Teaching Trombone Online

Compiled by Richard Human • Updated: Friday, March 27, 5:38 pm

Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, many schools and universities have announced a move from face-to-face meetings to online or alternative instruction. This is primarily an attempt to flatten the curve of the coronavirus outbreak, engaging in social distancing to limit large gatherings of people where it is not strictly necessary.

Specific to the study and performance of brass instruments, the blowing of energetic air patterns in a lesson, emptying "condensation" from our water keys in a practice room, and the usual close quarters of large ensemble rehearsals is uniquely vulnerable to the transmission of airborne viruses such as the flu and COVID-19.

While all educators are dealing with how to best to provide important content while maintaining academic integrity and rigor, the music educator finds themselves in a uniquely challenging situation. How will students receive instruction to prepare for juries, recitals, competitions and auditions? How does a trombone ensemble rehearse across 8 states? How do you help a trombonist refine their articulation in the third movement of the Tomasi Concerto?

The purpose of this brief article is to offer ideas, share resources, and collect information from readers. We welcome your ideas about teaching trombone online. Email text or a link to trombone.org@gmail.com and we will add your ideas to this article.

Keep Your Schedule, Keep Your Focus

The best advice I can offer to students and faculty in this new environment is this: as much as possible maintain your at-school schedule while at home. While you won't be going to the studio, to the practice room, to the classroom and to the band or choral hall, you can bring these spaces to your home to keep focus on your studies and practice. If you can do this, the transition back to campus will be much smoother for teachers and students alike.

[Added 3/17] As the struckthrough text above indicates, the vast majority of people in currently affected areas will not be returning to campus this semester/quarter. Given that, it is still a great idea to create a schedule for yourself, perhaps closely-related to your on-campus schedule, and do your best to follow it day to day.

Synchronous Teaching: Online Lessons

Synchronous online lessons are not a new phenomenon, yet I would guess many trombone teachers and students have not engaged in this learning modality. There are certainly limitations to online lessons, but having an online lesson is significantly better than no lesson at all. Especially for a student and teacher that have had many face-to-face lessons, the online model can work well.

David Vining, Professor of Trombone and Euphonium at Northern Arizona University, has extensive experience teaching lessons via Skype and Facetime. He offers this advice:

I have found it helpful to limit my instruction to 1 or 2 well defined topics when teaching a lesson online. Tell the student the agenda well before the lesson so they can prepare with practicing for the topics plus jotting down a few questions. In addition, precede the lesson with a video assignment: 3-4 minutes of playing that the student records to submit prior to the session so there is a basis for discussion. Likewise, a little video homework assignment as a follow-up can be very effective. Save the videos for review later so you can track the student's progress. The teacher can also create an identical video so the student has a model to view over and over (a big advantage over in-person lessons!). As for the logistics of the lesson, I cannot stress enough the importance of good internet connections on both ends. A frozen video feed will really slow you down!

Meeting Software

There are several strong choices for live online lessons:

Many schools support one or more of these and offer them free to faculty and students. Check with your IT office for details.

Regardless of your software choice, a Wi-Fi or wired Internet connection will be better than a cellular data connection. The room should be well-lit and free from distracting noise or activity. If you are using your phone as the camera, be sure to place the phone just far enough from the trombone bell to avoid distortion, but close enough to be able to see each person's face. If you are using a laptop or desktop, consider investing in a USB microphone. The AudioTechnica AT2020USB is a popular choice. Microphones are also available for your phone.

Asynchronous Teaching: Recordings

An alternative to real-time lessons, the student and teacher can make recordings to share via email, Dropbox or audio hosting services such as SoundCloud. Making recordings can result in higher quality audio than streaming can provide.

Some suggested apps for recording:

Making and sharing recordings offers more flexibility and easier archiving for the future. The student can try several takes of the etude or repertoire, choosing the best one to share with the teacher. This encourages critical listening on the part of the student - always a good thing! Let students know that you aren't looking for a perfect recording, just their best performance at the moment. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. Recordings can be shared between students where appropriate, allowing an opportunity for peer-teaching.

Activities to Try

[Added 3/16] In the final four weeks of the semester, anywhere from 6-8 assignments seems reasonable. This can be a bit of fundamental studies and repertoire. There are some interesting possibilities to consider:

Ensembles

If you are like me, one of the most disappointing (but understandable) aspects of social distancing is probably cancellation of faculty and student performances. Many universities have active trombone ensembles, and this time of year is focused on final rehearsals and ensemble performances. If, in a week or two, we are able to return to our schools and resume performances, how could an ensemble maintain its readiness? Some ideas:

Keep it Fun

Regardless of how you and your students keep the studio going through the COVID-19 pandemic, approach the activities and assignments with the understanding that there are likely other pressures on the student which will impact their time. Many of these students have not had online courses and are not experienced in this modality, it will take some adjustment. Some of our students may be dealing with illness of themselves, friends or family members. While maintaining and furthering artistry is important, be sensitive to this time of change and help your students make the best of it. Be flexible, and be supportive.

More Ideas

Christopher Bill has an excellent shared document titled Christopher Bill Guide to Remote Music Education in which he provides traditional and non-traditional ideas. A big thank you to CBill for making this available!

[Added 3/14] Professor of Low Brass at Concordia University, St Paul, Ben Bussey has this informative Facebook post Online Lesson Delivery which reflects his years of online teaching experience.

[Added 3/15] Music educator Paul Buddle shared this reminder to approach these new circumstances with empathy, espcially for ourselves.

[Added 3/16] Pianist Deborah Rambo Sinn has thorough guide titled A Guide to Teaching Music Lessons Online.

[Added 3/16] Christopher Bill strikes again with a new guide, Christopher Bill’s Multitrack Editing 101.

Additional Information & Resources

Below is a list of relevant information and resources for students and teachers. Send your suggestions to: trombone.org@gmail.com and we will add them here.

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