!