This article is part of a new series called Clarinet in the Time of COVID that aims to help clarinetists find the most recent and important information regarding the evolution of our field as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. If you have information that you would like to share as a part of this series please contact Jenny Maclay at [email protected].
Teaching Younger Students During COVID
By Moria Tunison
Teaching middle school and junior high clarinet students virtually during COVID poses many challenges
and opportunities for the clarinet instructor. A few changes to in person teaching strategies can greatly
help younger students succeed in their online lessons.
Create a lesson “schedule” for the student
Setting a lesson day, time, and schedule for students’ lessons helps younger students have a sense of
structure during these uncertain times. In addition to having a set day and time for lessons, providing a
detailed breakdown of what each lesson will entail at the start of the lesson helps younger students get
their materials in order and move from one aspect of the lesson to the next easier. For middle school
students especially, creating a lesson schedule that rarely, if ever, changes helps them to know what to
expect in lessons. An example of a typical lesson schedule is: start with a greeting, a quick run-down of
the lesson schedule (scales, etude, and a solo or pop song arrangement), the actual lesson following that
schedule, instructions on what to work on for the next lesson and a goodbye.
Communicate with parents
Creating ways to communicate with the parents outside of the lesson time can help lessons run
smoother and make sure the parents, student, and teacher are all on the same page. For in person
lessons, I used to write out what to practice in younger students’ notebooks and explain that briefly to
the parents after each lesson. With virtual lessons, the parents are often busy in their own online
meetings and unable to show up at the beginning or end of the lesson. Sending email versions of what
was worked on during the lesson, what to practice for the next lesson, and even how long to practice
each exercise has helped my younger students be able to keep their clarinet chops up, focus on the
spots that need the most work and keep their parents involved in the lessons. Sending lesson reminder
emails to parents on the day of the lesson will also help make sure students show up to lessons.
Make time to listen
One of the biggest changes in teaching online is the loss of the in-person connection. Many of my
younger students used to arrive to their lessons straight from school or an after school activity and put
together their clarinet at the beginning of their lesson. While putting their clarinet together, the
students would often describe their day, talk about band class and their friends and family. These short
moments might seem trivial, but for students who are no longer going to band class or seeing their
friends and teachers in person, losing yet another moment to connect to someone else can make them
feel isolated. After the area schools ended for summer and students were no longer seeing teachers or other students online, I noticed many of my middle school and junior high students wanted to tell me
about what they did the previous week or their plans for the next week at the end of lessons. Simply
adding a minute at the end of the lesson for students to talk about non-clarinet life helps them combat
feelings of isolation and have a better connection with their teacher.
With students missing their band teachers and classmates, adding in some fun for their lessons will keep
them invested in learning music and the clarinet. Every student has different interests and skill levels but
having them learn a pop song arrangement, movie soundtrack, klezmer, jazz or other non-classical
genres introduces students to different styles of music and can teach them new rhythms, harmonies and
techniques not found in classical music. Simply asking students what their favorite pop song or movie is
and then creating or finding an arrangement of that music for their next lesson gives students a fun
musical experience and shows that their teacher is listening and cares about their interests—something
which all of our students need during these difficult times!
These are just a few examples of what can be done in online lessons to help younger students maintain
their interest in learning clarinet while they are unable to go to school and band. Teaching younger
students during this time is not just about teaching them how to play clarinet, but also helping them
keep their love of the clarinet and music alive while giving them the support they need.