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Teaching the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival: Blues Academy.... ONLINE!

I've always enjoyed teaching in groups, working with larger ensembles and socialising with my fellow musicians. In the light of recent events we've all had to adapt to this new medium of online teaching and collaboration recordings. We tidy up the best corner of our flat, choose an angle that hides that lurking double chin and join our zoom session. It's not an easy transition and I would be the first to say it is a flawed system.


The first noticeable thing is the latency. Latency refers to the delayed reaction over a video call due to data being sent back and forth over different internet speeds. It's fine for a chat with a friend, annoying in a group conversation and immediately throws out the concept of music group work and ensemble playing. When working with larger ensembles you get instant feedback and ensemble response. People teaching over Zoom or Skype quickly have to get into the habit of not asking their students to play along with them. It's purely a back and forth exchange rather than an instantaneous one. I had to develop a system in which I can teach my students so they can get something out of it.


The second hiccup is human error. People leave their mics on... so when you have 40 people on a call someone has their TV on in the background or a dog starts barking or someone is breathing heavily into their microphone can be loud enough to draw the group away from the experience. Many folk also might not know how well their internet performs in certain parts of the house. So, check the WIFI signal is strong with maximum bars on your device and learn how to mute your microphone quickly. I believe Zoom has some sort of push to talk function, which is useful when dealing with large groups.


Thirdly... Don't talk 'at' them. Let there be some sort of back and forth. Even if they leave with one good idea to practise, you're winning. When teaching larger groups I try not to just talk at them for 45 minutes. I want students to respond and perform over the mic. Giving some form of feedback to a teacher can guide the lesson and develop the students desire to keep taking online lessons. Sometimes these things fail because students say "It doesn't feel like the real thing" or "I'm not learning much". That's because they are just staring at a face on a screen telling them what they should sound like, rather than engaging with them.


Four. Presentation... if there was ever a time to work on your radio presenter voice, it's now. Learning how to guide people purely with your voice is a skill. And a tough one at that. You essentially have to keep people's attention for an hour by not stuttering, smacking your lips over the microphone (eeeughhh!) and formulating sentences and paragraphs into a journey that people want to keep following. Why do we like listening to TED talks so much? Because their vocal delivery is precise, rehearsed and slow. People love to talk fast, slow it down.

(I used to be terrible at this)

(The face you don't want to show your students when they're having tech issues)


*** Tech talk for the teachers*** Have a camera that works well (any smart phone/laptop will do), and get a sound interface. Having a sound card where I can send music into and plug in a microphone enhances the entire experience. Good video, good sound, awesome.

These are necessary tools for musicians in the 21st century. We need to know how to record ourselves and broadcast ourselves to the best of our ability in a world where platforms for releasing music are more accessible and easy to use! (Youtube will guide the way with any tech tutorials you need... trust me)

HAVE A SCRIPT! Jot down points you're gonna teach. Like cue cards for a speech. This helps loads and 45 min sessions fly by.


These were a few things I've spotted during my sessions. I thought this was going to be a temporary experience, but it seems as though we'll be at this for a while. So it's another thing to practise I suppose. All hail the new teaching medium overlord. Zoom.


TOP TIP! When selecting Input and Output for Zoom calls through LadioCast , DO NOT MAKE THE OUTPUT AND INPUT THE SAME.... you will go deaf temporarily.




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