Are Online Rehearsals Beneficial?
Updated: Aug 29
Yes. Online rehearsals and lessons will never replace in-person instruction, but a well-organized Zoom session can still help students prepare music and grow as musicians.
In my experience teaching online rehearsals, the two biggest drawbacks are the lag time and diminished sound quality. A decent microphone and headphones can help some with sound quality, but your students will have a variety of different set-ups, ranging from phones to tablets to computers. Rarely will they have the Blue Yeti microphone that is on my wishlist.
Online rehearsals and sectionals must be run differently than in-person lessons to deal with the latency problem. Even with today’s technology, there is a time delay which makes playing as an ensemble simply not work. To circumvent this problem, when the students play together as a group, they actually must mute their mics when they play along with the instructor. Playing a reference recording of band music for the students can also be more fun for them than playing alone. After building their confidence with a little instruction and “group” playing, an instructor can listen to individuals to give helpful feedback.
Email student materials ahead of time, and have pdfs ready to screen share when necessary.
Headphones/earbuds reduce unnecessary noise.
Be flexible; plan on a few minutes to get students situated.
Make sure students know how to mute their mics when you you are playing "together."
Use your metronome when playing with your muted group. Have individual students use their own metronomes when playing by themselves.
What you WON’T get out of an online rehearsal
You won’t get in-depth work on tone quality and phrasing. You won’t get to experience the musical conversation that takes place between musicians sitting next to each other in an ensemble. You won’t accomplish as much as you would during an in-person rehearsal or lesson. You definitely won’t teach them a field show.
What you CAN get from an online rehearsal
While online sectionals and lessons are less than ideal, sometimes they are necessary. Even though music students must be more self-reliant when in-person rehearsals aren’t possible, students can still work on fundamentals, they can still work their scales, they can still hone their sight-reading skills, and they can still prepare music. At a minimum, a sectional ensures that they have their horns in their faces and they have some instructional time with a teacher so they at least maintain their skills. In any type of online rehearsal, they can still feel a sense of connection to other band students and to their instructor.
As musicians, we must often be flexible and adapt to our circumstances. Online rehearsals shouldn't be a first choice, but they can work.