As We Step into the Future, What Will We Bring with Us?
By Andrew Goren, sponsored by Harmony Helper
With the school year officially over and summer camps ramping up for in-person instruction (parents everywhere heave a collective sigh of relief), I’m opening the playbook to look back at the cards this challenging year has dealt music educators. Instead of licking our wounds from the pain points of the digital frontier that was thrust upon us and casting 2020 off as an anomaly, I am urging you—you, who has found yourself reading another sponsored blog post—to consider using these progressive tools to transform your efficacy and efficiency in the classroom.
As the founder and CEO of an app whose main goal throughout the entire pandemic was just to keep people singing, I spoke at countless virtual music conferences to attendees ranging from 2-200, and chatted individually with more than 100 music educators, music theatre programs, and more. Basically, if someone came to us with a group of singers who needed help, we rose to the challenge. And while these instructors came from different districts, at different levels of academia, I quickly began to notice how similar their concerns were. In my eyes, here were the big three:
There wasn’t enough time before the pandemic, and now there really wasn’t enough to keep students tethered to any sort of steady learning pattern. Hybrid learning halved class sizes, and teachers would see their students in-person every other week for even less time than before. By the time announcements were made and students were warmed up, the bell would ring.
The Technology Learning Curve
Yeah, we learned in the first week that singing together over Zoom is NOT it. And on top of the regular duties of lesson planning, etc., when do teachers borrow time to plunk out individual tracks onto a voice memo at a sensible rehearsal tempo, create a quality recording of the accompaniment, and then individually label and manage all these digital assets, including PDFs? And raise your hand if your school superintendent or a student’s parent suggested you do a virtual choir? Suddenly you are playing video editor, audio engineer, post-production supervisor, and social media manager on top of it all. Even Harmony Helper hopped on the bandwagon, creating an award for the Roger Reese Awards specifically for best virtual school ensemble performance in the greater New York area.
Motivating Your Students
No more hall passes, students could “leave” class by turning off their camera whenever it suited. How do you build a sense of community in a classroom from behind a screen, and how do you instill self-confidence in your students who already had trouble singing solo?
So, we have these three hurdles I recognize may have caused a bit of grief to read through. If you haven’t gone into shock yet, keep reading.
We could easily cite these issues above as unavoidable casualties of a pandemic, a time of old where day pajamas were a thing and pants were moot. Or we could use this information to inform how we move forward. Hear me out:
Time In-Person—what if we gave our choral students (gasp) homework? So that time spent in-person was meant for making music, not repeatedly plunking out parts for singers to recite. The majority of the lesson could be an enriching communal music-making experience.
The Technology Learning Curve—what technology can we take with us back to the real world? What new skills (I’m looking at you, new audio engineers!) or apps or tools can we add as a companion to our in-person instruction? Did you have students who, struggling with reading music, relished learning their vocal part at their own time and pace? For some students, was aural learning an easier task when done on their own? And how did you, instructor, construct efficient ways to adapt to an onslaught of digital asset management?
Motivating Your Students—how many online games did you play with your students to create community and foster creativity? Did switching up vocal exercises out of necessity take your students out of screen saver-mode?
Serving the Music Education Community
As Harmony Helper heard more and more teachers, learning through struggles the creative ways they were adapting, we kept coming back to our mission of making singing fun and engaging for all so that singers would gain confidence for performance. We recognized that what we had built would serve this community, and we kept working to transform the experience for our users and lower the barrier of entry for singers of any level to learn notes and harmonies.
For one, Harmony Helper is an app that really does create time. We were designed to be a mobile experience for users to practice their part anytime, anywhere, with all the features of a digital rehearsal room available for a singer to practice on-the-go. We even have a real-time feedback feature, so a singer can accurately learn pitch and rhythm while they sing. We were meant to be a tool used before and after in-person rehearsal, so in-person instruction can be used for making music.
Secondly, our user face is so clean and simple that any technology-challenged user would raise a curious eyebrow. As for digital asset management, in 2020 we created a group portal for directors to create and share entire folders of songbooks and repertoire with their students. All the student needs to do is open the app.
And thirdly, we make it fun! Think of us as Guitar Hero for your students. With the ability to customize what you hear, at what tempo, in what octave, we put the power in the singers’ hands to keep them engaged and excited to improve.
To wrap this up, my final question I pose to you: What are you waiting for? Reach out to us, so we can be your companion outside the classroom so you can be better inside the classroom. Let’s step into this booming technological era, together.
About the author:
Andrew Goren is the founder and CEO of the app Harmony Helper, a 24/7 digital rehearsal room. Developed out of Andrew’s personal struggle with learning harmonies over his 10-year singing/performing career, Harmony Helper is now helping singers of all kinds effectively practice and improve singing performance anywhere, anytime, removing traditional rehearsal barriers so singers can deliver their best performances.
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July 8, 2021. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)