April 3, 2020     Encore Tours

Maintaining Creativity in a Distance Learning Environment


Editor’s Note: During this challenging time, we want to express our appreciation to the music educators who have been forced to take their classrooms online to provide students with a safe and informative online learning environment. As stated in our mission statement, we believe in the importance of supporting music education both at home and abroad, which is why we have ungated all of our lesson plans, eBooks, and whitepapers.

Over the past several weeks, we have received multiple requests from music directors and educators in need of assistance, advice, and inspiration. Fortunately, we are blessed to have an expansive network of generous and dedicated educators, including Erick Crow, the Director of Choral Activities and Drama at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Music directors across the globe are dealing with the challenges of teaching their performance ensembles online. Students are overwhelmed with dealing with multiple classes at one time and continually having to do work that does not challenge them or evoke any type of creativity. As a High School music director, it is devastating to witness my students see the end of their semester without the usual fanfare of banquets, spring concerts, shows, and graduations.

Throughout this chaos, music directors have been given the perplexing task of transferring our ensembles to the digital world. I know many directors are bewildered by conducting a Zoom session and have found themselves wondering, “What on earth can we teach our students?” As someone who has multiple years of experience in both teaching and learning from an online platform, I wanted to share some insights, so here are five tips, tricks, and ideas that will help you and your students grow and learn in this environment.

1. Don’t panic! You are not an online educator! 

This is the first piece of advice I can give to any teacher in the arts. Do not panic, and don’t expect to be an expert. Throughout all of the uncertainty, we are asked to transfer our lesson plans to an online platform. No program in this world will replace your live performance ensemble. The laws of physics are not on your side. Throw any idea of a live rehearsal via video conferencing out the window. It just doesn’t work. What you must commit to is focusing on developing these young minds to continue to be curious and creative.

2. There are many free or low-cost resources out there, regardless of your background  

Many school districts do not have the technology that my school has, but that’s okay! There is an abundance of free resources you can use. In my performing ensemble classes, I have taken this time to focus on theory development while allowing students to play music examples.

  • Musictheory.net – Great resource for free assignments and lessons on the fundamentals of music theory.
  • Sightreadingfactory.com – A fantastic resource that helps students practice sight reading skills. You can create different examples based on ability and even have students practice individual parts that will create ensemble playing. 
  • GarageBand – Now, before you say you are a PC user, I bet a majority have iPhones. All iPhone and Mac systems come with GarageBand and can be used to record, create, and share music. Other programs include FL Studio, Audacity, ProTools, and many more digital audio workstations (DAW) systems.  
  • Artusi.xyz – Artusi is a new website that has a set of automatically grading, online interactive workbooks for music theory, and aural skills. Currently, it is free until the end of June for all institutions. 
  • NAfME.org – The National Association for Music Education has a ton of blog and teacher resources that contain lesson plans, websites, and videos for you and your students. 
  • Facebook – Yes! Check out Facebook, there are theater groups, music groups, and art groups of educators sharing content. 

3. Make assignments fun and creative! 

The problem we can face is giving too many of the same assignments. Challenge your students to create. Have them record a song, provide them with the music piece you were working on, and have them record it. Get students to do Zoom conferences together to discuss music trends. Set up smaller workspaces in Zoom so you can hear their instruments and give feedback. Share videos of other ensembles. If you are a composition teacher, have students write music for different ensembles. As art educators, we are responsible for allowing these students to feel like they’re a part of something.

4. Connect with your students

When you speak with your students via Zoom, the first thing you should start with is, “How are you doing? And what are you doing to stay creative?” Our ensembles are families. We plan trips, we share our passions, we laugh, we cry, and we see our students more than our own families. Let them know that you care. This is not a normal situation, and they need connection now more than anything.

5. Challenge yourself to learn! 

I’ll end this with a challenge to music educators: Don’t expect your students to know everything, just like you do not know everything. Challenge yourself to think outside of the box. Learn the technology and how to teach in this environment. Now is not the time to be proud or stubborn. We are in this situation, how are we going to make it work? The first time you picked up an instrument, it was not easy. Today, we have resources on social media, YouTube, and software that didn’t exist before. Challenge yourself to become a better educator, so that we all can learn and thrive.

Happy teaching! Feel free to reach out to me at crow@cghsfl.org for more advice, tips, and tricks of technology.

At Encore Tours, we are committed to supporting music education both at home and abroad. Do you have any tips to help fellow music educators with remote teaching? Please email encoretours@acis.com with your suggestions!

Contact the Encore Tours team with any questions or concerns about taking your musical ensemble to new places!

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