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What lockdown taught me as a music teacher

In this guest blog, Katie Wills, a piano teacher based in Glasgow, reflects on teaching music students online during the pandemic.

Resilience in the face of adversity

As music teachers, I think lockdown has taught us all a lot in terms of resilience, innovation and our ability to continue to educate, despite the challenging circumstances.

Amongst the music teachers I keep in touch with, I have seen how we’ve individually discovered a lot about ourselves during lockdown. We’ve tried out new hobbies to keep our minds occupied, some of us have started new businesses, some of us have left a job or started a new one. Some have had epiphanies about what they truly wanted from life, some have taken a leap of faith to go in a new direction. We’ve all struggled, we’ve all fallen on hard times, but we’ve persevered through what has been a really difficult year and a half.

A digital shift for the music industry

Lockdown threw a lot of spanners in the works for musicians, having to adapt to what was a really scary circumstance in terms of survival -mentally, physically and financially. The music industry was one of the worst hit industries, with many venues closing for good and surviving businesses taking a huge economic hit, musicians losing out on significant income and gigs coming to a complete standstill. A silent world.

All of us had to adapt to digital, converting everything we could to online. It wasn’t always easy performing live remotely due to latency, lag and sound issues, and the lack of interaction - playing to a camera, with an audience on the other side that you couldn’t see.

The transition to online teaching

It was difficult to know how to convert my teaching practice effectively to online. It wasn’t impossible of course, but it wasn’t easy either. I had to find the best platform to use, starting off with Skype, before realising it wasn’t great for connections, then moving to Zoom and getting to grips with that platform.

The connection and latency issues, which are still very much a problem, sometimes made it difficult for lessons to go smoothly - with sound dipping in and out so that teachers and students couldn’t hear each other. And then knowing how best to set up the camera for Zoom, whether to use a laptop, a phone or an iPad - no-one knew what the best option was, we all had to learn along the way - and we're still learning.

Useful resources

Learning how to deal with such a dramatic change has got easier as resources like The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Music Online have been published by the community. I have seen lots of music teachers providing videos, articles and even just supportive comments online, to give each other the confidence that we can get through this period.

The ISM also offers a range of advice for succeeding online as a music professional, including Transitioning to online teaching, Making music online in real time and Safeguarding for music teachers giving lessons remotely.

Personal and professional learnings

Both lockdowns have taught me a lot about myself as a musician and as a person. I have learned that I am stronger than I think I am, I can adapt and learn quickly, and I can find new ways to earn an income as a freelancer. I started out in the first lockdown worried and unsure of how I was going to survive financially, how I was going to continue my work as a music tutor, recording musician and performer. But with the help of some musician grants/bursaries, continuously looking for opportunities to work more online as a freelance musician, and never giving up, I managed to find consistent work and keep myself afloat.

Student development

Of course there were times that were worrying in terms of a dip in work, but one of the things that remained consistent were my pupils, who decided to continue with their lessons. Their enthusiasm and drive to keep going encouraged me more to find even better ways to adapt to online teaching and make lessons more engaging, despite them being online.

I learned that despite not being an expert in technology or remote teaching, that I could find ways to adapt and continuously strive to help my students develop - of which they all have! I have seen a massive improvement in development for all my students - they have worked at it in their own time, put in the practice and continue to improve.

It’s not always easy teaching online. It can be difficult, confusing and frustrating - but it’s still rewarding hearing the improvement of a pupil, when they play through a piece you’ve been working on with them and it sounds a lot more confident. Lockdown has really given pupils the tools to work harder at their home practice, as I couldn’t be there to help them in person. So it really does impress me that pupils have taken the initiative to improve, despite the fact I can only teach them through a screen for the time being.

Pride in the community

While it hasn’t been the easiest time, I am left tremendously proud of the music teaching community, the students, the teachers and those involved along the way. Well done to all you teachers out there for pushing through and adapting, and well done to all you students out there who continued with lessons and pushed yourselves to practise at home. You’re all doing better than you think!

Katie Wills
Katie Wills

About the author

Katie Wills is a music teacher based in Glasgow, Scotland. She is a member of the MusicTeacher.com community, offering piano lessons to students both in-person and online.

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