Music Lessons in Lockdown: A Guide for Teachers

By Jade Bultitude
Last Update:

Teaching has always been an important requirement in everyday life whether it’s in  the classroom or a living room. But as the events of 2020 have unfolded and lockdown has been introduced, every person has had to adjust. Whether its the school curriculum, the flute or baking a sourdough bread, we are spoilt for choice with recourses. After teaching for over ten years from beginners to young adults that are at the beginning of their flute playing career; I’ve never stopped learning and discovering how to teach. There are some valuable skills and methods that have come in useful in the last few months during the pandemic and also  for after!

How do we keep young children motivated to learn?

When starting an online lesson I’ll do an online game to make sure I have their attention. Noughts and crosses works well on the whiteboard! Or if I want to do some note learning I will use the Note Identification program. During lessons see if your own pupils know how to annotate the screen also and not just you! Also give them other things to do outside of lessons that aren’t on the flute. The book You Are Awesome by table tennis player Matthew Syed is a fantastic read for young children!

How can we ensure progress has been made over these months without exams? 

We have to remember that progress is measured differently by everyone, and we all define what progress is differently. One person might define progress by going through the grades, another might be learning a new piece. Make sure you keep communication clear with the pupil and if they are a child then also with the parent.

In between lessons we can create small goals e.g. learning a new note, or a clearer tone or better breathing to help show pupils that they are still moving forward. For those that have had cancelled exams, the pupils that have prepared for them and done the work, can create a certificate for themselves and give themselves a distinction!

Like everyone exam boards are now getting creative also and the new ABRSM performance exams are an option. Pupils have to learn new skills with this like presenting and announcing pieces and also playing to a camera.

The lockdown has changed the plans we had in place for exams in the future, how can we still make progress?

Switching exam boards and jumping grades is all ok as long as whatever you’re doing suits the pupil and their lifestyle, whether if they have school or university studies on top or a family to raise. My main goal is always to create a well rounded musician: this includes theory, musicianship and knowledge of the instrument. 

Should I give my pupils extra theory to do over lockdown?

From experience when first mentioning theory to some pupils, it can be the one part of the lesson they dread and also forget about very easily. If they are young this can be your chance to encourage them to start early, and do a little every week. If they have been learning the flute for a while and done no theory I normally give them a grade 1 paper straight away to see how they do and then fill in the gaps before going to grade 2.

A bonus with the ABRSM workbooks is that you can take out the sheet which has the performance directions and keep them all together in a plastic wallet and you have a free music dictionary! Theory may be tough and not always as exciting as the pieces but it is the clue behind the notes from the composer as to what story they want to tell with the music. 

How can we encourage practice over lockdown?

Every musician out there all has good days and bad days, just like athletes! A way to help motivate them is to ensure every pupil is completely clear on what they have to practise and also why! With young beginning pupils I give them a checklist and they have to work through the list and and then get to tick things off e.g. play G major scale three times. It is a fact that your brain starts to switch off after 10 minutes, so for adult pupils I write them a practise schedule which makes sure they change what they’re doing every 10 minutes to keep their practise as focussed as possible. For every pupil no matter who they are I give them something fun to practise and get them to choose pieces for themselves or find something they like.

How do we keep children interested in then flute during this time?

With technology and social media there is new material coming out all the time, especially during this lockdown period. A few great organisations to follow and watch are: Flute Loops, Principal Chairs, E-Flute Events, BFS Society, Invested Musician and Simply Flute. They have all sorts including interviews, activities and some free materials to download. Also as we are all at home musicians can now be giving performances online and in the living room or garden (if it’s warm enough) to neighbours to keep creating music!

How do you set goals over a long period of time without any performance opportunities?

When looking at a big task ahead of you it is so easy to not start. Whenever you practise never set big goals as it is one of the fastest way to be put off. Always break them down and be as specific as you can e.g. one piece – how many bars or which lines. If it is developing part of your technique such as fingers: How do they hold the flute?  Where are the pressure points when holding a flute? Do they need to strengthen up weak fingers or look at finger coordination between certain notes? 

What is the best way to carry out online teaching work?

One of the most common programs to use is Zoom. If you use the up to date version make sure you turn on the original sound. Or go to your advanced settings to suppress background noise and persistent noise. Also switch Echo Cancellation to Auto Settings and this will give you the best options possible for hearing players. Also make sure to wear headphones to help you hear the audio as clearly as possible. Using for the audio and then muting the zoom can work really well. This is great combination for excellent video and audio quality!

Let us know how you have continue to learn through a lockdown! And don’t forget to check out Elizabeth Meyer here on her website!