For public school districts offering remote learning this month, music education presents a unique challenge. Experiential learning with instruments is difficult when students and teachers are not face-to-face, and ensemble lessons like orchestra and choir are difficult to recreate online.
Local music teachers need to get creative, use technology, and experiment with online lessons to provide instruction to students remotely.
“I feel like music teachers have to reinvent the whole wheel right now,” said Brin Cowette, choir teacher at Concord High School. “We’re going back to basics: creating, playing, reacting and connecting through music. We use them to create a new program.
One thing that will help the music departments at Concord and Bow this year will be an online music production course created by a new local company called Push the Sound Music Academy.
Push the Sound was started in April by Geoff Moody, a Dunbarton resident, SAU67 parent and school board member who has worked in both education and music production. He said he’d had the idea for some time to create an online course that would make music more accessible to students, but when distance learning started in the spring, he realized it would be particularly useful.
“I started having a little revelation at the start of the summer, how important a program like this could be for a school that doesn’t know what to do with the music curriculum in a world where we don’t know not whether we’ll be in school one week or the next,” Moody said. “It became more urgent to make sure everything was done and ready to roll this year.”
The online course, which lasts one school semester, consists of online lessons and pre-recorded video lessons performed by musicians from as far away as England and Belgium. The first three weeks are an overview of different styles of music, then students can choose to focus on rhythm or melody, and later on production or musical composition. All courses are browser-based, which means no additional technology is required.
“They don’t need a mini-keyboard, they don’t need any other instrumentation, they just need a keyboard on their computer, a browser and maybe a headset and they can make music,” Moody said.
Some homeschooled families have also signed up for Moody’s course, which is intended to be accessible to students whether they have a background in instrument or music theory. For those registering independently of a school, the course costs $325.
“Being able to add that to your program is really cool because you can reach kids who aren’t interested in traditional music programs, but want to create beats for example,” Moody said. “It’s different.”
Different schools implement the music production course in different ways. At Concord High School, Cowette uses parts of it, including the sequence and much of the material, and teaches it in his own style. At Bow Memorial School, which is reopening with a blended learning model, Moody said portions of the course are being used to teach students who choose to learn remotely. At Bow High School, the course is mostly used in its entirety.
Moody’s is trying to get other schools interested in the course and plans to work with schools to allow them to run the program even if it’s not in their budget.
Besides implementing the music production course, Coette is also working to adapt other music courses to an online format as well.
For the ensemble choir class, Cowette plans to teach students in small groups via video call. Cowette will play the piano and sing, while the students will mute and sing along. (It is difficult to sing in unison without muting, due to lag caused by network latency.)
Instead of concerts, Cowette will do virtual performances, using software to edit recordings of students singing individually together.
“In general, music teachers have always had to be creative to make our classes work,” Covette said. “We’re all trying to do it in new ways right now.”