8 Ways Yamaha Music Teachers Have Kept Students Engaged During Online Classes

Lockdown has been a strain on everyone, students and teachers are no exception. Teachers have being trying not to overwhelm students as they sit through a procession of online classes.

You would think music teachers would be worried the most as regular routines and extra-curricular activities fly out the window. However, that hasn’t been the case for many teachers at Yamaha Music. Our teachers have been holding their students’ attention in a number of ways, and students have been turning up with the enthusiasm to keep playing.

Yamaha reached out to a couple of teachers and asked why music lessons are the exception to online classes, and what they’re doing to keep their students engaged:

1. Be prepared; have a lesson plan and know your content so students don’t have time to get distracted

Joseph Hie:

To summarise my point of view I’d say engagement comes down to preparation. How well you know the teaching content, and how you deliver it. How well you know the content allows smooth lesson plans and flow as students don’t “have the time to get distracted” as we’re moving swiftly from one subject to another.

From a technical point of view I’d cite an article on ‘Positive Instruction in Music Students’. Although it is more appropriate for the one on one setting – the ideology behind it can still be applied.

2. Exaggerate your playing and gestures to make your lessons easier to follow

Winne Kuo:

I have been doing online lesson continually for more than a year. One thing I found very useful to operate it is to exaggerate what we normally do in the class; such as increasing voice, using a variety of tone, vivid facial expression, asking students questions, etc. All the strategies are aiming to attract their attention. I try to get their attention on me or what I am doing, it could be singing, talking, or playing. Once they feel like they are with you, learning through a tiny screen is not boring anymore.

I try to keep the remote learning as fun as face-to-face. What I have been seeing is that they are becoming more independent and braver than I expected.

3. Make sure you have good audio and video, then make sure you have a loud, clear voice

Hawa Juzaila

Good Lighting: Make sure I'm well lit (and heard) - I purchased 2 sets of LED lights to ensure my face is super clear so students can clearly see me and in particular, my facial expressions and hand gestures. This, in my opinion, will ensure students are focused on me and not elsewhere.

Good Sound: With lighting we also need to consider sound. For this I use my portable CD player / stereo (yes - I'm very old school), which seems to work well (no complaints from students that they cannot hear my music).

Loud and Clear Voice: I always ensure that I speak with a loud and clear voice and in this regard, I position myself close to my iPad (which picks up my voice clearly).

4. Try to foster the sense of togetherness you get from in person classes as best you can online

Keat Ong

I think one of the challenges for Yamaha Music Education in an online format is retaining that sense of fun that normally permeates our learning environment.

When they are part of a bigger group, students experience a huge sense of fun from just being able to do stuff together.

Include online activities that can continue to foster that sense of togetherness. This could be something as simple as asking all students to enable Gallery View at the start of the lesson and say HI to each other after unmuting themselves.

One of the strategies I used to emulate playing in a team is the ’Spotlight Ensemble’ Strategy - after I allowed students time to individually practise their pieces (2 minutes), I would spotlight (Zoom function) confident students in teams to complete a piece together.

5. Find new ways to communicate without students needing to take themselves off mute

Rebecca Dwyer

The move to online lessons has been a necessary way for everyone to continue developing their music skills. Initially, the thought of teaching lessons online seemed impossible! But everyone including teachers, students and parents have very naturally adapted to this new way of learning.

Creating new ways of communicating with each other has been helpful to keep the lessons interactive and the students motivated online. Students are on mute for majority of their lesson, so it is fun finding different ways of using our hands, fingers, and bodies to make shapes as a way of giving answers to describe the music and communicate without sound.

It gets everyone involved and gives the teacher a good sense of how the students have understood the music!

6. Make sure everyone gets their chance to shine in the lesson

Mary Lennon

As a way of keeping the kids engaged, I make sure I call on them specifically so they can have their moment to play for me, which most get very excited about. I try to make sure everyone gets a turn in the lesson, and tell them that even if they make a mistake I still want to hear them play. I also make sure everyone has the opportunity to get up from their keyboards at least once during the lesson and stretch their legs. I try to ask them questions about what we're playing too, so their minds don't wander too far.

7. Make use of your whole screen and use small tricks to keep students’ attention

Roza Danilova

I believe I just use the same things as other teachers like trying to change the tone of my voice and trying to use the whole space of the screen. I also like to use hand signs when I ask my students a question to check if they remember the things they have learned before (like what is the 1st note of the song, what finger will play this note). Sometimes I try to 'trick' them by giving them the wrong answers.

I use the share screen option to pay the students' attention to different music elements (articulation, dynamics, structure etc.)

I also watch music lessons on Youtube to get some ideas. For example:
Music Lesson & Song Collection or
Easy First Piano Lesson - For Kids!

8. Use positive reinforcement throughout your lesson to build a sense of connection

Rita Higuchi

The key for a fun and engaging online lesson is connection.

My priority is to feel connected with all the students.

How do I achieve this?

  • I welcome the class with a special soft toy mascot every week. This has been one thing I have changed this year and it’s making a big difference for setting the tone of our lesson as fun and gaining instant connection with my students.
  • When they see my toy they want to connect with me and show me their special friend as well for the lesson.
  • Using special props/soft toys connected to each song we are learning with the younger classes.
  • Giving all students opportunity to show their partial work or mastered piece to the rest of the class.
  • Giving very specific and precise feedback when praising.
  • Offering lots of encouragement.
  • Making jokes, making them laugh, move, dance, stand up and sit down depending on our activities during the lesson.

Online teaching certainly requires more focus, attention to detail and energy but it is very rewarding to see progress every week and stay connected with our students through music!

Thinking outside the box to keep students coming back

Those were tips from just eight of our teachers. There are many ways to teach online without feeling like they’re being lectured at through a screen.

Our teachers have worked hard to make students feel like they’re in a classroom with their peers, and that hard work has paid off with students excited to log in and play.

If you’d like to sign up for our online music lessons, you can express your interest at the music education section of our website, and we’ll be in touch once enrolments are open again.