10 Tips and Tricks for Music Educators on Zoom

Blog - Zoom

10 tips & tricks for more productive and engaging rehearsals

  1. Help students get comfortable communicating. Begin every rehearsal by having each student speak or share something. This not only helps students get comfortable with communicating via webcam, but also creates an opportunity to test microphones and cameras prior to productivity beginning.
  2. Use headphones (and encourage students to do the same). Headphones not only help you focus and carefully monitor the meeting, but also eliminate feedback from your speaker to your microphone. Even though most laptops are designed to prevent this, the incoming sound can still be picked up by the microphone and “echo” back to the students. This creates a distorted audio environment and increases distractions for students and teachers.
  3. Understand the audio settings. While we are not able to control the quality of the student’s device or internet connection, it is important that the instructor is confident in trouble-shooting. Take the time to learn what problems can be fixed on the fly, and which issues need specialized help outside of rehearsal. The most common technical issue that I’ve discovered is audio suppression when an instrument plays. To disengage this on a computer, follow the instructions below:
    1. Click the ^ next to the mute button
    2. Click Audio Settings
    3. Click Advanced (bottom-right corner)
    4. Check the box that reads: Show in-meeting option to “Enable Original Sound” from microphone.
    5. Return to the main window and toggle the new button in the top-left corner until it reads “Turn off original sound”.
  4. Mute is your friend. Teach students to stay muted unless they are called upon to speak or perform. Background noise, pets, and lawn-mowers can quickly take over the sound going into EVERYONE’S ears. If a student is not muted, you can use the participants panel to mute students and turn off their screen if needed.
  5. I PLAY – WE PLAY – YOU PLAY.  There IS NO WAY to make simultaneous sound/music via Zoom. There will always be an enormous amount of delay. However, if only one person is performing, the students can easily play-along on their end while they are muted, making it feel like they are simply playing along in a normal class/ lesson setting. The most productive rehearsal strategy I have experienced resembles the following sequence:
    1. Perform the passage for the students-either live or using a recording (see tip #6/7)
    2. Have the students play-along on mute. While they play, provide some type of reference such as your own playing,  a recording, or  a metronome.
    3. After some reps, have students perform individually. There may not be time to always hear every student, but it is important that they feel a sense of accountability at all times. This will ensure continued engagement throughout the rehearsal. 
  6. Share your screen.  The “Share Screen” button at the bottom of an active Zoom meeting is a POWERFUL tool. This gives you the option to share your entire screen, a single window, or even the screen/ resources of an external device like an iPhone or iPad. You can use this function to stream both video and audio to every student in the meeting.
  7. Use a metronome. You can easily stream a metronome into every student’s ears by using the share screen function. I personally plug-in an iPad with a metronome app and use it throughout the “we play” portion of every rehearsal to keep students on track. This gives me the flexibility to observe students and/or prepare the next part of the lesson.
  8. Use an external monitor. While this may seem like a resource reserved for computer programmers and online-gamers, a simple external monitor can immensely increase your productivity during a Zoom rehearsal. Whether you are using it to screen-share, take notes, or prepare upcoming media in the lesson, an external monitor frees up your work-space while letting you maintain a view of the Zoom meeting and its attendees. While there are a wide-variety of options, a spare TV or an old desktop will work just as well as anything else for this purpose. My first external monitor set-up cost me $25.00… $15 for a thrift store desktop monitor and $10 for an adapter cable.
  9. Invest in the right equipment. While a successful rehearsal CAN happen with almost any laptop and set of headphones, spending around $100 on a usb microphone and webcam can create a MUCH clearer presentation to students and allow you more flexibility while teaching. A simple detail like the angle of a webcam creates a much more comfortable environment while teaching at an instrument’s distance away from your computer. These tools (external webcams and microphones) will also continue to provide value once your rehearsals “go back to normal”. The ability to quickly record your ensemble without putting a laptop on top of a ladder in the band room is DEFINITELY worth the cost.
  10. Be patient. Things will go wrong. Your screen will freeze. Audio will cut out. Student’s cameras and microphones “won’t work.” Internet will go down. Dogs will bark. Students will get distracted. Someone’s laptop will fall off of their table. There will be awkward silence. Anything that can go wrong…will. I go into every lesson/class/rehearsal with this mindset and because of that, when things go smoothly, it’s even better! The ability to be patient and/or quickly resolve problems is far more valuable than trying to avoid these problems all together. WHEN (not if) things go wrong, pause, breathe, smile/laugh, and move-on. Your students deserve you at your best and NO ONE is at their best when they are frustrated.

Keep learning, stay positive, stay healthy, and just keep doing your best.

-Luke Vogt