2010 MTNA Conference – Tuesday Mid-Morning

Creating Learning Communities for Young Students
by Stella Sick and Kristin Shoemaker

Online Communities: Goals

The two presenters met last year on the flight home from the conference and discovered that they have a lot in common, including the fact that they both have small studios. They felt like their students were missing out on some of the benefits of being in a larger studio, so they began to explore alternatives.

Four Different Online Communities
Studio Groups
Study Groups
e-Piano Groups
Time-Shifted Groups

Student Equipment Needed
video-conferencing software
* Skype – 2-way, free
* iChat – Mac only platform, up to 6-way
* ooVoo – up to 6-way, flashing commercials, payment plan

Studio Groups
The presenters showed a video clip of a session that took place between a teacher in Minnesota with a student in Arkansas and a student in Zambia. This approach enabled students to connect with a teacher, even when living in remote parts of the world! Kristin shared that one of the students’ moms said that he rated the virtual piano class as one of the “top three coolest experiences in life.” 🙂 Another benefit of using an internet-based group experience is that it enables the teacher to see and hear the instrument on which the student is playing. In one group session, Kristin had one student play a short melody and then had another student attempt to replicate it by ear. Another thing she did was ask the more experienced students to give a word of advice to a new student beginning lessons.

Interestingly, Kristin observed that playing virtually for each other seemed to invoke the same feelings of nervousness in performing for each other as if they had been in the same geographic location.

Study Groups
Even students without a webcam can experience the benefits of virtual group connections via a conference call feature. In the clip she showed, the students did interval ear-training drills with each other in preparation for an upcoming exam. In another clip, one student played a melodic pattern and then the other one played it back. Another perk experienced through this approach is that students took the initiative to help instruct and encourage each other.

e-Piano Groups
In each group, there were three components:
Part 1: Dialogue (get to know each other, share ideas)
Part 2: Perform (share repertoire pieces with each other)
Part 3: Create (compose something together on the piano)

In putting together these groups, Stella and Kristin selected a variety of YouTube videos for the students to watch and then discuss. Students asked questions of each other and talked about what they liked and didn’t like about the performance. Part of the learning process for the students is finding the words to express their musical impressions.

After the dialogue portion of the session, each of the students took turns playing sections of their pieces for each other. Even though the quality in the video clips was poor, it didn’t detract from the group dynamics and encouraging spirit among the students.

Stella and Kristen designed the e-Groups with a very specific structure. Each meeting time had a specific objective. The groups were to meet 4 times over a period of 1-2 months. The students scheduled the meeting times according to their schedule.
Session 1: Melody – each plays one phrase and they go back and forth until they have a good cohesive melody
Session 2: Harmony – select chord progressions
Session 3: Accompaniment – putting the chord progressions together to form a complementary accompaniment
Session 4: Get Creative!

Many teachers incorporate composition and improvisation into lessons, but this transformed the activity from a lesson assignment to a group project. They learned many valuable skills by working together to create a composition, including applied theory, communicating musical terminology, notation, etc. This creative process was a highlight for the students involved in the e-Groups.

Time-Shifted Groups
The presenters use a Facebook group with a private setting. Stella uses this for her college students to get a window into the practice habits of her students. She created her own video with clear instructions as an example for her students to follow. This created a sense of accountability for the students. Kristin prefers using Vimeo because she likes the ease of accessing the video clips. This set-up also enables students to leave feedback for each other.

It was rewarding for the teachers to see students connect virtually and socially with each other. In addition, it seemed to spur them on to greater heights in their musical studies. Students also took greater initiative and responsibility for their learning by continuing with the groups even in the absence of a teacher directing them. Thus, online communities can be very beneficial in encouraging students to blossom musically.

Handouts and additional information are available at stellarpiano.com.

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