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Four Tips for Zoom Lesson Success

This week marks 6 months for me of teaching zoom lessons since the state of California closed back in March. At the time everything was up in the air, and I not only became worried about protecting myself and my family, but protecting my students. The unknown of how Covid-19 would develop was paralyzing, but I found myself faced by another challenge altogether. As I evaluated how to move forward and how to continue to teach without risking exposure to the virus, trusted mentors of mine suggested using a video-conferencing program called Zoom. At the time I had no idea what Zoom was, and was concerned about my very limited technological skills, but I decided it was worth a shot.

Since my first zoom lesson 6 months ago, I've found lots of success not only in teaching my students, but starting new students even at the beginner level. After navigating my way around the app for the last few months, I wanted to share a few tricks I've picked up that have made Zoom teaching not just easier, but successful.


The Whiteboard Feature

One of the greatest assets of zoom lessons is the whiteboard feature. In music lessons it's very common for teachers to require students to have a journal to take notes during lessons. These journals do it all - track assignments, suggest practice recommendations... and some of the more creative ones even track practice hours! As a teacher it was my habit to take notes for my students during lessons and leave them the notebook during the week so they could have their assignment list for accountability. When I started teaching lessons, I began to wonder how I would help my students track lessons without a physical notebook to take notes. Since then, I've found that the whiteboard feature is a great way to visually show students during the lessons what their requirements are. This acts as a 'virtual journal' that you can save at the end of a lesson and email to parents to give to their kids. In many ways, this holds a great advantage over the traditional journal because it's not only easier to read (let's face it, text is a lot better than my hasty handwriting!), but it allows me to have a copy of the lesson summary for easier lesson planning during the week. The feature is super easy to use because all you have to do is click "share screen" -> "whiteboard". Once you begin typing it will save what you've written for the duration of the lesson, just make sure to save it at the end with the save button in the tool bar!


Original Sound

This trick is from my voice teacher at the start of the pandemic. One of the toughest challenges of zoom lessons is the audio quality. While the program might work fine for business conferences and meetings, when it comes to music the sound is lacking. One of the features of Zoom is that they filter and edit the sound as it comes so that background noise, non-speech frequencies, and extreme sounds (both loud and soft) are filtered out, to help the sound not be so overwhelming in conferences. Unfortunately for music teachers, this means that sounds from instruments and even singing tones are often cut out, making it nearly impossible to hear and critique what students play. The "turn on original sound" and other audio features allow teachers to listen to the sound without so much filtering.

  1. Click the little arrow to the right of the microphone/audio button and selecting "audio settings" from the pop-up button.

  2. Once in "audio-settings", you'll want to deselect the "automatically adjust microphone volume", and turn the volume slider all the way up both of which should be under the "microphone" category on the page.

  3. Once you've done this, you can go to "advanced" settings by clicking the button in the bottom right-hand corner, and select the option to "show in-meeting option to 'enable original sound' from microphone".

  4. After you've selected this, exit audio settings to return to your call, and a button should appear in the upper left hand corner labelled "Turn on Original Sound". Once you select it it'll say "Turn off Original Sound", and violà! Whoever you call should hear your music with a lot more clarity.

  5. You'll want to ask your students to do the same process, so you can hear each other clearly. This will allow you to share your music and hear their music without worrying about all the cut-outs.

Share Screen: Noteflight

This Zoom feature is a great tool for more creative students who like to make their own music. A few months back I made a noteflight studio account for my students to use. When the need arises I give them the username and passcode, and during the week I can check on their compositions. During lessons I can use the share screen feature to pull up noteflight on my web browser, where we can edit their work together in live time. For any teachers with students who can't stop making music, I highly recommend creating an account and making it a part of zoom lessons.


Share Screen: Additional Resources

Similar to sharing the screen for noteflight, I've found the share screen feature to be useful in several other capacities as well. Before a lesson, if there is a resource I want to use, I send it to my laptop and pull it up so I can use the share screen feature to show my students. Some of the resources I've shared include flashcards, strumming exercises, and even additional songs! This is so helpful and is advantageous in that I don't have to carry a bag with me of random resources, but can simply pull them up in our lesson at any time.


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While these tips may not be anything extremely innovative or new, but they have proven helpful to me time and time again. Teaching over zoom may not be ideal, but using the advantages while we have them is a great way to help students optimize their learning and become better musicians because of it.

Do you have any cool tips and tricks you like to use for zoom? Share them with me by email and in the comments below!

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