Tag Archives: Covid-19

Back in the Studio: Teaching amidst Covid-19

The first week of summer lessons…July 6th, 2020…students started to return to in-studio lessons for the first time since mid-March.  What joy for both students, parents, and for me!  We set up protocols:  We all wear masks.  We wash our hands with disinfectant coming and going.  I’m teaching the “Coronavirus Etude” by Jeff DePaoli as a fun way to warm up and actually have each student clean their piano!  I stay on my side of the room at my piano.  The students use the left side of the studio and that piano stays as the “student” piano.  Parents wait in their cars and only 1 student at a time comes into the studio.  I’m spacing out lessons with five-minute breaks so that I can clean doorknobs, stair rails, piano bench, etc.  I found myself today using a kind of amalgam of teaching styles combining online patterns with studio tools.  Students write in their own piano notebooks.  They now bring their own pens, pencils, and colored highlighters.  We still count in measure numbers.  Students draw their own stars on their music pages.  I draw out more complicated things on my own whiteboard and take a photo and send it home to print out.  I truly was able to stay on “my” side of the studio…it is not 6 feet apart but almost.  While the COVID numbers in MA are still steadily declining, we are using this in-studio time to play duets and record…things we can’t do online.  But when students are reading new music, I am finding that I’m incorporating more ear training and solfege…tools that I added to online lessons but now are continuing in the studio.  The first thing that I have been doing with all my students, is to remove my mask for a second and show them I am still smiling even though they can’t see the lower part of my face.  Sweet second grade Gracie…responded by saying, “But Teacher Penny, I can see that your eyes are smiling”!  And so begins a new normal, for as long as it can last.

Piano Teaching Week #14 Online! (amidst COVID-19)

We just completed our final week of the teaching of the regular school year.  After a two-week break, our studio will start summer lessons, still online, Monday and Tuesdays until the school season of 2020-2021 starts up again in September.  For this final post of the regular school year teaching amidst COVID-19, I can say I am so very proud of my students and their families.  They stayed

We just completed our final week of the teaching of the regular school year. After a two-week break, our studio will start summer lessons, still online, Monday and Tuesdays until the school season of 2020-2021 starts up again in September. For this final post of the regular school year teaching amidst COVID-19, I can say I am so very proud of my students and their families. They stayed on board and online to the point that online lessons started to feel very smooth, even normal. We produced two completely different video recitals in the space of these 15 weeks. And continued to conclusion, our women’s studies project where every student studied at least one piece by a female composer and counted practice time to raise money to sponsor 12 arrangements of compositions by women for early leveled piano curriculum. Collectively, the studio raised $1,300! During this project, I was asked to be part of a panel of 4 teachers/professors of piano to give three national webinars on “The Myths, Mystery and Magic of Women Composers” for Music Ed Connect.

One point of evidence though that this is still not a normal time is that, even though MA is starting to carefully open up and our numbers of Covid-19 infections are going down, the rest of the country is now seeing staggering high cases, threatening everyone’s health, travel, and economic viability. We do not yet know how schools will function this September. And so, I do not yet know in what fashion the studio will operate this fall. This summer we will remain 80% online with a few students coming to the studio for lessons, with social distancing, using my two separated pianos, washing of hands, masks, cleaning of surfaces between lessons and allowing only 1 person at a time in the studio, phoning parents in the car when we are ready for another student to enter.

I am suspecting that this September, we will be using a combination of in-studio and online lessons, depending on the situation and/or rotating days in the studio and days online. It is important to get back to studio lessons because as well as we adjusted to lesson online, there were things we could not work on such as tone production and it took longer for students to learn new repertoire over the internet. Using the internet is just not as effective for very young students.

I am pleased that more students than normal have signed up to continue lessons over the summer since no one is traveling much. And I am offering tuition packages of 4 lessons that can include a mixture of private and online group classes. We have fun things planned: an interstate studio online theory competition; creating music book stories online, playing group piano games with online “escape” rooms, meeting out-doors in small groups to create plaster molds of our hands, and small group outdoor theory book picnics. It’s more important than ever to maintain a connection to all of my students.

But as one 5-year-old student of a colleague has said in a heart-breaking way: “I don’t like to Zoom. It’s a picture of a teacher sending a picture of a piano lesson to a picture of a student. It’s not real…it’s fake. I want the real one.”

and online to the point that online lessons started to feel very smooth, even normal.  We produced two completely different video recitals in the space of these 15 weeks.  And continued to conclusion, our women’s studies project where every student studied at least one piece by a female composer and counted practice time to raise money to sponsor 12 arrangements of compositions by women for early leveled piano curriculum. Collectively, the studio raised $1,300! During this project, I was asked to be part of a panel of 4 teachers/professors of the piano to give three national webinars on “The Myths, Mystery and Magic of Women Composers” for Music Ed Connect.

 One point of evidence though that this is still not a normal time is that, even though MA is starting to carefully open up and our numbers of Covid-19 infections are going down, the rest of the country is now seeing staggering high cases, threatening everyone’s health, travel, and economic viability.  We do not yet know how schools will function this September.  And so, I do not yet know in what fashion the studio will operate this fall.  This summer we will remain 80% online with a few students coming to the studio for lessons, with social distancing, using my two separated pianos, washing of hands, masks, cleaning of surfaces between lessons and allowing only 1 person at a time in the studio, phoning parents in the car when we are ready for another student to enter.

I am suspecting that this September, we will be using a combination of in-studio and online lessons, depending on the situation and/or rotating days in the studio and days online. It is important to get back to studio lessons because as well as we adjusted to lesson online, there were things we could not work on such as tone production and it took longer for students to learn new repertoire over the internet.  Using the internet is just not as effective for very young students.

I am pleased that more students than normal have signed up to continue lessons over the summer since no one is traveling much.  And I am offering tuition packages of 4 lessons that can include a mixture of private and online group classes.  We have fun things planned:  an interstate studio online theory competition; creating music book stories online, playing group piano games with online “escape” rooms, meeting out-doors in small groups to create plaster molds of our hands, and small group outdoor theory book picnics. It’s more important than ever to maintain a connection to all of my students.

But as one 5-year-old student of a colleague has said in a heart-breaking way: “I don’t like to Zoom.  It’s a picture of a teacher sending a picture of a piano lesson to a picture of a student.  It’s not real…it’s fake.  I want the real one.”

Piano Teaching Week #8 Online! (amidst COVID-19)

This was a very significant week for our studio!  We realized our first online video recital on our own YouTube channel.  I made it unlisted and true to that designation…. these videos do not turn up in any searches or even on my public YouTube page.  I divided our 40 some videos into 6 segments, all under ten minutes in length so that students and families could watch in parts or all together for the normal length of a studio recital.  Since this is a very historic time, as one of my students Henry put it…” we are making history” by staying at home…I titled each section of our recital using the remarkable characteristics that my students and families have exhibited during this stressful time:  Titled “The Resilient Piano Students of Penny Lazarus”, the sections are WE ARE BRAVE, WE ARE CREATIVE, WE ARE OPTIMISTS, WE ARE CONFIDENT AND DO HARD THINGS, WE ARE PLAYFUL AND HUMOROUS, WE REMAIN POSITIVE AND UPBEAT, and WE ARE GRATEFUL.  It was wonderful how the student’s pieces…fit well into each category.  I am so proud of all of them, especially since we put this recital together with most of the teaching online.

I’m still upgrading my online studio setup!  This week we added a large pliable arm to my video camera so that students can now see almost all of my piano keyboard when I switch to the piano view from my headshot view.  Although I just realized what was happening with one of my very young students…Sophia…a first-grader who just started lessons in September.  All of a sudden, she was having difficulty telling up from down, right from left and high vs. low on the piano.  I couldn’t understand why suddenly she was confused.  She had these concepts down pat since September.  Then I realized it was a video camera view!  It was reversed on her parent’s phone.  We are constantly learning how to teach music during this epidemic. 

This week was also marked by the sudden appearance of buzz cuts for a lot of boys!  All of our hair is getting out of control since we can’t visit hair salons or barber-shops.  At least the boys can use hair clippers!

Piano Teaching Week #7 Online! (amidst COVID-19)

Even though I was still working during the Spring vacation week, writing and participating in webinars on Women Composers as well as creating our studio video, I had enough of a break from being at the computer to feel rejuvenated.  It was helpful that there were occasional lovely weather days that allowed me to get out to work in the garden.  Feeling energetic again allowed me to take stock of my work station so that Josh and I made some significant improvements:  by ordering extra-long cables, we were able to improve the output by hooking up my laptop since it had been moved over to the piano,  to the large speakers under my desk on the opposite side of the room, so I could hear my students even more clearly.  We improved input by also connecting one of my recording microphones so that it would pick up my speaking voice while teaching.  We reworked the video camera so that it would give my students an alternate view of my hands on the piano as well as seeing my face.  It wasn’t long before switching between my computer camera and the video camera became smooth and automatic.  My students came back to lessons with new skills online as well.  They were screen sharing with me! To show me their work and new finds of music on You Tube.   I am definitely enjoying my updated workstation!

Teaching Piano Online Week #4 (COVID-19).


Crashing Down:  Teaching’s been good.  But after the exhilaration of getting everything set up in the studio; everyone setup online; platform names logged in; music organized by day of the week and student by student, there are THOSE days.  The internet is so clogged from usage that connect-ability is interrupted.  Looking at pixelated faces for even 5 minutes is dizzying enough but sounds get warbled too.  Often pianos sound tinny or electrified even when the student is playing on an acoustic piano.  One discovery:  if a student is using their cell phone to skype or Facetime with you and it is sitting on their piano…ask them to wrap a hand towel around the phone.  It makes all the difference in the world. 
 
Students are starting to appear weepy and tired. This is the week that all school districts handed out homework over the internet and started on-line classes. For many young ones,  Seeing all of their work at once was overwhelming, while parents are already stressed from trying to keep up with their jobs online.  Kaylee’s eyes were red when she sat down at her keyboard at 6:00 pm in the evening.  The crabby hour for many of us. Kaylee had been chipping away at 4th-grade homework most of the day.  Fortunately, Kaylee was only three pieces away from earning her next 30 list prize.  We went into her Disney pre-time book.  First up, The Siamese Cat song from the movie “The Lady and the Tramp.”  I have much respect for Peggy Lee, one of the first women composers to break the gender gap composing for Walt Disney Pictures. Students often chose this simple piece of harmonic thirds as their first piece to start in the book.  No sweat for Kaylee. Sight-read right through it.  I used my newly found screen sharing abilities so that we watched the original scene of the song with the devilish Siamese Twin cats together, virtually!  That made it possible for Kaylee to get a renewed sense of joy. She quickly and accurately added two more pieces to her 30-list and selected a turquoise ring from my prize box.  I will put It into my Little Free Library house that stands in front of my house, next to the sidewalk.  Normally filled with extra music for the community, this stand now services the ability for me to pass out new piano practice notebooks, incentive prizes and special music to my own students.  And they sometimes leave me special bags on occasion…pumpkin muffins or chocolate chip cookies!
 
Students are learning not only how to read and mark measure numbers but also to count octaves so that we can each agree that the G above high C is assuredly G 5.  We’ve never quite had to number the octaves when working together in the same room.  Progress is good…but I need to remind myself of that daily.  I have set up a private YouTube station for my students’ videos, and they are sending in polished recorded pieces all the time now.  But I know exactly what my students and parents are feeling.  After breakfast this morning, I ended up back in bed, just to read for a little bit.  I woke up 3 hours later…at 12:30 pm …just in time for lunch and a full afternoon of teaching.  Josh was afraid I must be getting sick.  But apparently, I just needed some away time from all the screens and the insidious worry that nags at us much of the time.  Yesterday, I had my iPad leaning against my laptop for a Facetime lesson with a student.  For some reason, I cannot Facetime from my computer. Only my phone or iPad.  I wanted to type out a text to a student on the iPad, but inadvertently was typing from my laptop.  Took me several minutes to figure out why my typing wasn’t appearing in the text!  I definitely needed that long morning nap.  And this experience has helped me to be extra understanding when working with students and families online.  One huge plus: I get to meet all of my student’s pets! Meet Sadie the Cat! Hugs to all this Easter and Passover week.