5 Music Teachers Achieve Online Learning Success

Much planning and preparation has gone into the 2021 back-to-school season. Administrators and teachers have reflected on lessons learned from the past year-plus, in which most schools navigated remote or hybrid learning for the first time, and have determined successful strategies worth sustaining. Still, others have considered the ambitious goals they have for students, and taken steps to implement new programs. 

While some uncertainty remains about the exact shape of the 2021-22 school year, educators know for sure that effective strategies to engage students and enhance learning are always welcome. In this piece, we’re highlighting five music teachers whose work over the course of the pandemic has contributed to high-quality online learning, supported students’ needs, and set the stage for continued success.

Connecting Students for Global Collaboration

Music teachers John Churchville of Rudolf Steiner High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Paul van der Heijden of Titus Brandsmalyceum Oss in the Netherlands collaborated to create a joint student project using Soundtrap. They started with a small group from both schools taking an existing song that Churchville’s students had developed, and then shared with van der Heijden’s class to add elements and make adjustments.

From the initial simple collaboration, the two classes developed further projects throughout the year. Student agency and empowerment were evident, as learners began to create and collaborate on their own. In the end, it is what any teacher dreams about: “I have students who are making music, collaborating with others, and realizing they want to release it on Spotify instead of through the school,” said Churchville.

Both teachers are sharing their journey with other educators around the world. Churchville is offering a musical composition course in which beat creators, instrumentalists, singers, editors, and even cover art creators can work and grow together. In the Netherlands, van der Heijden’s school is using Soundtrap to produce podcasts for their radio station, Scool Radio.

Read more: Students in the Netherlands and United States Collaborate on Original Songs with a Personal Message

Introducing Students to Music Professions, Jingle-Making, and More

Justin Polk, a music educator at Arleta High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), reacted to virtual teaching in a forward-thinking way. He pivoted from his traditional curriculum and began to introduce students to various professional fields. Every week he chose a particular music profession, such as Foley recording or film scoring, and explored the practical job opportunities found in music.

After listening to a jingle on his car radio, he had an idea to extend the learning: “We should do something like this. Everything can be broken down and related to traditional music standards, and the [spots] are using the pentatonic scale,” he thought. He used the scales approach to demonstrate melodies produced in the jingles and the students loved it.

The students took off with creations on their own using Soundtrap to expand their recording skills, playing with beats and recording vocals. It went beyond jingles, as students delved into other projects (film scoring, etc.) guided by Polk throughout the process. “We mixed up songs and made them our own, writing descriptions about the type of video and what you put with the sound. We found ways to make it relatable but also educational.” Band even entered the mix with a virtual ensemble using Soundtrap to sync up the audio―all of it balanced, exported, and attached to the video.

Polk’s creative efforts led the school to make music production part of the curriculum moving ahead. “Aside from choir and band, we want to offer music tech as a third balancing factor of our music department,” says Polk.

Read more: How LAUSD Students Became Jingle-Makers and More

Fostering Engagement with Relevant, Teacher-Created Curriculum

Rod Hamilton, a music teacher at Mergenthaler High School in Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) created a relevant music curriculum taught through Soundtrap to help students experience new musical perspectives during the pandemic. In collaboration with Chan’nel Howard, the district’s Fine Arts Supervisor, they reconciled virtual instruction with performing arts disciplines in a way that was meaningful, addressed social-emotional learning (SEL), and was easy for teachers to learn―an important factor when starting something brand new during remote learning.

Hamilton developed a curriculum for teachers to use online each day using Soundtrap, ensuring it was fun and relevant with social justice themes and student voice at the forefront. “In terms of social justice, I start the students off by analyzing lyrics,” says Hamilton. He used songs that were familiar like Lil Baby’s The Bigger Picture to enhance engagement. The students would remix the instrumentals, sectioning beats through copying, pasting, and splitting regions. Hamilton then added elements as teachable moments, and demonstrated similar themes present in the work of different influential artists, such as Marvin Gaye or Tupac Shakur, along with clips from current events.

He keyed in on the collaboration element of Soundtrap. By Unit 3 of his curriculum, he has the students fully collaborate: “They remix each other’s work. It’s been nice to see students talk to each other. None of my students share their screens―they only type in the chat to me, but now they can chat to each other in Soundtrap.” Even off-topic, the chat feature offered a means for students to relate to one another and alleviate some of the isolation. Soundtrap’s collaborative feature allowed students to still feel like they were in a classroom.

Read more: Teacher-Created Curriculum Keeps Baltimore Engaged with Music

Transforming Choir from Traditional to Virtual

Kelli Pierson, a high school music teacher at George C. Marshall High School in Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), turned to Soundtrap to help transition her traditional choir to a virtual setting. “We explored Soundtrap and learned you could record in small chunks and edit,” she said. “You can work with a practice track and match your sound to it and use that as a way to grade yourself before you hit save.” Students who were trying to record in one take benefited greatly from the approach, reducing their recording time to 10-15 minutes.

Pierson invited students into a collaboration page, teaching them to record themselves against pre-loaded practice tracks. “At the end of our rehearsals with students on mute, I’d send them to Soundtrap to record,” she recalls. “By the end of class, I could play back up to 30 voices with some minimal lining up of parts and hear how they were doing. It was incredible!”

Suddenly, there was a routine back in place for classes, and Pierson witnessed rehearsals once again. She had a place to check how students were doing on assignments in real-time. She added different collaboration pages for her five ensembles, resulting in five to six songs per group, and found that Soundtrap helped to enhance student learning during the pandemic: “I often use the chat to share specific feedback with students. I love that I can teach them a little bit about audio editing, balancing, effects, and dynamics.”

Read more: Choir Transforms From Traditional to Tech-Enabled in Fairfax County