10th May 2021

BLOG: Jonathan Dunn – Music Technology in the Zoom Age

As we slowly move out of lockdown and face-to-face music lessons in schools gradually restart it’s useful to reflect on the experiences we’ve had using music technology in online lessons.

Coming from a music technology background I am a very keen user of music tech, either for individual or full-class sessions. This ranges from the very simple (tuning and metronome applications) to more advanced apps such as tempo manipulation software (increasing/decreasing the tempo of backing tracks) and music creation apps such as GarageBand and Figure.

You would think that due to lockdown and having to move lessons into a purely digital environment, teachers’ use of technology would escalate but, in my experience, use of specific music tech actually decreased. Apart from the inherent time-lag of video lessons meaning much of what I had used was now redundant, the apps themselves had been designed to be used intuitively, by touch, on handheld devices, with ease of user experience embedded into its design. Transferring that experience to remote learning was difficult, if not impossible. To compound this a lot of the technology had no browser-based alternative to switch to.

What I did find however was that students’ use of it increased dramatically. They wholly embraced many of the apps we used in lessons to try to recreate the learning experience they had pre-lockdown. From the simple tuning apps which were now essential, to advanced software, young students, being so tech-savvy, were able to adopt this technology as part of their everyday music routine very easily. For those in grade streams this adoption was vital in order to maintain progress and prepare for exams. They were now installing apps, downloading backing tracks and using these in our online lessons – something they had never done before.

Due to all of this I actually saw a rise in the progress of some students. The difficulties that lockdown presented and the complete shift in how they were taught focused their minds on how to take up the mantle for their music studies (having the extra time at home helped as well of course). Since returning to face-to-face lessons this use of technology has continued at home and I’m seeing a lot of students are now more ‘complete players’, taking on responsibility for their own learning.

I did find that my use of more ‘traditional’ technologies grew. My digital library of materials rapidly expanded so I could share work with the student instantly (though I’m sure everyone who has returned to face-to-face lessons are pleased they no longer have to verbally describe or go through the process of sharing your screen to talk about a particular bar or section of music – now we can just point with a pencil!). YouTube tutorials were also a massive help to further cement techniques taught in lesson. Face-to-face learning is so instinctive that techniques are quickly demonstrated and problems the student may have are quickly diagnosed. With online lessons I found this was much more problematic (and with the best will in the world sometimes my view of the student was of their living-room ceiling rather than the student themselves!). There’s such a wealth of material out there – all in very good video quality, at various camera angles that these could be viewed by the student between lessons to aid them. Being in the digital domain I could send these links as the lessons were happening.

Working as a peripatetic music teacher can often feel like working in a silo, rarely seeing another Associate (maybe occasionally passing each other in a school corridor as the teaching room becomes available!) and this feeling has only increased through lockdown. With this in mind what experiences of using music technology did you have during lockdown? Did you discover new apps which were invaluable to deliver lessons? Have these new practices carried on as face-to-face lessons have resumed?

Jonathan Dunn is a guitar player, recording engineer/producer, and Wiltshire Music Connect Associate. You can view his profile here