Should I continue piano lessons?

How music schools continue their teaching digitally

The guitar in her hands, headphones on her black curls: for her students these days, Katharina Thomsing is just a moving image on the cell phone or computer. The guitar teacher has been giving her lessons digitally since the music schools had to close due to the corona virus.

A video chat conversation with Thomsing, who teaches at the Gundelfingen Music School in Breisgau, shows the first hurdles: When she sits normally in front of the computer, either her head is not completely in the picture or her right hand is on the guitar. It has a good microphone, but the acoustic guitar still sounds muffled. Again and again the picture falters. And the attempt to clap at the same time shows that making music together is impossible because of the time lag.

Can music lessons work like this?

Almost all music schools from Offenburg to Lörrach are now continuing their lessons digitally. The channel is up to the teacher: Telephone, Skype or Facetime with picture, zoom with several students at the same time. Teachers send practice plans and grades by email. Some ask their students to make sound recordings and send them to the teacher, even several times a week. Others send out videos showing off exercises. Some schools are starting or deepening their YouTube channels. It becomes difficult with large groups, early musical education or jam groups, which are usually canceled.

Youth music school Südlicher Breisgau: Groups in times of Corona

The music schools try to maintain contact with the students. Pupils and parents are grateful that the lessons continue, it is often said. But there is also understanding for parents who are now in an economic emergency and can no longer afford music lessons.

The crisis also offers opportunities

In the youth music school in Südlicher Breisgau, the friends' association took over the contribution of a child: "No child should have to stop playing," says director Joachim Baar. He is confident that the music schools will survive this time well - and that the crisis offers opportunities for new methods.

"Now we can take advantage of the moment and gain experience in the technical field," says Lutz Thormann, director of the music school in Breisgau. However, some music schools also have reservations: It is difficult to pay if the hours cannot be billed clearly. Some also worried about data protection. Thormann thinks that is not so important in these times.

Guitar teacher Katharina Thomsing uses Skype and Facetime, she prefers not to use Whatsapp because of data protection. She does the lesson with some students over the phone - "You have to listen carefully," says the 54-year-old. "But even with video, you can't really see the student moving on the small screen." For the younger ones in particular, it is exciting to try out new things. However, they would have to listen more concentrated. The teacher uses her finger animal zoo to entertain the children: the white horse has already made friends with the cuddly toy horse of her nine-year-old pupil. "We are committed to our customers," says Thomsing. "And you feel weird when you can't do your job."

Youth music school Südlicher Breisgau: Choir in times of Corona

As a guitar teacher, it is relatively easy for her, others face greater technical challenges. For example, the drum teacher Daniel Pellegrini: He described to his students how best to align the camera and microphone so that he can see the student and the instrument clearly and the sound fits. Multiple cameras and microphones would be best, he admits, but that's an illusion. "We can play pieces, work on dynamics and volume, but not go into the finer points," says the 39-year-old.

Good customer loyalty is important

Personal contact is important, especially with the very young students, which is of course missing now. And if the closure lasts for months, some students could lose the fun, the musician believes.

Pellegrini teaches at the Musiclab Emmendingen. Private schools in particular are "dependent on good customer loyalty," he says. The parents are all in solidarity: "They want this not to collapse."

This is confirmed by Joachim Sendelbach from the Take Your Teacher Home (TYTH) music school in Lörrach, which has always relied on interactive technology. The feedback from the parents is positive, so far there has only been one deregistration, says Sendelbach. Private music schools would otherwise fall through the cracks, while the municipal ones are covered: "Now we're in the same boat." However, the damage is creeping and difficult to measure. Even if parents didn't quit now, fewer students might start over. Sendelbach hopes for support from the communities.

The regional association of music schools is also looking for support: it wants to encourage the state to participate, says association manager Heinrich Korthöber. Digital offers could not replace personal interaction. But if the parents noticed that the schools were taking care of them, they were more willing to keep paying. "For schools that do not manage to keep in contact, this becomes a threat to their very existence," says Korthöber. Digitization has been a topic in the association for a long time. "This is going to get a new dynamic now."

The Stadtische Musikschule Waldkirch closed its doors a week before the nationwide closure - due to a corona case in the neighboring high school. That was not difficult for the school, says headmaster Stefan Goeritz: Since last year there have been no weekly lessons anyway. "The students get in touch when they need help," says Goeritz, but now the help comes digitally. You can also look forward to the Lahr Municipal Music School. In any case, headmaster Tobias Meinen is developing - and now at full speed - a digital learning platform with music-pedagogical content, such as individual accompaniment while practicing.

The Bad Säckingen youth music school also benefits from the fact that it has been using digital options for a long time, for example video conferencing. It is the task of the music schools "to use modern technology to get our students excited about something as analogous as a musical instrument," says director Manuel Wagner.

Drum teacher Pellegrini had a special experience, not in spite of, but precisely because of the technical difficulties. Due to the delay, he cannot play with his students. However, one student was delayed by exactly one dotted quarter - "that was a perfect fit, that was a really great experience," says Pellegrini enthusiastically. The crisis also offers unimagined artistic opportunities.

Youth music school Südlicher Breisgau: drum lessons (playlist)

The music college

The Freiburg University of Music also wants to continue teaching in digital form - at least partially. In the areas of music theory and ear training, this is quite possible, explains Vice Rector Christoph Sischka. For two and a half years, the university has had a digital learning platform with individual exercises from these areas, which are now to be expanded. "This process is accelerated rapidly by the current situation," says Sischka. Video conferences are also possible via the platform, so that instrumental lessons can also be given digitally. Nevertheless, there are restrictions here, if only because the students do not have access to the university's instruments and rehearsal rooms. Also because of the loss of quality in the sound, it is difficult to continue lessons at the usual level, says Sischka. Nevertheless, the digital learning path is a useful addition.

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