Dalcroze & online teaching…really?

After a whole weekend of teaching all three branches of Dalcroze Eurhythmics (rhythmics, aural training and improvisation) for the Guildhall School of Music & Drama (GSMD) and for Dalcroze UK’s Teacher Training programme, it has become clear that online teaching, whether Zoom or Microsoft Teams, or any other online platform, is here to stay. As ‘in person’ teaching is currently suspended at GSMD’s String & Brass Training programme and Dalcroze UK’s training programme, online teaching is the only alternative. But as we all become more experienced with the medium its advantages are becoming increasingly apparent.

My first impressions of teaching rhythmics on zoom were made in the summer when teaching a series of lessons to children. It was, quite frankly, frustrating since typical games and exercises one might find in a ‘normal’ rhythmics lesson such as, quick reaction exercises, group work and exercises passing balls or scarves, were not possible. The delay in the pictures as one improvises and watches the students is quite bewildering and it is hard to see one’s students very well if there are 10 small rectangles to peer at. My students sometimes lost their connection and I was told that my piano sounded ‘weird’. However, Zoom has upgraded, I have invested in a good microphone and perhaps mostly importantly I, along with many Music and Dalcroze teachers have learned what you can do online and we have realised that there are advantages…things have improved!

Rhythmics still remains the hardest to teach. If one’s pupils only have a small space in which to move it means that they will miss that sense of ‘travel’ so necessary for rhythmics and a tiny space can inhibit ‘free’ movement. Group work, on the face of it, cannot be done…Yet, with encouragement students can be nudged to lose their worries about space and in fact many report that they feel less inhibited moving in the ‘comfort’ of their own homes. And with some use of recorded music we can still see our students move and make an assessment of movement quality and rhythmical accuracy. The group work, though not comparable to working in person in a good space, nevertheless is possible to a degree. My adult students produced some lovely, interesting and imaginative solo movement work (showing phrasing in a piece of music) using objects including a ribbon (beautiful to look at), ball and scarves, but also managed to create some wonderful duets. One duo adapted to the medium of Zoom and produced a really fun and effective duet using just hands. Another duo managed to show whole body movement to the same music in another excellent piece of work demonstrating the range of ideas that the medium can prompt. In addition, other teachers have reported how their pupils have filmed themselves moving to a recording of music which also enables the teacher to assess accurately.

Aural Training is a strange lesson to teach since it is impossible for a group to sing at the same time on Zoom. Yet, Zoom allows a teacher to set a short task which the students can work on briefly without distraction, something that can be difficult in a ‘live’ lesson and, once again, students report feeling more relaxed working in their own homes. In order to allow a teacher to hear students a smaller group will obviously work best and the inability to sing in harmony is a problem but many of the other typical games and exercises one might find in an aural training class are possible.

Improvisation lessons are possibly the most successful with online teaching, mainly because students no longer have to wait for their turn to play for a teacher which is the typical improvisation lesson scenario, unless one teaches a very small class with multiple keyboards/pianos in a room. This means that tasks can be given to classes and everyone is able to practise at the same time. Either a teacher can go round ‘break out’ rooms listening and supporting a student or a class can each play to the group after having worked on a topic. The quality of sound from students’ pianos can be a problem but it is hoped as the online programmes respond to the demand of music teachers, this will improve with time.

My adult students on the Dalcroze UK Teacher Training programme suggested that in a socially distanced future an ideal model might be ‘in person’ movement sessions mixed with online improvisation and aural training sessions.

It’s true that this technology has been around for some time…but it’s taken a global pandemic to nudge the teaching world to make regular use of it. It is not perfect and ‘in person’ lessons will be highly valued in the future. In the meantime we will continue to explore what can be done and how best to teach Dalcroze Eurhythmics via a screen.

5th October 2020

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