As schools around Australia quickly move to online learning as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, private music teachers will be feeling understandably very anxious about what lies ahead for their teaching and livelihood. As things presently stand, it is possible to conduct one-on-one lessons provided that the new social distancing rule of four square metres per person minimum is observed. But further restrictions may well be introduced, and in any case, many parents might feel uncomfortable about their kids continuing with music lessons through this time, and many teachers might feel equally apprehensive about the flow of people through their house or private studio.
In the first place, the obvious things need to be said about hygiene. Students should be asked to wash their hands with soap on entry and exit. Hand sanitiser should be present if bathroom facilities are not nearby. Instruments should be wiped down with disinfectant before and after use. Woodwind and brass instruments should have their mouthpieces properly cleaned. A box of tissues should be on hand and used tissues thrown in a bin. Windows should be opened for fresh air where this is possible. All these things are sensible precautions anyway, and it just needs more vigilance.
Additionally it is advisable to inform parents of all such health measures being put into place for their peace of mind, and obviously to ask them not to bring their children if they (or the parents themselves) are feeling unwell.
The alternative is to conduct lessons online. All it needs for individual lessons is a mobile phone, tablet or laptop, and for your student to have one as well, and making a video call using Skype, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime or other such app (see them explained here).
In the case of younger children, it will need the parent to hold the mobile phone and point it as needed while the lesson is taking place, and for them to annotate the music as needed and write notes in their homework book.
Teachers may find that, if these steps are explained simply enough, parents are very predisposed to this way of holding lessons. They too are wanting life has to go on as normal as possible and for their children’s learning not to unduly suffer over this period. And music is, after all, a joy and an outlet – increasingly so in these restrictive times.
How does online learning work out in practice for music teachers? US online publication Violinist.com recently asked teachers to respond to the question, ‘Have you ever tried taking or teaching online violin lessons?’ One respondent said: “I have taken online lessons for years! With violin and saxophone. With teachers from Europe and the states. It has worked out well with me. I have also taken classes in person of course, and am currently doing so with the violin. I really enjoyed my online classes and the different perspective from my European teachers. Helps me keep an open mind.” Another replied: “The only real drawback is she can’t reach through the screen and correct a finger or a wrist or an arm.”
Inevitably there is a period of adjustment as all get used to online learning, but the point is that the technology is already with us, and using it in teaching is not as big step as one might think.
As always, the Australian Government’s Department of Health should be one’s first port of call for facts and advice regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19).