COVIDiaries 2 - Teaching


I've never used so much whatsapp in my life. Finland has been shut down, and all music schools have moved their teaching into Internet World. The past week has been a crash course on online teaching, and the biggest surprise for me has been just how much time it takes. "Normal" teaching doesn't actually require that much planning - of course you have to have a plan, find material etc, but it also very often happens that you just improvise on the lesson based on your gut instincts. For me, most of the ideas for a particular student come from being in the same space with them, talking, noticing what's going on. You might sense that the student is not really into a particular piece and you change it, you might notice that now we need something that is lighter, something that challenges the left hand, now we really should compose something, or maybe we need to sit down and draw some notes today. You're alive at the moment and try to sense how the student is reacting to what you throw at them. Figuratively. You should never throw objects at students, just so you know.

Online you Really Have To Have A Plan. You have to have all the material, so many videos, recordings, work sheets, ideas, and you have to explain everything without touching the student or guiding their movement in any way - often the connection is a bit late, so that's an extra concern - and the student should be getting something out of all this. Also, if you teach via whatsapp like me, you have to hold your damn phone in your hand All The Time, and look at the stupid little picture of your own face in the corner. One embarrassing detail I realised was that I don't have the books the students play from. I've just always looked at their books, so I never really had the need to buy them for myself - and now I found myself mumbling something about the song with the picture of the person with the thing on page something at the kind of end of the book, or maybe halfway, it was called cat something or maybe it was a mouse? Somehow I remember all the songs, but not their names or the pages they're on. Not great. Also I'm very used to writing instructions down to the students' notebooks, and stopping them while they play and showing something from the score. Now all the stopping amounts to is "what? what did you say? oh this bar? no that? what note? what?" - so helpful and productive.

I've discovered that I can't faultlessly play everything my students play, at least on the first attempt of recording, and I decided to embrace that. Let the students hear the Unedited Truth of "whoops, what was that". I'm very proud of myself for not swearing, not even once. And now I have an extensive collection of practicing tapes for all kinds of hands, with or without accompaniments, to completely random songs. My poor neighbours.

What's been fun to see is all the pianos of all the students. Most of them I've never seen before, and many were proud to introduce me to their home companions. Also a great opportunity to check how they sit - most of them too low. All in all it's weird, staring at the phone and the laptop, hoping your good intentions travel through bits and pixels.Other things I've done apart from online teaching:

  • Cooked food from an actual cookbook and expected praise from others living in the house. What they really said was "well, I'd never make this again".
  • Tried to explain to a neighbour why they would have to protest play their electric guitar a bit less loud while I'm recording Itzy bitsy spider and Mary had a little lamb.
  • Bought a long and complicated boardgame to take this relationship stress test to a whole new level.
  • Looked at the intellectual books I borrowed from the library before it closed. Couldn't be bothered to openany of them.
  • Almost finished knitting a sock.