German drummer and percussionist Stephan Emig was another exciting interview guest. His many years of experience as a musician for, among others, Stefanie Heinzmann, The Voice of Germany, Gregor Meyle, and as a lecturer at the Institute of Music at the Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences made him the perfect guest on the subject of online teaching. In 2020, also Stephan had to change his teaching in a very short time. He shared his experiences with this transition and many valuable tips in the interview.
What benefits have you experienced from online drum lessons?
Stephan: “There were actually after these first changes […] a few advantages somehow. So just with drums, I noticed that right away because I was teaching my students with their instruments. So that’s rare in drum lessons.
If you have guitar lessons, then you come to the teacher with the guitar; if you have piano lessons, sure, […], but because the drums are so flexible in structure, it was cool to see my students on their own instruments.
And the first – I can remember – the first lessons with many people were just about structure, sitting position, breathing, posture, and so on. So things have to do with them being on their own instrument and not with me in the classroom. And I thought that was cool. I liked that I had an insight there that I would never have gotten without online lessons.”
How did you experience group lessons online?
Stephan: “When you teach [in presence] a group in a room, you have a bit of a classroom phenomenon, that people sit down in the back row or that one or two who always come forward then sort of move the class on and the others sort of swim along.
With online teaching, you have everyone on the same level in front of you on the screen. And I feel that the willingness to cooperate was somewhat more vital. Maybe also with the knowledge that everyone has a turn or that, for example, my students should prepare homework in video form.
I felt, especially in group lessons, that you couldn’t just cheat your way through but that the students were forced to participate a bit more. So I thought that was pretty cool. So I feel these labs had good intensity, even though they were virtual. And that’s an alternative for me now that maybe I’ll combine, so I’ll do face-to-face classes and still keep that online component.”
What helped you get into online teaching?
Stephan: “Well, what helped me was the fear of the technical hurdle, so overcoming that, then somehow getting involved in the situation and trying to deal with it.
And that sometimes works better, sometimes worse. Then you try out several cameras, and one doesn’t work because it doesn’t connect. There are a thousand things. If you put this perfectionist thought aside, you can discover an incredible number of advantages.”
For whom do you think online music lessons are suitable?
Stephan: “I think it’s suitable for everyone to do online lessons if you prepare for it and are a bit aware of the role of the teacher in the situation.
I have to think of an example because I gave my niece drum lessons. Unfortunately, the music school she was taking classes didn’t offer online lessons. So from one day to the next, the lessons just stopped. And the reason the school gave was primarily technical difficulties and a bit of “teaching kids is difficult online”.
And that’s when my ambition took hold. And I wanted to prove the school wrong. But, in addition, I wanted to make my niece happy and design the lessons with her. So I had to do it but also did it with great pleasure: I went to her home and set up a microphone, a laptop, and a sound card, which simplified the lessons. So I created a bit of a technical prerequisite, but that wasn’t rocket science.
We’re not talking about a studio situation, but rather that she had a microphone into which she could speak and headphones through which I could talk to her. And that worked great.”
How do you see the equipment question? Does it always have to be the most expensive?
Stephan: “I don’t see the student as having that much obligation to buy beastly equipment. Unless he is already older and has big ambitions, it works with a phone, which does not bring over quite blatant distorted sound, and then it works.
And from the teacher’s point of view, I think you can deal with the technical side a little. So at that time, I was still thinking in class about how I could deal with latencies because you can’t play together. So how can I solve that technically? So I was delighted in the exchange with doozzoo and Thomas that there is now this button where you can switch this perspective back and forth. That is an ingenious feature of doozzo. So you can work with a metronome or play-along and let students play along.
Can you recommend online music lessons?
Stephan: “Yes, I would recommend it because I think the time is not over yet, or maybe even these hybrid forms of teaching will become more popular.
And my recommendation is if you’re afraid of using that […] then I would approach colleagues and ask for help or exchange, so not at all in the sense of ‘help me’, but a conversation.”