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Teaching Music During a Pandemic

Teaching Music During a Pandemic

When NYC schools closed in March of 2020, it wasn’t only NYC students who were forced out of the classroom and into their homes; it was music teachers, too.

Usually our teachers teach in rooms full of instruments, songbooks, and the ever-popular “boomwhackers.” They high-five their kids, help them hold a recorder for the first time, and dance along with them in a conga line.

Suddenly, though, the teachers’ toolbox looked vastly different: a screen, a microphone, and some headphones: schools—including music class—had gone virtual.

But in no time our teachers got the hang of the new technologies available to them. In a matter of days, our teachers were creating on-demand video lessons that were tailormade for their students, as well as remote sing-alongs, musical crafts, cultural explorations, music technology tutorials, and more.

Schools Reopen for Some Students

This fall, NYC opened public schools with a blended learning model: some students would be learning in-person, while others would continue to learn remotely, and every combination in between.

For ETM’s teachers, this meant that once again, they had to re-evaluate their strategies, and find creative ways to teach music in this new “new normal.”

For students learning in-person, strict safety protocols are required: class sizes this fall are smaller than ever, masks are required at all times, and students must be at least six feet apart. When it comes to music, additional safety precautions preclude playing wind instruments, sharing drums, and, in some cases, singing together.

ETM Music Teacher Andrew Grossman has an additional challenge: his in-person music class coincides with his students’ lunch period. He knows that his students need to recharge and refuel. “They’re in the classroom all day, so I really try for my class to be special and for them to look forward to music class.” However, he adds, “that doesn’t mean they’re not learning anything!”

Like Andrew, ETM Music Teacher Alfredo Hernandez is teaching in-person. Alfredo can see that music has become more important for his students because of the continued stress of the pandemic, so he’s focusing on maintaining the sense of community music class can bring.

But, “their fatigue is so clear,” he says, especially as the day wears on. So, to generate energy and excitement, he’s dusted off his ukulele and uses it in every class, taking requests, leading group songs, and getting students up and moving. “The ukulele helps me establish: ‘this is music time.’”

ETM Music Teacher Beckam Butler gives a virtual flute lesson.

Amanda Keil, another ETM music teacher teaching in Manhattan, teaches both in-person and remotely. “Every week is slightly different as we figure out what works.” Amanda has learned to stay flexible and responsive to her students’ changing needs.

Getting the Band Back Together

Amanda has also been talking up her other big idea: Band Class.

Sixty students have already expressed interest in joining Amanda’s band, which will rehearse and perform entirely online. “My goal is to get instruments in their hands and get them connected.” Instruments are critical for young people, in Amanda’s opinion. “It’s a way of understanding yourself.”

Alfredo summed up the pandemic teaching in this way: “You’ve got to be more creative.  You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone as much as the students are.