Return to Music Phase III: Different Types of Returns

Thank you for clicking to learn more about the 3 different types of return to the classroom when it comes to Return to Music Resources. We hope that you are finding all of the information helpful. 

To go back to the main page at any time, please click here.

Different Types of Returns

It is important to account for all 3 different types of return to the classroom in 2021-2022. Each type of return comes with uniquely different situations that are important to be ready for ahead of time. Please click on each header to go in-depth and learn more.

Full Instruction Last Year

Institutions that offered primarily face-to-face instruction for the duration of the 2020–2021 academic year instituted a variety of protocols to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Classrooms and large studios equipped with HEPA air cleaners to assist in the air filtration/exchange process

Faculty and administration occasionally made isolated decisions to cancel rehearsal/performance activity for a short period of time if they identified a potential for increased risk of transmission.


Use of masks designed for singers were provided to singers free of charge when possible.

Choral ensembles were divided into smaller groups or limited to smaller numbers. Ensemble sizes were often dictated by the size of the rehearsal space. When singing in large auditoriums/theaters, up to twenty-five singers (or more) could be in a rehearsal space at a time.

Weather and air quality permitting, choral ensembles rehearsed outdoors, social-distanced, and with masks.

Indoor rehearsals took place in large venues, including theaters, recital halls, and auditorium spaces that offered massive cubic-foot capacity and good air exchange.

Choral ensembles took air exchange breaks during longer rehearsal sessions. The timing of these breaks depended on the number of air exchanges per hour in the rehearsal venue.

Singers stood six feet apart and remained masked at all times.

In the collegiate setting, dividing of large ensembles into smaller rehearsal groups offered music education students opportunities to conduct the smaller ensembles, both in rehearsal and performance.

Performances were primarily live-streamed or webcasts of prerecorded footage. Some concerts were offered live outdoors, or indoors with limited audience.


Pianists, string players, and percussionists wore masks at all times during ensemble participation.

Winds and brass players used masks with slits that zipped open for mouthpieces, as well as bell covers.

Players were socially distanced from each other.

Ensembles were reduced in size. In many cases, players were rotated intermittently throughout the year so that they could participate in different instrumental configurations.


Partial Instruction Last Year 

Some schools managed the pandemic through hybrid and/or blended learning models. These models allowed for smaller cohort sizes, minimizing the risk of viral transmission.  A hybrid classroom is defined as a classroom that includes in-person learners with distance learners who often attend via video conference software. A blended classroom combines in-person instruction with online opportunities for students to study and practice at their own pace. A blended class could meet much less frequently than a traditional in-person class could. 

Some schools navigated the 2020–2021 school year by establishing tiers through which the school could move as pandemic conditions changed.  Students and teachers shifted from ween fully distanced learning to a variety of hybrid models, and a few schools experienced fully in-person learning.  Additionally, cohorting of classes may have resulted in a splitting of ensembles. For example, a wind ensemble or treble choir may have been split into two or more separate classes to reduce class size to address pandemic concerns and social distancing. Divisions may have been created by instrument/voice, grade, ability, or other nonmusical criteria. This, along with distance, hybrid, or blended learning, may have affected student progress.  

A very challenging situation in the pandemic was simultaneous hybrid and blended instruction and learning. In this situation, students could have met in person with the teacher with 50% fewer meetings than in a normal school year, and there may have been some students learning completely from home.  In this case, students should have been provided online materials and practice opportunities to aid their progress in music-making during their designated online time.  These could include, but are not limited to: 

Video tutorials

Play-along tracks

Video submissions with teacher feedback

Individualized instruction to address a wide range of student abilities

Use of technology to encourage creative music making (DAWs, video recording and editing software, music theory to be applied to composition and improvisation

When pandemic conditions allow most or all students to return to fully in-person learning, teachers may encounter disparate progress in students of the same grade and/or ensemble levels. To address this, teachers may need to:

Consider repertoire choices more carefully.

Update expectations and grading policies.

Set clear expectations of classroom procedures to address pandemic mitigations as recommended.

Rebalance and/or reaudition classes/ensembles.

Assign instructional online material to individualize instruction and help students close the gap within an ensemble.

Take a bit of extra time every class exercising and building technique and tone production.

Schedule a meeting with administrators to address concerns and set realistic goals and performance expectations.

Take an extra effort to (re)build the culture of the ensembles.


First Time Return in Fall of 2021 

For some, this may be the first time returning to the office, classroom, and institution since March 2020. Getting a solid footing may take a bit of time. Here are some suggestions for success.

Going into your space after a long absence may make you feel like a visitor. Change that. This is your space and a palace you build for your students. If it’s welcoming to you, it will be for your students.

Remove old signs, notices, and announcements from the walls and in the entrances.

Depending on the responsibilities and duties of your building’s custodian, clean!

If you have instruments (Orff, piano, guitars, etc.), check on these and make requests for repair, tunings, etc.

Understand your district’s policies on sanitation, masks, and social distancing. Prepare your room accordingly.

Have a place to store hand sanitizer, piano- or instrument-friendly wipes, and surface cleaner.

Take measures to mark off proper distancing on the floor. Place stickers on the floor where students should sit/stand. Test the sticker to make sure it can be removed later. 

Create signs, if your district hasn’t already, that list your mitigation response rules. Teach them and drill them the first day; repeat as needed.

Allow for extra grace in music-making and learning.

For many students, this may be the first time they’ve held an instrument or sung in many months. What confidence they may have had prepandemic may not immediately be replaced by the confidence of one who’s simply thrilled to perform again. Confidence will come, and we will rebuild in time.

For experienced teachers, your first days in the class may be exciting, but also familiar. You may be used to students entering with a set of skills and a knowledge base that enabled you to enact a first-day plan you had prepandemic. 

Singing in public, from the beginning of the pandemic, has been a taboo practice. It may be useful to provide extra encouragement to your singers so they can combat the unconscious (or conscious) concerns they have. 

For performing ensembles, plan less repertoire.

As mentioned previously the confidence of our students may be at an all-time low, even though their spirits may be high. It may take some time to build their confidence and to be comfortable making music again. It will also take time to build necessary skills. Plan less repertoire for your concerts, and hold on to a piece or two, in case they are ready for more! 

Consider celebrating this year’s beginning students by having them participate in the scripted (modifiable) “First Performance National Day of Celebration” (FPNDOC). Download the FREE FPNDOC Toolkit at what has happened for many, and remember that the ensemble or music classroom can be a safe haven. This is a place where students belong, a place where they can express themselves, and a place where they find their people. Now is the time to celebrate this, to acknowledge what we have been missing, and to let your students know that it’s time to build this temple again.

How will we re-recruit students into our programs? 

For recruiting beginners, directors have permission to share these two professionally-made videos that feature current music students talking about their instruments and how much they love being part of the program. Post on the school’s website, share via social media or share directly with potential students.