Teaching Music Online: How to Engage Students Through Your Virtual Classroom - Nottelmann Music Company
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Teaching Music Online: How to Engage Students Through Your Virtual Classroom

Teaching Music Online: How to Engage Students Through Your Virtual Classroom

Most music educators are now faced with online teaching.  Whether you’re a pro at it or just getting started, here’s a clearing-house on ideas, sources, and tips.  Curated from JW Pepper’s music education blog –

In this challenging time, the music education community has been doing what it does best: working together to keep students engaged in deeply meaningful choral, instrumental, and general music projects. Thank you for all you are doing for your students and ensemble members – it is inspiring to witness. Since our team here at Pepper has heard from many of you about what is working for you in these unusual circumstances, we want to share some of these tips for the benefit of all. Here are some of the best resources we’ve found to help keep your students creating, performing and responding.

General Strategies for Teaching and Learning Music Online

*April 3 Update: Pepper has worked with music publishers to provide a way to share music you purchased with your ensemble members for free online viewing through June 30th. Thanks to our publishing friends for working with us on it! We hope it helps teachers and directors meet their needs. Visit jwpepper.com/sharemusic for more information. Sharing here two short videos that show how it works for students and for teachers and directors.

The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) offered a free webinar on the ins and outs of online music lessons.

To ensure your lessons are standards based, here are some great guides:

National Core Arts Standards for Music Ensembles: Planning and Assessment
National Core Arts Standards for PK-8 General Music: Planning and Assessment
Elementary Music Assessment Kit

Pepper’s Classroom and Choral Editor Tom Dean did a podcast with the Delaware Music Educators Association on distance learning. Listen to it here.

Creating: Virtual Music Projects for Students

There are numerous tools recommended to help students continue creating. One of the most popular is GarageBand. Here are a couple of resources that work hand in hand with GarageBand:

Music Technology Bundle: 7 Mini-Lessons for GarageBand
Music Technology Curriculum: 12 Project Ideas for Middle or High School

For composing projects, here are some helpful tools:

Melody Creation Project
Movie Music Composition Project
Music Composition Worksheet Set
Video Game Music Composition Project
Chord Progression Composition Lessons

There also are a few free apps that can help with creating audio and video projects, such as Audacity and iMovie.

Virtual Ways to Perform and Connect

One of the biggest challenges is the inability for groups to practice and perform together. Here are some ideas that may help:

Zoom – The time limits for video chats have been removed from Zoom’s free service for any K-12 schools in the United States and several other countries affected by the pandemic. The Royal Academy of Music in Denmark has posted a YouTube video that shows how Zoom’s sound settings can be best utilized for music.

Acapella – This app can be used to record several different students performing, and then their performances are merged into one video

Music Prodigy Unlimited – This assessment software now has a special three month subscription available. The program can be used with any instrument or with voice. It allows a teacher to enter sight-reading exercises or music that the ensemble is working on; then enables students to practice and teachers to assess. It also gives teachers the ability to create polyphonic music. This solution works for all levels K–12.

There are also additional products that work with Music Prodigy that also are offering three month subscriptions, such as:

Bill Swick with Music Prodigy – Guitar
S-Cubed Sight Singing with Music Prodigy

For some great sight-reading and skills practice units for choral singing and resources for solfege, try these options:

Choral Vocal Warm-Up – Video 1
Choral Vocal Warm-Up – Video 2 
70-Second Solfege
Super Solfege Seven!

Students also can make time every day to play their instruments or sing with the help of various play-along packs.

Another option is to have students evaluate their own performances using tools like:

Music Performance Self-Evaluation: Choir
Music Performance Self-Evaluation: Band & Orchestra

Creating Virtual Performances

Pepper has shared blogs on the virtual orchestra project conducted by the National String Teachers Consortium as well as the virtual choirs created by Eric Whitacre. These projects can have legal and technical challenges. In response to many requests for more information, Whitacre posted a note that said in part:

“Each time we have made a new virtual choir we have put together the tech that was available at the time to create a platform for recording. We have nothing that is bespoke that we can share. Clearly, the ideal solution is that a tool is created that anyone can use and we’re working on that. There are no guarantees that it will be possible, but it’s our hope that we might be able to put a solution in place that anyone can use – choirs, ensembles, friends, close-by or far-away.”

Pinkzebra is trying to help on the virtual choir front by releasing a free GarageBand template along with a video tutorial. View information about that here.

For copyright questions for any projects, the Music Publishers Association of the United States has created this resource for college students and teachers.

Responding: Using Professional Performances and Other Tools

Several years ago, Pepper’s Classroom and Choral Editor Tom Dean worked with the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) to create curriculum responding units that work well in an online environment. Those lessons are still a valuable resource today – view them here.

Flipgrid is one of a number of tools that can be used for discussions. Students video their own responses to questions and to other students’ input.

Several symphonic and chamber ensembles are live-streaming upcoming programs. Classic FM is one site helping track the performances. Scroll through this webpage to view a list. Many pop stars and other artists also are streaming performances that can be viewed online.

The Internet Archive has been working to convert hundreds of old vinyl records to digital recordings. This Unlocked Recordings webpage has the tracks that are already completed, including numerous classical music compositions students can listen to.

J.W. Pepper’s website is filled with sample music tracks of popular educational music that students can listen to. Pepper also has a large variety of music videos on our YouTube channel that are available for viewing.

After they listen, students can use worksheets to respond to what they hear. These include:

Music Listening Worksheets Level 2 (grades 7-12)
Music Listening: Compare and Contrast
Music Listening Level One (K-6)
Music Listening Bundle

There also are listening units for world instruments:

World Instruments Listening Unit 1
World Instruments Listening Unit 2
Sakura: Japanese Folk Song Lesson Set

And mystery songs, like Music Mystery Listening Bundle #2

Other At-Home Music Activities

There are numerous other activities and games that can be planned, such as:

  • Create a music activity bingo game.
  • Plan a concert – have students research info for program notes, etc. by using Pepper’s website. Teachers could pick a theme to get them started.
  • Have students make a meme about joining choir, orchestra, or band, or memes based on some other theme.
  • Utilize reproducible worksheets, such as these string training ones that can be printed at home, completed, and electronically sent back to teachers.

Other tools:

SmartMusic is offering free premium access through June 30, 2020.
Sight Reading Factory has free student accounts while schools are closed.

Other tools include MusicFirst, musictheory.net, Staff Wars, MusicTutor, TonySavvy.com, FlashnoteDerby, Theory.net, stringskills.com, Noteflight, Google Classroom, and Seesaw.

Belt singing expert Erin Guinup, who recently shared tips on Cued In in this video, is working on a six-week series of singing fundamentals for beginning choral singers covering breathing, phonation, diction, etc. These videos will be available to the community for a recommended donation to the Tacoma Refugee Choir. 

In addition, J.W. Pepper has a large variety of ePrint sheet music that can be downloaded or viewed on the ePrintGo app.

Online there are an increasing number of positive stories that also can serve as inspiration – ones showcasing the creativity and dedication of teachers everywhere. Stories like this one from WTOL-TV in Ohio highlight innovative teaching. It features music teacher Kelsey Kuszek using a green screen to take her students on adventures.

Please share your ideas in the comments, and thank you for your dedication to our students during a very challenging time!